So you are ready to start using a white cane?

You alone decide when it is time to incorporate a white cane into your life. Using a white cane will mean major changes but it will also give you a new and exciting adventure. 

To celebrate White Cane Safety Day on Oct. 15, we want to share some tips on how to start using a cane.

When used correctly, the cane searches the ground ahead. It warns you of obstacles and drop-offs and informs you of what’s in front of you. The correct cane technique, which provides maximum protection and information, is as follows:

  • Hold the cane with your hand centered in front of your body.
  • Move the cane with wrist/finger movement only, with your arm remaining still.
  • Move the cane tip in an arc that is about an inch wider than your body.
  • Move the cane in rhythm with your feet, with the cane tip always being on the opposite side of your forward foot.
  • The cane tip either slides along the ground (“constant-contact technique”) or touches the ground at each end of the arc and remains no more than an inch above the ground (“touch technique”).

You will want to find a certified orientation and mobility specialist to perfect this technique. Start by identifying the agency dedicated to working with individuals who are blind or visually impaired in your state.  You can search by state to find your agency. Nebraska residents will contact the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Certified orientation and mobility specialists provide orientation and mobility (O&M) training. This training teaches individuals with visual impairments to travel safely, efficiently and independently in various environments. The state agency will assign a specialist to work with you on an individual basis.  

The O&M trainer will show you how to hold a white cane and how to move it from side-to-side. You will also learn about the different types of canes and tips. Folding canes collapse and become a compact size. Rigid white canes look like one long stick. Telescopic canes extend in and out from one single piece. Canes are also made from different materials such as aluminum, graphite and fiberglass which impact the cane’s weight and feel.  You can select a pencil, rolling, metal or marshmallow tip.

A person’s white cane preference depends on what feels comfortable for you. Your O&M trainer will help you find the cane to fit your needs. You should try a few different types before deciding on the cane that best fits your needs. You can also read more about the different cane types online

Next, your O&M specialist will show you how helpful a cane can be. After walking with you in a safe area such as on a sidewalk or driveway, you will slowly build up to more challenging tasks. For instance, you will learn to navigate frequently visited destinations. This may include the route from your home to work or the grocery store. If you take public transportation, your O&M specialist will work with you to properly and safely make those trips.  The learning process can be stressful and frustrating, but that is normal.  You are learning something completely new so give yourself time and be patient.

Increased independence is just one of the benefits of using a white cane. The white cane tells others you have vision loss. People will be more likely to get out of your way or offer to assist you if you are lost. They will also be understanding if you accidentally bump into them when they see your white cane. The cane will relieve a lot of the pressure you may feel as you move through the world and everyday activities will be much easier.

As you incorporate the white cane into your life, think of it as a friend for the visually imparied. This friend guides you and keeps you safe. This friend may irritate you when you need a free hand or hurt your wrist after a long time using it. But this friend also gives you the confidence to go out on your own. This friend will constantly be at your side (well, more like in front of you). It’s okay to get frustrated with your friend and be glad to have a break from each other after a long day. But when it’s time to reconnect and get things done, this new lifelong friend of yours will be right there waiting for you.

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