A symbol of blindness and a tool to independence
The white stick and then the white cane have been associated with blindness since the 1920’s. There was a claim that James Biggs from the UK invented the white cane. After an accident when he lost his sight he decided to paint his stick white to make himself more visible to motorists.
In North America the introduction of the white cane has been attributed to the Lion’s Clubs International. In 1930, a Lion’s Club member watched as a blind man was making his way across a busy street using a black cane. Realising that this cane could not easily be seen by 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 are blind.
Around the same time, Guilly d’Herbemont launched a scheme for a national white stick movement for blind people in France. Also in May 1931 the BBC suggested in its radio broadcasts that blind individuals might be provided with a white stick, which would become universally recognized as a symbol indicating that somebody was blind.
Doctor Richard Hoover developed the “long cane” or “Hoover” method of cane travel which was introduced when the blind veterans of World War II returned to America. These white canes are designed to be used as both a symbol of visual impairment and a mobility device to move about safely and independently and are still used today. This is a large part of the practical training that is undertaken when learners attend the two year diploma course Orientation and Mobility Practice at the College of Orientation and Mobility
In 1964, the President of The United States of America proclaimed October 15th of each year as “White Cane Safety day”
In 2011 President Barack Obama also named White Cane Safety Day as ‘Blind Americans Equality Day’. .
Consider this excerpt from a speech made by President Clinton On October 15, 2000, “With proper training, people using the white cane can enjoy greater mobility and safety by determining the location of curbs, steps, uneven pavement, and other physical obstacles in their path. The white cane has given them the freedom to travel independently to their schools and workplaces and to participate more fully in the life of their communities. It reminds us that the only barriers against people with disabilities are discriminatory attitudes and practices that our society has too often placed in their way.”
Head of College of Orientation and Mobility
15th October 2014
Information adapted from www.acb.org/tennessee/white.cane.history.html