Advertisement

White Cane Day: ‘Wicked stick’ a lifeline for the vision impaired

Today is International White Cane Day!

The symbolic stick provides instant awareness of vision impairment, creating visibility of disability. To the person who is blind, the white cane is also a tool for independence, granting the opportunity to participate fully in society.



Truthfully, I have a love-hate relationship with my white cane. Emotionally, it represents my greatest vulnerability and immediately reveals that weakness to everyone around me. Physically, I prefer to keep my hands free.

Despite my reluctance to whip out the wicked stick, sometimes it is necessary for safety, navigation, or a very useful tool to alert people to my poor vision without the need for further explanation.

Aside from a support cane, there are two main types of white cane: a long probing cane (it’s a big, heavy beast), and an ID cane (a skinny, pencil-like foldable stick). Much like Goldilocks, I was fussy with my choice. I have an intermediate cane that is lightweight carbon fibre, telescopic, and just right!

When I initially became legally blind almost a decade ago, an orientation and mobility specialist from Vision Australia consulted me at work for the introductory, trial and error cane selection process. It was an emotional event as I tried to reconcile with my newfound disability. I remember feeling horrified, disgusted, devastated, and at that time I very much loathed the cane.

Following the consult however, I distinctly recall Rob Franklin, our Managing Director at Potts Lawyers, breaking the ice, taking charge of the wicked stick and valiantly saluting it like a sword in a fencing duel, then theatrically exclaiming ‘en garde’!

I will always be grateful for that moment because it shocked me into a fit of laughter and saved me from the brink of heartbroken tears. Rob’s swift actions may seem insignificant, but his kindness symbolised acceptance and ‘normalised’ the white cane that I was perceiving as a heavy burden.

Nowadays, I have adapted, and my white cane always accompanies me – mostly collapsed in my handbag but gallantly waiting to assist if needed.

Cane choice and use ultimately comes down to the person’s needs and preference. I prefer to go stealth, and rely on my remaining vision or visual cues from a sighted guide. Interestingly, most people with vision impairment opt to utilise their remaining vision, use a sighted guide or guide dog, with only approximately 8% using a white cane.1

If you spot a white cane warrior, here are some key practical tips to keep in mind:

  • Ask (rather than presume) whether they would like assistance and, if so, how?
  • Be aware and give them space to navigate.
  • Don’t be offended if they decline your offer of help – they may be confident travelling independently, or concentrating.
  • Alert them if they are in any immediate danger.
  • Report all hazards in public spaces to your local council.2

Read more fascinating facts about the white cane. You can also celebrate International White Cane Day with a concert airing on Vision Australia Radio today.

Ashleigh DoRozario is a litigation lawyer at Potts Lawyers and a founding member of the Queensland Law Society Diverse Ability Network. network.

Share this article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Search by keyword