Public Perceptions of a White Cane
Whilst most members of the public are very considerate towards islanders with sight loss we hope the following points will help clear up any misunderstandings:
- Most people with sight loss won’t look any different from anyone else.
- Very few people with sight loss are completely blind, most have some useful vision left. Many people with impaired sight use a cane to help them to stay independent.
- There are several different types of cane which are used for different purposes: a short symbol cane is used to raise awareness of the user’s sight loss. The longer guide cane is used to feel for obstacles and to identify kerbs. A long cane is rolled or tapped from side to side as the user walks to help them find their way and to avoid obstacles. A cane which features red stripes tells people that the user has both sight and hearing loss. Someone with mobility problems might use a white walking stick.
- All white canes let other people know that the cane user has sight problems. This helps the public to understand that the cane user may not see pedestrians approach until the last moment – so please move out of their way to avoid the risk of accident. Some people use their cane to show that they might need assistance with certain tasks – if you notice someone struggling you could ask if help is needed.
- Many people with sight loss feel too vulnerable to use a cane. They don’t feel ready to draw attention to their sight loss.
- There are many different types of sight loss so you may notice things which surprise you – however this does not mean that the person you have noticed is not sight impaired. For instance, you might notice that someone is able to read text – however that person may see only what you would see if you were looking down a narrow tube. People with “tunnel vision” probably won’t notice things to the sides, above or below this limited area of vision, so may well need a cane to help them get around safely.
- Certain conditions can worsen the sight of people who have sight loss. Here are some examples: Poor light conditions – indoors and out. Glare – a bright day can cause dazzle. Being outside at night. Feeling unwell, depressed or stressed. Moving between different light conditions (we can probably all remember feeling temporarily blinded when moving into a dark exterior after being outside on a bright day). Someone who is sight impaired takes a lot longer to adjust between different light conditions -even moving from a darker to a lighter room can temporarily make their vision worse.
A brilliant video made by the RNIB explains the white cane and why many sight impaired people use them.