International White Cane Day is celebrated October 15. All states and many other countries have White Cane laws that allow pedestrians who are legally blind the right of way at street crossings. Massachusetts White Cane Law states that ALL motorists, when they see a pedestrian who uses a dog guide or white cane at a street crossing, must come to a complete stop.
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:
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 was on Tuesday October 13th. Download 2015 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.