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)

Abstract: The author describes the history of White Cane Day and why the white cane is both an important tool for individuals who are blind or visually impaired as well as a symbol of their independence. A list of White Cane Day celebrations in Texas is also included. Image: Students and staff cross the street during the 2022 White Cane Day march in Austin.

Adults and students cross a street during a White Cane Day march holding signs that say "Yes I Can!"

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. 

This presidential proclamation emphasized the significance of the White Cane as both a tool and as a visible symbol. In the first White Cane Proclamation in 1964, President Johnson commended blind people for their growing spirit of independence and their increased determination to be self-reliant and dignified. He said, in part: “A White Cane in our society has become one of the symbols of a blind person’s ability to come and go on his own. Its use has promoted courtesy and special consideration for the blind on our streets and highways.” Proclamation 3622, White Cane Safety Day. 

On October 15, 2000, President Bill Clinton again reminded the world of both the history and the importance of the White Cane, explaining that it is not only a tool for safety, but that it also serves as a symbol of blindness. He said: 

“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.  As we observe White Cane Safety Day, let us recall the history of the White Cane, its emergence both as a tool and as a symbol through history, a staff of independence.” Proclamation 7367, Executive Office of the President


Communities across the country continue to recognize the white cane as a “staff of independence” and celebrate White Cane Safety Day every October. Although White Cane Safety Day is designated for October 15th every year, some communities celebrate it on different days in October. For 2023, numerous events are planned across Texas: 

White Cane Day Events in Texas

  • Oct. 10. Houston White Cane Safety Day. 9:30 am–1 pm, University of Houston Student Services Center South,  4455 University Dr., Houston, TX
  • Oct.12. San Antonio White Cane Awareness Day. 9 am–noon, Yanaguana Garden at Hemisfair, 434 S. Alamo St., San Antonio, TX
  • Oct. 14. Corpus Christi White Cane Day. 10 am–2 pm, Cole Park, 2600 Ocean Dr, Corpus Christi, TX
  • Oct. 14. North Texas White Cane Safety Day. 10 am–12:15 pm, Tarrant County Courthouse, 100 W. Weatherford, Ft. Worth, TX
  • Oct. 14. Portland White Cane Day. 10–noon, Portland City Office, 1900 Billy G Webb Dr., Portland, TX
  • Oct. 14. Houston Community White Cane Day. Metropolitan Multi-Service Center, 1475 West Gray, Houston, TX
  • Oct. 14. San Antonio Walk for Work. 8 am–noon, Morgan’s Wonderland, 5223 David Edwards Dr, San Antonio, TX
  • Oct. 18. Austin White Cane Day. 10 am–2 pm Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, 1100 W. 45th,  Austin, TX
  • Oct. 21. Victoria White Cane Day. American Legion Post 166, 1402 E. Santa Rosa, Victoria, TX

If your community is not listed above, check with your local Mayor’s Committee to see if anything is planned. If there is not one planned, consider spearheading a group of stakeholders and advocates to organize one for your community for next year. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has an excellent website for help in organizing a White Cane Day event. You can find more information on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest up-to-date news and event highlights. See videos of White Cane Day activities on the official website.

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