International White Cane Day on 15 October is an occasion where people who are blind celebrate and reflect on the importance of the cane as a mobility device and how it assists with independence and societal inclusion.
Today, the cane assists so many who are blind navigate independently which leads to equal inclusion in society. With the assistance of this mobility device, blind people can travel freely, maintain employment, social lives and so much more.
At Scope Global, three of us are white cane users.
As I (Ben Clare) was born totally blind, I was taught how to use a cane not long after starting school. Initially I used it to get from place to place within the school and then was encouraged to travel more broadly, learning public transport routes, navigating shops and crowded streets, etc. I was also able to pursue my dream of working and living overseas and the cane assisted me with navigating some incredibly challenging environments such as open drains, balconies with insufficient railings, uneven terrain, crossing roads without traffic lights, speeding vehicles, etc.
Even with the advent of more technologically advanced devices and inbuilt maps on phones, they are often a companion to the humble cane, rather than replacing it entirely. Only service dogs can be seen as a reliable alternative to using canes and even then, guide dog users may still need to use canes if their dogs are not well.
Due to the pandemic, getting out and about is more difficult than ever as we often rely on our sense of touch for navigation but the cane will again prove useful as a mobility tool.
“Being a proud Maven, I am so honoured to be part of a great team at Scope Global that routinely embraces disability inclusion and does not view us as different or a problem.” said Ben Clare
As things hopefully improve with vaccination rates increasing and lockdowns hopefully decreasing, I’m sure my white cane will assist me to attend Maven assignments, wherever they may be in Australia or overseas.
Another of our Mavens, Mr Michael Zannis says,
“My cane is a symbol of my independence. Hopefully, the cane will hit things so, I won’t! By having it sweeping in front of me as I walk, I can safely move on public transport, to study, to work, to the pub, to sporting events, the theatre, required shops and anywhere else .”
White Cane Day was initially observed in the United States, proclaimed as a day of significance by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 and more recently, the event is observed worldwide.
Scope Global formally observes White Cane Day 2021.
History of the white cane
The history of using walking sticks as mobility aids goes back centuries but it wasn’t until 1921 when the cane became a recognisable symbol of blindness. A retired photographer from Bristol, UK became blind following an accident and concerned about navigating traffic close to his home, he designed a cane that differed somewhat to traditional walking sticks, mainly specifying the importance of the length of the stick so that it could adequately prevent the user from colliding with objects and detecting steps. This is achieved by holding the stick in front of the user and gently moving it from side to side, thus exploring the area prior to the user reaching it.
In 1934, a Lions Club based in Illinois, USA came up with the design still in use today, painting each cane white so as to make the user more visible and with red reflective bands. This modification to the cane was widely embraced and Lions clubs around the US began manufacturing them on mass. Internationally, white canes were first seen in France, later to be used worldwide and are now considered symbols of the person who is blind. In many countries, the device is written into law, especially where people who are blind have right of way when crossing the road.