OBVI: Why Would Someone Need a White Cane?

If you have a question that isn't answered below, please email the Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired (OBVI).

When a person experiences vision loss, he or she is often encouraged to go and purchase a red and white cane. But mere ownership of a white cane does not solve many of the hassles and dangers associated with vision loss.

The cane can have many functions, which an Orientation and Mobility instructor is specially trained to teach. Safety and independence are the ultimate goals of Orientation and Mobility training.

When used properly, a cane can provide a sort of "bumper" against the environment, especially if all or part of the visual field is missing. An Orientation and Mobility Specialist will instruct a person with a visual impairment on how to carry the cane most effectively.

A cane can also work as a probe. It can tell a person what his or her vision may not tell him or her about curbs or stairs.

A cane will help a person confidently maneuver around optical illusions often found in public buildings where low vision customers have not been considered in the architecture or color scheme.

A white cane alerts the rest of the world that the person holding it has difficulty seeing. This may encourage others to offer assistance, give more leeway in crowds, or give change by placing the coins and bills in the person's hand.

Cane use can take either minimal or involved training, depending on the vision, motivation, and cognitive abilities of the user. Anyone with a visual impairment can benefit from learning the use of the cane, whether she be nine years old or 90.

Family members and friends will be able to enjoy a person's company without constantly worrying about whether he or she can travel from point A to point B with ease.

Three types of canes will prove the most useful for clients:

  • Long canes provide the most protection to a blind traveler. The cane user uses the cane as a probe, which will give information about what lies ahead.
    • The cane will detect drop-offs, stairs, objects, grass lines, walls and openings. The long cane has multiple uses for the traveler and can be the lifeline for a person with a visual impairment.
  • Identification canes provide minimal protection, and are used by people with slight to moderately impaired vision, depending on the visual field.
    • The person can use it selectively to probe the terrain, but the cane's primary function is to let the public know that the carrier has trouble with his or her vision.
  • Support canes provide a similar function as the identification canes. They identify a person as visually impaired and give some information about the environment.
    • Travelers with slight to moderate visual impairment use the support cane to aid with balance or strength in the legs.
  • Additional comments about white canes, indoor orientation

Orientation and Mobility training maximizes safety in indoor and outdoor environments, and gives a person a sense of control over his or her environment. Orientation and mobility training also teaches people how to use their remaining senses effectively and confidently.


Last revised November 1, 2021