Should You Be Using a White Cane?

Should You Be Using a White Cane?

Posted under Living With Low Vision, Low Vision Info

My father-in-law who has wet AMD in both eyes has blind spots, loss of depth perception and loss of contrast sensitivity just like other patients with advanced AMD. These visual losses have compromised his safety and his mobility. We have suggested that he see a mobility specialist and get trained in the use of a white cane.  He wonders why he needs one because he isn’t blind and because his eye doctors have never recommended one.

Dr. Robert Massof, Professor of Ophthalmology and Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School and Medicine and Director of the Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center, addressed this very issue to the National Federation of the Blind,  “Ophthalmologists and optometrists can be overheard saying that their visually impaired patients should not receive mobility training because they are not totally blind. Blindness has a stigma that doctors and their patients alike want to avoid. People with low vision often refuse to use a cane despite its many benefits because it identifies them as blind, and their service providers will reinforce that decision by concurring with their beliefs.”

A recent post in a Macular Degeneration Forum reinforced this all too common mindset, when an AMD patient posted that he does have “trouble with objects popping from the side to the front of my eyes and because of my loss of depth perception it is difficult to walk without stumbling.  Yet,” he writes, “If I use a cane everyone will know that I am blind. I’m at a point of no return “   Thankfully many readers responded to him and encouraged him  in the benefits of using a white cane.

  1. Navigate Safely

One person explained that she can navigate more safely and another commented, “Honestly, I did not feel I was ‘there’ yet – but you know what, I feel safer already walking around and especially crossing the street.”

Dr. Massof adds, “Many people who would describe themselves as having low vision need mobility training, and most are not getting it. Falls and hip fractures are significantly higher in the elderly low vision population than in the age-matched sighted population. “

  1. Less Afraid and More Confident

Those that were hesitant to use a cane later found that using a white cane helped them feel stronger and less afraid when out in public.

  1. Helpful Assistance

Others will be quick to help since the white cane user can be quickly identified as one who has trouble seeing.    Comments from those who use a white cane stated that people would come up to them asking if any assistance was needed.

  1. A Reminder to Friends and Family

One reader shared that, “Even family members forget you can’t see them walking toward you so the cane reminds them and now they call my name while approaching so I know they are addressing me. “

While it’s best to receive mobility training on the use of a white cane, the National Federation of the Blind offers a free white cane to those who are eligible:

Free White Cane Program


Leslie Degner, RN, BSN