History and Importance of the White Cane: Both a Tool and a Symbol
Authors: Juanita Barker, Director of the Office of Blind Services, Texas Workforce Commission
Keywords: white cane, White Cane Day, independence, mobility, National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
People who are blind or visually impaired use the white cane to travel independently and to alert themselves to obstacles in their path. The White Cane is also a symbol to alert others to the fact that the individual is visually impaired. The following quote from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) describes how canes work and explains why they are so important to individuals who are blind or visually impaired:
We use our senses of hearing and touch to explore and understand the world around us. The white cane, in effect, makes our hands and arms longer, so that we can assess the situation, and move quickly and confidently. The white cane allows us to avoid obstacles, find steps and curbs, locate and step over cracks or uneven places in the sidewalk, find doorways, get into cars and buses, and much more. National Federation of the Blind
NFB further explains:
When you see a blind person using a white cane, remember that the cane is our tool to safely and independently navigate the environment. There’s no need to shout warnings or try to physically steer us so that our canes won’t bump into things. Remember that we are using our canes to explore what is around us. If we need any help or direction, we will ask. If you are driving or cycling and see someone using a white cane, you must follow the law and stop to give that person the right of way. National Federation of the Blind
For generations, much of society was unaware of the importance of the White Cane or how it symbolizes the independence of users. The first special White Cane Ordinance wasn’t passed until December 1930 in Peoria, Illinois. It granted blind pedestrians protections and the right-of-way while carrying a White Cane. On February 25, 1936, an ordinance was passed in Detroit recognizing the White Cane, and the following year, a bill was introduced in the Michigan State Legislature. It gave the carrier of a White Cane protection while traveling on the streets of Michigan. The governor signed the bill into law in March 1937.
During the early 1960’s, several state organizations and rehabilitation agencies serving blind and visually impaired citizens urged the United States Congress to proclaim October 15th of each year as White Cane Safety Day in all fifty states. On October 6, 1964, a Joint Resolution of Congress, HR 753, was signed into law authorizing the President of the United States to proclaim October 15th of each year as “White Cane Safety Day”. Within hours of passage of the Congressional resolution, President Lyndon B. Johnson, made history as the first president to proclaim October 15th as White Cane Safety Day.