The white cane is a symbol of independence. The history of the white cane begins in 1931 when the Lions Club began promoting the use of white canes for people who are blind as a national identification program. Although the use of canes by the blind have been recorded since the 1600s, there was no formal training program in Orientation and Mobility (O&M) until after WWII, beginning at the Veteran Hospitals. Boston College began the first graduate program for Orientation and Mobility Specialists in 1960. (UMass Boston now carries the O&M training program.) All Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists (COMS) must meet certification requirements by the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation & Educational Professionals (ACVREP) and must apply for re-certification every 5 years.
Cane recommendations are based on a number of factors, including the type of visual impairment, age, height and other specific needs, as evaluated by a COMS. The two main types of white canes used by Individuals who are legally blind are:
- LONG WHITE CANE with red at the bottom. This cane type is for independent travel and to avoid obstacles. It is also used for identification, the detection of objects and drop-offs, and information gathering. There is also a variety of different types of cane tips.
- WHITE SUPPORT CANE with red at the bottom, which is designed to identify the individual as legally blind but has usable travel vision. It is used to assist with depth perception on stairs or curbs in familiar areas. It does not offer protection against the unexpected obstacles.
Specialized training for both types of canes and travel skills are provided by the Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist. Any Individual applying for a guide dog must also have long cane, street crossing skills and extensive O&M training, before admittance to a Guide Dog school.
There is an annual White Cane Celebration at the State House in Boston. This year's event will be on Monday, October 17, 2016 in the Great Hall of Flags from 10:00 am - 12:00 pm. Join us to celebrate independence! Download 2016 White Cane Awareness Brochure (PDF).
All individuals with low vision and legal blindness, regardless of other disabilities can benefit from an orientation and mobility assessment and or direct training. To find out more:
Meg Robertson BS, MS, COMS is the Director of Orientation and Mobility Department at the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.