Stepping Toward Independence

on left--pictures of white canes with red at end on right--woman using long white cane in left hand. and support cane in right hand

Editor’s note: October 15 is White Cane Safety Day and we wanted to highlight the importance of white canes for people with vision loss. VisionAware has covered this topic in many ways over the years. including history and benefits. This year, with COVID-19 still affecting service delivery, Lenore Dillon, VRT and peer advisor, has written about the value of the white cane in regaining independence.

The Significance of Specialized Training

Despite how we feel about change, everyone must make transitions in life. Starting school, completing high school and entering college or work, getting married, and retirement are examples of life transitions. In addition to these life changing events, some transitions are specific to the individual. An example would be the transition from useful vision to low vision or blindness. The thought of living life with limited or no vision produces fear and anxiety. Vision loss impacts every aspect of life! Many small adaptations need to be made in order to regain independence.

The good news is that specialized training is available, and it will help with both the physical and psychological steps involved in transitioning. Some of the techniques and equipment used by a person who is visually impaired for transferring into life are easy to understand and bring immediate success. Those techniques are simple to incorporate into everyday living. Most people who have newly-acquired vision loss grasp these new techniques quickly and with pride. Still other adaptive skills such as use of a white cane are met with skepticism.     

Transitioning to a White Cane

One of the many challenges presented by vision loss is the ability to travel safely and independently. Many people often think that the days of getting up and going as they once did are gone forever. That is not true!  However, specialized Orientation & Mobility training is required in order to make this transition safe. Like all other aspects of life after vision loss, techniques and equipment which allow for independent travel exist.

One of the first steps of intervention may be the use of a white cane.  Unlike many of the solutions to vision loss a cane is not always met with an open mind.  I have known people who tried to dispose of their cane.  Others get creative and threaten to put a worm on the end so they can use it as a fishing pole. Some folks may even think of a cane as a four-letter word which needs to be expunged from the English language. I once heard a song called “the Death of the Cane.”  Ironically it was to the tune of “rock ‘a bye baby.”  I am confident that many people young and old had and still have disparaging things to say and even sing about the cane.

Cane Quest

As you embark upon the investigation of possibly using a white cane, make contact with a Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialist (O&M).  O&M specialists are no stranger to assisting you in your quest for information. They will be able to offer personal and professional insight each step of the way.  An O & M Specialist is keenly aware of both the stigma and triumph of using a cane.

woman with white cane extended getting ready to cross the street

Questions to Ask Yourself About Travel Skills

  • How are your travel skills? Are you afraid to go out by yourself?
  • Do you feel safe traveling alone? 
  • Do you feel safe with street crossings?
  • Have you found a step or drop off the hard way, meaning did you trip or fall?
  • Have you taken an “unguided tour,” meaning have you gotten lost?
  • Do you need to ask questions in order to ascertain information about your environment? 

Questions to Ask Yourself about Adjustment Training

  • Have you had any type of personal adjustment training since the onset of your vision loss?
  • Have you been introduced to any techniques and/or equipment you thought strange, but worked for you? 
  • Can you do anything now that you could not do at the onset of your vision loss?     

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, you consider checking into obtaining vision rehabilitation services. You can find services in your state or locale through the APH Directory of Services.

Testimonials on Learning to Adjust to Vision Loss

When most people start learning how to adjust to vision loss, they are amazed with the results.  I have often heard testimonial’s like this:

 “I can apply my makeup better now than I could when I was fully sighted.”

 “Before I lost my sight, I could not even thread a needle, now I am the appointed needle threader for my family.”

The same type of testimonies can and do exist for the use of a cane.  Keep on searching.

Questions to Ask Other Cane Users

Meet and make friends with other people who are faithful users of a cane. Ask, what benefit do they get from using a cane?   When and why did they start using it? Did they have a specific event that helped them make this life-altering decision? Ask them to share experiences.  Personal experiences are powerful!


I once knew a teenage girl who was visually impaired who wanted to go to a nearby town to visit a friend.  As she was an independent sort, she did not want to rely upon others.  So, she began investigating transportation options, and learned that she could take a bus to the next town.  The only way her mother would approve, is if her seven-year-old brother would go with her.  What teenager wants a seven-year-old chaperone?  

She and her brother took the bus, it was a good experience for both of them. In the meantime she continued to investigate other travel options.  She had previously rejected Orientation & Mobility (O&M) training, but now she thought O&M training and a cane might be a great option. 

Meeting her final goal of taking the bus to the next town turned out to be more complex and time-consuming than she thought.  Many intermediate steps needed to be accomplished, before she could tackle bus transportation by herself. Although traveling to her friend’s house was her final goal, it was actually the first step in her life of independent travel. 


Transitioning to the use of a cane can be the most agonizing decision of a lifetime. It is worth careful consideration. With proper training, the cane may be the tool of independence that enables you to make giant steps throughout your life.

Additional Information

Listen to Maribel Steel’s Chapter on “Tapping Rhythm” from Her Book Blindness for Beginners and a Chapter in Amy Bovaird’s Book Mobility Matters

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