Tuesday, September 6, 2011

White Canes: The History and How to Measure for Peak Performance

In the current age of electronics, the most sophisticated products will never take the place of the White Cane.  Originally developed and used in the early 1920's, the white cane has come to symbolize freedom, independence, and mobility for those who are totally blind.  Adopted in 1931 by Lions Club International as a tool for individuals without sight, today the White Cane serves proudly as an instrument for navigation throughout the world.

 

A discussion on how to best measure a cane for mobility is usually the spark for an excellent debate.  Here are a few ways to measure canes:

 

·        Measurement from the Ribs

When I was first introduced to the cane as a youngster, I was taught by a mobility and orientation instructor how to use the cane and measure it for my use.  For children, who are destined for an undetermined amount of growth, the cane is best measured from the bottom of the ribs to the ground.  This measurement is also accounts for how long or short the stride might be.

 

Note: A fast walker might be inclined to use a cane that is longer than usual so as to not stumble while walking.

                                

·        Measurement from the Tip of the Nose

The other way of measuring a cane is used by those who opt to use the NFB straight cane.  This method for measuring cane length is to measure it from the tip of the nose down to the ground.  Most who use this method travel with a very long cane so the length of their stride may or may not impact the use of the cane.

 

·        First Steps

Measuring your cane is vital to the success of using it correctly.  You should always first consult with your state agency. They will provide you with an evaluation by a trained mobility and orientation instructor to identify your specific needs and patterns for travel.  If you have not traveled with a cane before, venturing out on your own might not always be the safest way.

 

·        The History of the White Cane

The white cane is not just a tool that is used to achieve independence; it is also a symbol of citizens who are blind in our society. To honor the many achievements of blind and visually impaired Americans and to recognize the white cane's significance in advancing independence, we observe October 15th of each year as “White Cane Safety Day." Today, the white cane works both as a tool for the blind and as a symbol. This has not always been the case.

 

Throughout history, the cane, staff, and stick existed as traveling aids for the blind and visually impaired. In biblical times, records show that a shepherd's staff was used as a tool for solitary travel. The blind used such tools to alert them to obstacles in their path. For centuries, the cane was used merely as a tool for travel. It was not until the twentieth century that the cane, as we know it today, was promoted for use by the blind as a symbol to alert others to the fact that an individual was blind.

 

This new role for the white cane had its origins in the decades between the two world wars, beginning in Europe and then spreading to North America. James Biggs of Bristol claimed to have invented the white cane in 1921. After an accident claimed his sight, the artist had to readjust to his environment. Feeling threatened by increased motor vehicle traffic around his home, Biggs decided to paint his walking stick white to make himself more visible to motorists. It was not until ten years later that the white cane established its presence in society. In February, 1931, Guilly d'Herbemont launched a scheme for a national white stick movement for blind people in France. The campaign was reported in British newspapers leading to a similar scheme throughout the United Kingdom. In May 1931 the BBC suggested in its radio broadcasts that blind individuals might be provided with a white stick which would become universally recognized as a symbol indicating that somebody was blind or visually impaired.

 

In North America the introduction of the white cane has been attributed to the Lion's Clubs International. In 1930, a Lion's Club member watched as a blind man attempted to make his way across a busy street using a black cane. With the realization that the black cane was barely visible to motorists, the Lion's Club decided to paint the cane white to increase its visibility to oncoming motorists. In 1931, the Lion's Club International began a national program promoting the use of white canes for persons who are blind Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, blind persons had walked with their canes held diagonally in a fixed position, and the role of the white cane took on a symbolic role as an identifier.

 

But when blind veterans of World War II returned to America, the form and the use of the white cane was further altered in an attempt to return veterans to participatory lifestyles at home. Doctor Richard Hoover developed the "long cane" or "Hoover" method of cane travel. These white canes are designed to be used as mobility devices and returned the cane to its original role as a tool for mobility, but maintained the symbolic role as an identifier of blind independence. During this period, the white cane began to make its way into government policy as a symbol for the blind.

 

National Recognition for the White Cane

On October 6, 1964, a joint resolution of the Congress, HR 753, was signed into law authorizing the President of The United States of America to proclaim October 15 of each year as "White Cane Safety Day." The resolution read, "Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives that the President is hereby authorized to issue annually a proclamation designating October 15 as White Cane Safety Day and calling upon the people of the United States of America to observe such a day with appropriate ceremonies and activities." Within hours of passage of the congressional resolution, President Lyndon B. Johnson was the first President to proclaim October 15 as White Cane Safety Day.

 

On October 15, 2000, President Bill Clinton again reminded us of the history of the white cane as a tool and its purpose as a symbol of blindness: "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, 2011 and beyond, let us recall the history of the white cane, its emergence as a tool and a symbol through history; a staff of independence. Let us also recall the events that have permitted us to celebrate October 15 as White Cane Safety Day.

 

So keep in mind that when you see people traveling with a white cane, individuals from all over the World will celebrate White Cane Safety Day on October 15.

 

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