Like guide dog users, users of white canes have the right to use their canes in public places based on federal civil rights laws and state laws. Additionally, many states have specific White Cane Laws that confer additional rights. Maryland also has additional orientation and mobility protections for K-12 students.
Reasonable accommodations under Federal and state laws and regulations
Last week, in the Bridges Blog post, Guide Dogs and Public Places, we discussed sources of law that (1) entitle disabled individuals with the right to use “reasonable accommodations” in public places and (2) protect those individuals from discrimination based on disability – like guide dog use, white cane use is protected by these same laws:
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504)
Additional protections for white cane users in Maryland
Like many states, Maryland has a “White Cane Law.” In Maryland, the White Cane Law provides the following legal protections:
- The same rights other (sighted) individuals have
- The right to be admitted to and enjoy public places without interference
- Equitable rights to housing
- The right to use a cane (primarily white or metallic in color)
- Some protection if a blind/low vision individual does not use a cane or guide dog (in a lawsuit, such failure is not automatically considered negligence)
Additional protections for Maryland’s blind/low vision students in K-12 schools
- Presumption that orientation and mobility (O&M, including cane travel) instruction is appropriate for blind/low vision students with an IEP
- If O&M instruction is not provided, the IEP team must get an O&M assessment that includes:
- Input from teachers and family members
- Current and future needs
- Functioning in familiar and unfamiliar environments
- Functioning under various lighting conditions
Additionally, the Maryland State Department of Education has prepared a document that provides schools with guidance regarding O&M assessments. This document shares the importance of and keys to performing a thorough O&M assessment for blind/low vision students with an IEP. This document notes that O&M instruction in the community (off of school grounds) is both appropriate and necessary. Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Assessment Guidelines, 18-03 Technical Assistance Bulletin 18-03.
For more information on these laws and the protections they provide, please contact the Free Bridges Helpdesk.
Rights in Practice
As always, not everyone in our world understands (or even knows about) the legal rights of individuals with disabilities. Some are unfamiliar with the long white cane, and they may be inclined to discourage a white cane user from entering a public place, engaging in activities, or using a white cane at all.
As noted above, white cane users have the right to use their canes and freely enter and enjoy public places and activities. Nevertheless, you may need to share information about your rights with others.
Please consider downloading and adding to your smartphone’s memory this Bridges Technical Assistance Center: “White Cane User Rights in Maryland Reference Sheet” also available online as the Bridges Resource Library White Cane User Rights in Maryland Reference Sheet entry.
Also, please reach out to us at the Free Bridges Helpdesk anytime with any questions, concerns, needs for assistance, etc. We are always eager to hear from you!
Contact the Bridges Helpdesk for More Information
- Our Accessible web form
- Email: Helpdesk@imagemd.org
- Text: Send to: (410) 357-1546
- Voice mail: Call (410) 357-1546, leave a voice mail message, and we will return your call
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.
Updated as of September 28, 2023.