Hey it’s White Cane Week! The first week in February is White Cane Week in Canada.

White cane week was started by the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) in 1946. It’s a time when various groups make efforts to raise awareness of issues concerning people who have any degree of blindness, and of course the white cane.

The Checkered Eye Project (CEP) also takes this opportunity to do a bit of awareness boosting about the white cane and of course the checkered eye.

Here’s what we’d like you to know:

The wearable checkered eye emblem and the white cane, as symbols, both indicate blindness. Neither says more than that so if you need to know what kind or what degree of blindness a person has you’ll need to communicate with them.

The checkered eye is for face to face situations and just ads a bit of understanding.

Here is a photo of me wearing a checkered eye. The version I'm wearing here is one that does not have the usual text saying "low vision". We hope to be able to offer these once understanding is well established. That way we'll no longer have to translate them.

There are three types of white canes: the ID cane, the mobility cane, and the support cane.

The white cane originated as a traffic safety beacon in the early 20th century and is white because this was determined to be the easiest color for drivers to see.

Below is a photo illustrating the use of an ID cane. Held diagonally across the body this type is used by people who don’t need it as a feeler or mobility tool, just as a symbol. This type of white cane is shorter and less sturdy than a mobility cane.

Mobility canes look much the same and may have various different tips and handles. The technique, with which blind people use these canes in a side to side sweeping fashion to locate obstacles and landmarks, was developed by Richard Hoover at a US military hospital. He taught it to blinded veterans of WWII in the 1940s but it was not widely accepted and taught until the 1960s.

Ever wonder why there is red at the bottom of a white cane? Me too. I have had discussions with several people who teach orientation and mobility (O and M) to blind people in Canada and learned that the red is intended to increase visibility when the ground is snow covered.

The following photos illustrate how the all-white cane blends into the snowy background, whereas the red tipped cane in the second photo is easier to detect.

One of the instructors indicated that the black cane originated in Russia where it was intended to create the desired visibility in snow.

However, other O and M instructors told me that the black cane is a fashion choice intended for formal situations like weddings and graduations. I have come to learn that people do use black mobility canes for just this reason. I haven’t confirmed the Russian origin story though.

Here’s a photo of a black cane in the snow.

It’s important to note that if a person is using a black or other coloured long cane as a mobility tool, in the side to side sweeping or tapping technique, it is likely understood that the person using it has a severe level of blindness. However it is no longer a symbol for blindness and the user cannot expect it to convey the same safety message as a white cane does, to drivers in moving vehicles.

The final type of white cane is, I think, the least well understood. The white support cane is also used as a tool as well as a symbol. In this case its functional use is to support some of the user’s weight while at the same time it’s intended as a symbol to communicate blindness.

Here’s a photo of a white support cane in use.

Just for fun, since there is already a black cane option for the fashion minded, guess what – I bet you guessed it! Yup, you can now get any of a rainbow of color options for your mobility cane! I think if I used a mobility cane I’d have one in every color – I am a bit spoiled!

The below photos are of my collection of canes, one of which I use personally and the others I use in speaking engagements. Thre are 2 ID canes, a black cane, a support cane, and a mobility cane with a different color on each of its seven segments. The second photo was taken with a flash and shows their reflective ability.

Check for the checkered eye and watch for white canes - pass it on!