Walking with a Cane

The long white cane is perhaps the most familiar and useful tool employed by individuals who have vision loss. It allows the user to detect hazards at ground level, such as curbs, stairs, and gaps in the sidewalk. Many users have some degree of functional vision. Others who have little to no vision use the cane in tandem with orientation skills to travel independently and perform daily life tasks. Also, the cane provides the added protection of letting other pedestrians and/or cars know that the user cannot see well.

A long white cane can help you get around more easily in your neighborhood.

 woman with a cane crossing the street

It's best to seek the assistance of an O&M specialist in order to obtain a long white cane, ensure its correct length, and learn how to use the device safely and efficiently.

Canes: Frequently Asked Questions

I still have quite a bit of vision. How much vision is too much vision for a cane?

Many people who have functional remaining vision use a long cane. If your vision loss affects your ability to see obstacles clearly and without difficulty, then you are vulnerable to falls and other accidents that could lead to serious injury. That makes you a prime cane candidate.

How can a cane make me more visually efficient?

A cane offers you the ability to delegate the job of detecting obstacles that occur from the waist down. By delegating this area to the cane, you can use your remaining vision to look up and from side to side, while looking downward only momentarily. By safely reducing the workload carried by your remaining vision, you are increasing your visual efficiency.

What types of canes are available?

Long white canes come in two categories: ones that fold and ones that don't. Folding canes, which can be easily collapsed and stored, come in aluminum or graphite models. Graphite canes are lighter and easier to fold and unfold than aluminum ones. While great for travel, folding canes tend to be less sturdy when compared to straight (non-folding) canes and don't provide the same amount of sensory feedback. A popular straight style cane is made of fiberglass, which is ultra-light, provides lots of sensory feedback, and bends slightly if it slides under a car or similar obstacle.

It's also important to distinguish between canes designed as guiding tools and canes that are intended to provide support. Support canes are designed to provide stability when walking. They are usually made of wood or aluminum and consist of a single vertical post with a handgrip at hip height. The support cane may have a single point of contact on the ground or may have a base consisting of three or four small legs.

Do cane tips vary?

Yes, and each tip has its pros and cons.

  • Pencil tip. Pros: Good feedback and lightness make it a good choice for people with problems moving their wrist for long periods of time. Cons: The long, thin tip has tendency to get stuck in cracks in the sidewalk.

  • Roller tip. Pros: Rolls over cracks in sidewalk, making for a smoother walk. Cons: Greater weight can add to wrist fatigue; doesn't provide as much feedback to the traveler about small changes in the terrain.

  • Marshmallow tip. Pros: Thick tip won't get stuck in cracks easily. Cons: Heavy; can cause wrist fatigue over time.

  • Metal glide. Pros: Very light; glides easily over cracks.

Can I use a long cane if I already use a support cane? How are they different?

A long cane is designed to help a person with vision loss detect upcoming obstacles and drop offs. It does not provide any support. A support cane provides support but is not designed to detect objects, curbs, or stairs. A support cane user can also use a long cane. With training, you can use both canes in tandem to increase safety and efficiency when traveling. It's important to consult an O&M specialist before attempting this.

White cane user learns how to navigate a curb with instruction from an O&M instructor

O&M instruction helps people with vision loss learn how to navigate curbs and other drop offs.

What if I use a wheelchair; can I use a long cane?

Yes, it is possible for you to use a wheelchair and learn how to use a long cane to help navigate obstacles and drop offs. However, success depends on individual circumstances, such as your type and level of vision loss, overall physical limitations, and chair styles. Consult your O&M specialist about whether using a long cane with a wheelchair is right for you.

If you are interested in ordering a cane, please consult the Product Search. Do not order your first cane without consulting an O&M specialist and obtaining proper training.

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