What Will People Think About Me if I Use a White Cane?

Using a White Cane

If you are embarrassed to be seen with a cane, consider what your own reaction might be if you saw someone else walking with a cane or a guide dog.

When I've asked other people with low vision about their reactions to people who are traveling with a cane, they often say that the person with the white cane must have a lot of courage and savvy to get around when he or she can't see well. Many people also say that they would probably offer to help the person who is using a cane. When people stop to think about their own feelings about blindness, many are no longer embarrassed about being seen with a white cane.

You may also worry about being watched or stared at when you walk with a cane. To address this concern, I often observe people's reactions and behavior when they pass an individual who is carrying a cane; sometimes I'll even ask about their personal reactions to blindness.

I have learned that very few people even glance at the person using a cane. When I talk with people passing by, they often express admiration for the courage and competence of the person who is using the cane and wondered how they managed.

White Canes and Low Vision

Some people with low vision worry that if they carry a white cane, people will think they are "cheating" and that only people who are totally blind can use a white cane. Although this is a common belief, the fact is that the majority of people with vision problems (including those who use a white cane) have some remaining useful vision.

The American Foundation for the Blind estimates that 85% of all individuals with eye disorders have some remaining sight; only about 15% are totally blind. You can learn more about the definitions of legal blindness and low vision at Low Vision Terms.

"White cane laws" in the United States prohibit people from carrying a white cane unless they have a visual impairment. In Maryland, for example, only people who are "blind or partially blind" can carry a white cane, and in New York, it is people who are "blind or visually impaired." This means that if you have a visual impairment or are "partially blind," even if you are not totally blind, you are permitted to carry a white cane.

White Canes and Safety

Many people who live or travel in high-risk communities worry that carrying a white cane will make them more vulnerable to attack. At present, there is no research indicating that people with white canes are more vulnerable or likely to be targets for muggers.

However, it is often said that people seem less vulnerable when they appear confident and assertive. If that is true, then a person with a white cane who is walking quickly—and with confidence—may appear less vulnerable than a person who is not using a cane and is walking tentatively with his or her head down, trying to see the ground, perhaps tripping and stumbling on uneven pavement.

For more information about coping with blindness and vision loss, see Coping with Your Emotions When You Lose Your Vision.

Personal Stories

  • Father James Warnke-Living a Well Integrated Life
    Father Warnke, who was born with retinitis of prematurity and glaucoma, has had a very successful series of careers as mental health counselor and Episcopal priest, to name just a few of his accomplishments.

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