Can the color of a blindness cane tell you how much usable vision someone has? Sometimes, but the answer is a bit more complicated than that.
The invention of the blindness cane in 1921 is credited to James Biggs, a photographer who lost his vision following an accident that painted a walking cane white so that he would be able to easily navigate his home and so others would be able to clearly see his cane. Blindness canes were introduced in North America ten years later in 1931 and since then have evolved to come in a variety of colors outside of solid white. Organizations dedicated to blindness, orientation and mobility (also known as O&M, the study of how visually impaired people navigate their environment), and safety groups have attempted to establish guidelines for blindness cane colors, and suggested that some color combinations can indicate the level of a person’s usable vision. Today I will be sharing the most common blindness cane color combinations and the levels of usable vision that are associated with them, though it’s worth noting that people may choose to use a cane color that does not “correspond” with their level of usable vision.
White cane with a red/colored bottom
A reflective white cane with a red or other colored bottom segment is often associated with low vision, legal blindness, or having some usable vision. The colored segment is helpful for navigating curbs or other surfaces and provides additional visual contrast for bystanders or people who are driving. Red is the most common color for the bottom segment, but I also have custom colored canes with purple and pink bottom segments since these are colors I really like- the rest of the cane is white. My cane collapses into four segments and can be stored in a backpack or hung on a wall when not in use.
This is probably the most common color combination for blindness canes in the United States and is also used by people who are blind or that have no usable vision. This is also the basis for the blindness cane Emoji design.
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Solid white cane
The solid white cane is used by people who consider themselves “total” or blind with no usable vision. These are probably the canes most people think of when they imagine a blindness cane. The typical white cane is long and rigid, made of fiberglass or aluminum, with a solid metal tip and smooth white finish. Some types of white canes are telescopic and collapse to be about nine inches long, and are typically used for walking short distances or when walking with a human guide.
The solid white cane is endorsed by the National Federation for the Blind, a blindness consumer organization that provides free canes through their Free White Cane Program. The white cane has also been the cane of choice for many blind characters in TV and movies, including Isaac in “The Fault in our Stars.”
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Striped canes feature red and white stripes that loosely resemble a candy cane. They are typically used by someone who is deafblind, which is a term used for dual vision loss and hearing loss, though people may not experience profound/total loss of both senses. People with vision loss who are traveling with someone who has hearing loss may also choose to use a striped cane. The white and red striped cane is recognized as a symbol of deafblindness in several countries and by the World Federation of the Deafblind.
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Glow in the dark cane/Green cane
All blindness canes have a reflective coating so they are visible in the dark or when navigating at night, though some users may prefer to have a glow in the dark cane or light-up cane as well. I used to have a glow-in-the-dark cane that glowed green with a reflective red bottom segment, and used a heavy duty tip with lights on the end. The bulkier design made it more difficult for me to get adequate sensation and tactile information, so I stopped using it in favor of a traditional blindness cane that provided adequate reflection.
In some countries such as Argentina, a green blindness cane is used to indicate that a user has low vision, while a white cane indicates that they are blind.
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Other colors of blindness canes
Blindness canes can come in other solid colors such as yellow, black, blue, and more, though canes that are not predominantly white may not be noticed by people operating motor vehicles as well as white canes are. I have a yellow cane with a colored segment bottom that I use when attending college events where I have to store my cane for long periods of time, as the yellow surface pops against tables and makes it easy for me to locate my cane when I need it. Regardless of their color, all blindness canes are coated in reflective tape for improved visibility.
Because there are several studies showing that drivers are more likely to notice white canes, I prefer to use white canes with a fun colored bottom segment over a solid colored “fun” cane while walking outside or in situations where I might encounter a lot of traffic.
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Summary of decoding the colors of blindness canes
- While some cane colors are associated with varying levels of usable vision, people with vision loss generally use whatever cane color they want/works best for them
- White canes with a colored bottom segment are the most common style of blindness cane in the United States, and are frequently associated with low vision
- Solid white canes are associated with blindness or no usable vision and are endorsed by the National Federation of the Blind
- Striped canes are associated with deafblindness, or dual vision/hearing loss
- Green canes are associated with low vision in some countries, though others may also use glow in the dark green canes
- Blindness canes can have other colors or patterns, but the white cane is considered the safest option for pedestrians