Ever wonder who invented white canes and how they were developed?
White canes are mobility devices for the visually impaired. There are five common types of white canes, each with a specialized use.
Canes and staffs have been used throughout history as mobility and travelling aids for the blind and elderly to find obstacles in the way. The white cane is an improvement on this, for the visually impaired.
The Invention Process
White canes specifically for the visually impaired became popular after the First World War.
James Biggs is credited for inventing one of the first white canes in 1921. After being blinded in an accident, James Biggs painted his cane white to be more visible to motorists.
About ten years later James Biggs’s cane design was formalized by Guilly d’Herbemont. On February 7th, 1931, Guilly d’Herbemont symbolically gave two white canes to blind people while in the presence of several French ministers.
This formalization of the white cane spurred 5000 white canes to be sent to blind French citizens and veterans from the First World War.
Another person credited with formalizing the use of white canes was George A. Bonham. In 1930, Mr. Bonham observed a blind man trying to cross the street with great difficulty, as motorists couldn’t see his black walking cane.
George A. Bonham worked with the Lions Club International and together they came up with the idea to paint the cane white. The next year, Lions Club International started a program to promote the safety benefits of using white canes.
With veterans returning home after the Second World War, a need was created to improve how white canes were used.
Richard E. Hoover, a veteran rehabilitation specialist, is credited for developing the technique for using white canes.
The idea of the “Hoover” method is to swing the cane back and forth in front of your feet, starting in the center of your body.
Richard E. Hoover came up with this technique after spending a week blindfolded to see the difficulties blind people face.
The idea of the “Hoover” method is to swing the cane back and forth in front of your feet, starting in the center of your body. This technique worked well, but the canes had to be made longer for it to be effective.
As you can see, one single person didn’t invent the white cane. Starting in 1921, the white cane developed over time to become the popular visual aid that it is today.
History of White Cane legislation
White canes are acknowledged as a symbol of blindness, but not many people know the legislation and benefits they afford their users.
The first laws surrounding white canes were passed in 1930 in Peoria, Illinois.
This legislation granted blind pedestrians the right of way and protection against motorists while carrying a white cane.
During the early 1960’s, many organizations supporting the advocacy of blind people declared October 15th as national white cane safety day. This collective agreement brought much-sought attention to the organized blind movement and use of the white cane.
On October 5, 1964, Congress passed bill HR 753, which sanctioned the President of the United States to dedicate October 15th of every year to honouring this cane.
Within hours of the bill being passed, President Lyndon B. Johnson officially declared October 15th as national “White Cane Safety Day”.
This type of cane has an important place in human history. They have given independence to people with visual impairments and sovereignty over their own life.
White canes are the most cost-effective solution for visual impairments. Seeing eye dogs and visual aids are not affordable for everyone. White canes are an affordable and practical solution that continue to provide the visually impaired with sovereignty over their lives.