White Canes and Able


Below I explain a little about white canes and their use. I also talk about my own cane “Able” and why I use him.


There are different techniques that are used with the cane to accomplish tasks such as going up or down stairs, navigating escalators, finding doorways, helping to find dropped objects, and many other things.


I do not use that tapping method you most likely think of when you think of someone using a white cane. With that method, the cane taps the spot where the next foot step will land. Giving the user important information as to what they can expect as they move forward.



Because I have a good deal of sight I hold Able at a diagonal across my lower body and let the cane skim the ground in front of me. It’s like having a fingertip on the ground that helps me know what the terrain directly in front of me feels like. Neither method, unfortunately, can give a visually impaired person any indication that they are about to walk head long into a low hanging branch.



I can move about the world without Able, because I’m only partially blind, or partially sighted, however you want to look at it. I chosen to use Able for a couple reasons.


Walking is much faster and safer when I use Able. I had gotten some remedial cane training a few years before I made using Able a habit. I fell down a short flight of stairs that were just out of my field of vision. It hurt.  After my tumble, I got some great O&M (orientation and mobility) training and started to use a cane.  


There are other really good reasons for me to use Able aside from less trips to the emergency room. I can use my available sight to look at the scenery and not down at my feet so much. Most important perhaps is it gives YOU information. It tells you “I’m crossing the street now and I might not see you coming”. Another plus of cane use is I don’t look drunk trying to navigate an uneven terrain…just blind.


Able is 48″ tall. Most white canes, like the one I use for mobility, extend from the floor to the users sternum. I have a collapsible cane (like a tent pole), made out of aluminum with reflective white and red tape on it. At the end of Able is what is called a marshmallow tip. It’s a hard plastic bobble that looks like, you guest it, a marshmallow, and glides over most surfaces easily.


White canes are, for the most part, a universal symbol for the sight impaired. In the UK if someone has a white cane with two red bands added, it means the user is deafblind.



8 responses to “White Canes and Able

  1. Rachel,
    I am so impressed by the clarity of your writing to explain things we don’t know about but are interested in.

    I really appreciated your simple explanation about the cane when we were in Saluda and I do think people in general would appreciate a card with “gimp” info plus your contact info.

    Personally, I think it would have been a hoot to ask the guy in Chicago what the guy in Florida looked like, especially if you could record their expression.


  2. Good one! I had to overcome lots of internalized prejudice before I could start using my cane. I’m glad I do. The trend, of late, is to stimulate cane use if you’re partially blind, and i think it’s an important step forward.

  3. Alex,
    Glad to hear I’m not alone!
    what do you mean by “stimulate cane use” do you mean, getting people to use canes?

  4. I live in the Netherlands and here it is promoted, even for people who would be considered to be on the fringe of being legally blind. People reckon it is best to use all the vision you have, and if, like me, you’ve got problems with peripheral vision it is already a gift to not have to worry about obstacles like kerbs and steps, as you are describing. A little vision can go a long way! Thanks for visiting my blog by the way. Much appreciated.

  5. I am legally blind (20/400) so I can move about wihtout a white cane but find it invaluable when I am in a strange enviornment and need to ask questions because I can’t read the signage so when I carry my white cane and ask questions, I always get a courteous answer and assistance. Try it, it works.

  6. I have low vision (20/50) and in most instances, it’s useful enough and I get by. But, there are those times when I find myself depending on other people and not partaking in scenery and checking things out; I am more worried about what lies in front of my feet and I want a cane, however, my parents are the ones stopping me. They believe that my sight doesn’t affect my movement as much as I think it does. I don’t know how to tell them that this is a problem and sometimes I wish someone would just tell them for me. I don’t so much at night and I feel like such a burden to my friends. My parents don’t understand, either, that when I follow them, I am not doing it because I am not confident; I have a lot of self-confidence, but I need to follow them so I know what’s coming. I don’t trust the vision I have to be reliable.

  7. Elaine,

    boy I’m so glad you wrote. Gives me a chance to share what I think about your situation. Remember I’m no expert, just a legally blind woman who’s got a lot to say on the subject.

    First I might wonder why your folks might not want you to use a cane. This might help you have some insight (so to speak) into their perspective. Maybe they want you to be resourceful and not be dependent on a cane.

    Maybe they struggle with you having a visual impairment, somehow feeling badly because you can’t see well. Seeing you with a cane would be painful for them. Not that it’s your job to make them feel okay, we’re just trying to understand what’s up with their reluctance.

    If they are the kind of people that are easy to talk to, I would say have an honest talk. Tell them what you just told me.

    Why do you want a cane? For more comfortable mobility is what it sounds like. More Independence. Sounds like a winner to me. I use my cane cause I can move faster, fall less. Walk alone easier, that kind of thing.

    What do you think about doing a bit of homework on your own. Talk to your low vision specialist or see if there’s a Commission for the Blind, or some organization in your area. What you would want to find out is, if there is any Orientation and Mobility training you can do any place near where you live. O & M trainers may have some tricks that could help you with or maybe without a cane. It’s worth looking into.

    Come to your folks informed. Put the conversation on the table. You want to be able to be more comfortable with some mobility issues and here is how you think you might be able to achieve that goal.

    Hear what your folks have to say too. There might be a good reason why they are reluctant for you to use a cane. Remember, there’s likely to be a lot of love and maybe some fear behind their reasons.

    Have them read this blog! Let me know what happens.


  8. Hey Elaine,
    I have 20/50 vision in my left eye and no vision in my right eye. I started to use a cane about a year ago. At first my parents were apprehensive about me using the cane. I had a long talk with them and told them the reasons why i liked to use the cane. I told them that it helped me in unfamiliar areas, crossing the street, and even when i go out with friends. Till this day my parents are still reluctant, but i told them that i knew what was best for me and the cane is the best.

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