Sightseeing. A periodic tour of CVI news, views and events.

Why is the White Cane White and Other Facts

Picture of a stick figure with a white cane that says white cane safety dayHave you ever wondered why the white cane is white and not some other color? Who made the decision for the color white and not black, blue, red or even orange or yellow? When did the blind start using white canes anyway? Well, since today is National White Cane Safety Day I thought it would be fitting to do a little digging into the history of the white cane and the safety law around traveling with it.

Prior to the use of the official white cane people who were blind and/or visually impaired used staffs, sticks and canes as instruments in their modes of travel. These tools were use more to alert the blind person to obstacles in their path rather than for identification purposes. It was not until the 20th century that the “cane” was use to identify if the person had a visual impairment. During the times of the two World Wars canes began to be used by people with vision loss; first starting in Europe and then branching out into the United States. According to the American Council for the Blind’s website James Biggs of Bristol claimed to have invented the white cane in 1921. After an accident claimed his sight, the artist had to readjust to his environment. Worried by the increased motor vehicle traffic around his home, Biggs decided to paint his walking stick white to make himself more visible to motorists.

But it was not until ten years later that the white cane established its presence in society. A national white stick movement for blind people in France was launched. The campaign was duplicated in England and was sponsored by Rotary clubs throughout the United Kingdom.

But in the United States it was the Lion's Clubs International that helped introduced the white cane to the blind community. It was said that in 1930, a Lion's Club member watched as a blind man attempted to make his way across a busy street using a black cane. Realizing that the black cane was barely visible to motorists, the Lion's Club decided to paint the cane white to increase its visibility. In 1931, the Lion's Club International began a national program promoting the use of white canes for persons who were blind Throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

picture of someone walking with white caneUp to this time, blind people were using their white canes primarily as symbols of blindness not as a mobility aid. But when the blind veterans of World War II returned, the form and the use of the white cane changed. This was an attempt to get veterans active and involved in society again. Doctor Richard Hoover developed the "long cane" or "Hoover" method of cane travel. These white canes were designed to be used as mobility aids and returned the cane to its original role as a tool for mobility, while maintaining the symbolism of blindness.

Also, during this time the white cane began to move into the political scene and state legislation around the white cane began to be passed. The first two states to past safety ordnances were Illinois and Michigan. The ordnances protected white cane pedestrians by giving them the right of way and recognizing that the white cane was a symbol of blindness. In the early 1960's, several state organizations and rehabilitation agencies serving the blind and visually impaired encouraged Congress to proclaim October 15th of each year to be White Cane Safety Day in all fifty states. This event marked an exciting moment in the long campaign to gain state as well as national recognition for the white cane.

So, National White Cane Day was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. It designated October 15th as National White Cane Safety Day. Georgia went a step further and created a state law and protection for those pedestrians that use a white cane.

Here is a summary of the law:

  1. Only people who are blind or visually impaired should travel with a white cane.
  2. When a motorist comes in contact with a person traveling with a white cane at an intersection that driver should come to an immediate stop to avoid injury or harm to the white cane traveler.
  3. Any person who is in violation of the above will be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Now that you know why the white cane is white, do you find that motorists stop for it? Do you think that people see the white cane as a mobility aid and symbol of visual impairment? For those that aare reading this post and use a white cane, do you have to explain its useage a lot or barely at all? What things do you think can be done to make peple more aware of the use of the white cane? Share your thoughts and ideas with us.


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Comment by ElvaHyn; November 02, 2017 4:25pm