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