White Cane Awareness Day

The National Federation of the Blind celebrates White Cane Awareness Day every year on October 15.

A man teaches a young girl how to hold her white cane at the 2018 National Convention.

For blind people, the white cane is a critical tool that gives us the ability to achieve a full and independent life. It allows us to move freely and safely from place to place, whether it's at work, at school, or around our neighborhoods.

On White Cane Awareness Day, and throughout Meet the Blind Month, members of the National Federation of the Blind conduct activities in their communities such as white cane walks, film screenings, and social events.

"White Cane Awareness Day is our way of emphasizing the critical role that this tool plays in living the lives we want and informing the public about its true significance," said President Mark A. Riccobono.

How to Celebrate White Cane Awareness Day

White Cane Awareness Day 2018 Video

How White Canes Work

Blind people use our senses of hearing and touch to explore and understand the world around us. The white cane, in effect, makes our hands and arms longer, so that we can assess the situation, and move quickly and confidently. The white cane allows us to avoid obstacles, find steps and curbs, locate and step over cracks or uneven places in the sidewalk, find doorways, get into cars and buses, and much more.

What to Do When You See Someone Using a White Cane

When you see a blind person using a white cane, remember that the cane is our tool to safely and independently navigate the environment. There's no need to shout warnings or try to physically steer us so that our canes won't bump into things. Remember that we are using our canes to explore what is around us.

Feel free to greet us and say hello. If we do need any help or direction, we will ask. If not, we will just politely greet you in return.

Here are some helpful tips you can keep in mind when meeting a blind person.

If you are driving or cycling and see someone using a white cane, you must follow the law and stop to give us the right of way.

The History of White Cane Awareness Day

While it was not uncommon throughout history for blind people to use a stick or cane to navigate, society largely didn't accept that blind people could travel by ourselves until recently.

In the 1960s, the National Federation of the Blind became a leader in fighting for the rights of the blind and in pioneering innovative training programs using the white cane. At our urging, the United States Congress adopted a joint resolution in 1964 designating October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day. This publicly recognized that white canes enable blind people to travel safely and independently. You can read more about the rich history leading to this joint resolution and about the first proclamation of White Cane Safety Day by then president Lyndon Johnson in this article by Dr. Marc Maurer.

While the white cane keeps blind people safe (because drivers and other pedestrians can easily see it), it is also a tool that blind people use to explore and navigate our environment. For this reason, the emphasis of White Cane Safety Day has shifted over time away from safety, and toward independence and equality. We believe that it's important to celebrate this history and recognize the white cane as the tool that allows the blind to "come and go on [our] own" as President Johnson said back in 1964.

To emphasize the shift in focus from safety to independence, and to continue to use the white cane as a symbol, we have chosen to refer to this day as White Cane Awareness Day.