Updated as of January 28, 2024.
History of the White Cane
In older literature and in written accounts of daily life, it is common to read that a person who was blind/had low vision used a long object such as a branch or metal pole while walking to give them information about the ground in front of them so that they could safely navigate. It truly was a fantastic innovation that blind/low vision individuals created themselves: if one cannot feel the ground while also trying to walk, then they thought to make a longer device that could give them information from the ground so that they could safely and confidently navigate.
Not until the 1930s did it become standardized for blind people to use the white cane specifically. The white cane has become a symbol that indicates blindness or low vision around the world. The white color allows the cane to be seen more easily in the dark. Blind/low vision cane users today enjoy all kinds of benefits from the standardization of the white cane, including customizable lengths, materials, and weights.
What is White Cane Safety Day?
October 15 marks White Cane Safety Day, which is a time to educate society about the white cane and how blind/low vision people travel. It is a time to be proud of the innovation that keeps cane users safe and traveling confidently to the things that they want and need to do.
White Cane Safety Day was established nationally in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Here is the proclamation as made at that time:
“The white cane in our society has become one of the symbols of a blind person’s ability to come and go on his own. Its use has promoted courtesy and special consideration to the blind on our streets and highways. To make our people more fully aware of the meaning of the white cane and of the need for motorists to exercise special care for the blind persons who carry it Congress, by a joint resolution approved as of October 6, 1964, has authorized the President to proclaim October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day. Now, therefore, I Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the United States of America do hereby proclaim October 15, 1964 as White Cane Safety Day.”
What about White Cane Awareness Day?
In the decades since 1964, some in the blindness/low vision community believe that “the emphasis of White Cane Safety Day has shifted over time away from safety, and toward independence and equality” and have adopted the term “White Cane Awareness Day” “to celebrate this history and recognize the white cane as the tool that allows the blind to “come and go on [our] own” as President Lyndon Johnson said back in 1964.” (Source: National Federation of the Blind. Agencies with resources to learn about and celebrate White Cane Awareness Day include the U.S. Library of Congress, the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision, and the American Printing House for the Blind.
Canes and More! Blind Americans Equality Day
In 2011, President Barrack Obama proclaimed October 15, 2011 “Blind Americans Equality Day.” In his proclamation, he referenced the original “White Cane Safety Day” proclamation and specifically recognized the importance of technological accessibility, including moving the federal government toward compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. You may read the entire proclamation at Presidential Proclamation – Blind Americans Equality Day, 2011.
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This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.