White Cane Awareness Day

What is White Cane Awareness Day?

Blind students travel independently with their long white canes on a visit to San Francisco.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, the NFB has chosen to refer to this day as White Cane Awareness Day.

A group of blind youths walk confidently down the stairs with the help of their long white canes."The white cane is the means by which blind people have come out of the safe but suffocating shadows in which we lived for most of history and have begun truly to live in the world. More than a tool for movement, the long white cane has come to be a true symbol of what we know about blindness: it is respectable to be blind, blindness is not the characteristic that defines us or holds us back, and the actual experience of blind people rather than society’s misconceptions should define our future. 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." – Mark A. Riccobono, President, National Federation of the Blind.

What does the white cane mean to a blind person?

For the blind, the white cane is a symbol of our independence. We use our senses of hearing and touch to explore and understand the world around us. The white cane allows us to "touch" our environment as we walk through it. We can 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. Because the cane, in effect, makes our hands and arms longer, we can move quickly and confidently instead of shuffling along apprehensively. The white cane gives us mobility, safety, and freedom.

Free white canes for all!

Blind youths and adults travel confidently with their long white canes.The National Federation of the Blind believes that no blind person should be without a cane, regardless of his or her ability to pay for it. That is why we give out approximately five thousand white canes per year through our free white cane program. We are also committed to doing everything we can to make sure every blind person can acquire the training he or she needs to learn to use the white cane and the other techniques that allow blind people to live the lives we want. We have three affiliated model training centers in the United States, and the innovative training programs we have pioneered at these centers are increasingly being replicated by other rehabilitation agencies and providers.

What does the white cane tell a sighted person?

When you see blind people using white canes, remember that we can safely and independently navigate and explore 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 the cane is just an extension of our sense of touch. We are usually not lost, even if it looks that way to you; we may simply be exploring to learn what is around us. Feel free to greet us and say hello. If we do need any help or direction from you, we will ask; if not, we will just politely greet you in return. Of course, if you are driving or cycling and do see one of us crossing in front of you with our white cane, follow the law and stop to give us the right-of-way.1

How does the National Federation of the Blind celebrate White Cane Awareness Day?

White Cane Awareness Day is in the middle of October, which is also Meet the Blind Month. Members of the National Federation of the Blind will be in their communities conducting various activities to show how the blind live the lives we want. Of course, there will be white cane walks, but there will also be film screenings, wine tastings, social events and more.

Watch this web page and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube to learn more about how you can celebrate White Cane Awareness Day with us.

White Cane Awareness Day Proclamation Template (Word)

1. Some version of the Model White Cane Law has been adopted in all fifty states.