Do You Know What a White Cane Means?

a guest blog by Rebecca McFarland Kyle

This was written a few years ago by my friend, Rebecca McFarland Kyle.  We’ve had stories in the same anthology twice now. and will probably do so again.  She is severely visually impaired.

I thought everyone knew what a white cane was for, but apparently I was wrong.


National White Cane Day — October 15

Rebecca McFarland Kyle

originally posted October 15, 2011 at Bex Boox

In honor of National White Cane Day, I’m offering just a bit of an education. People who are using a white cane are either blind or visually disabled. I’ve used a white cane for ten years now and I’ve learned a lot from it and often as not been a teacher for people who’ve never encountered one before.

So what is a white cane and what does it mean? A white cane helps visually impaired or blind people get around.

They use the white cane for two reasons. One, it’s kind of like the “STUDENT DRIVER” sign you see on some automobiles. It tells you to beware and clear the road for someone who might perhaps not be as experienced as you are.

The second reason is to be able to navigate the world without having to be led by a person or a dog. Or worse, stumble around and bump into things. How does it work? The visually impaired or blind person holds the white cane in your hand and sweep or tap it in front of you. Essentially, that white cane is an extension of your index finger. You’re using it to more or less “feel your way around.”

First, if you encounter a person with a white cane, speak to them. Don’t be shy. This helps particularly the blind know where people are.

Second, you don’t need to yell. Generally, we hear pretty well. Sadly, that includes tacky remarks or jokes whispered to your friends.

Third, don’t point or use gestures. Many times we cannot see them or interpret them properly. Use your words: forward (for straight ahead), left, and right work great for directions.

Fourth, don’t expect the person with the cane to be “polite” and move it out of your path. They don’t see you there. If you’re not paying attention or expect the cane to be moved out of your way, don’t get abusive. You’re the one with the vision. Be glad you’ve got it and use it.

Fifth, allow people using white canes some space to navigate. They need to move the cane in front of them about two paces ahead and a bit more than the width of their body. If you see a person coming using a cane, keep your distance particularly with items that can foul up in the cane. Be particularly careful of pets and small children. We don’t want to harm anyone.

Sixth, teach your children about white canes. Uneducated kids thinking they can jump over the cane or play limbo with it is dangerous for both the cane user and the kid.

Seventh, if you need to lead a blind or visually impaired person somewhere, offer your arm. Walk slowly. Be aware of obstacles off to the side, overhead, and steps and just verbally tell the person what they’re getting into.

Blind and visually impaired people are not that much different than you. We want our independence, space and respect. The white cane helps us achieve that. I hope some of what I’ve said here while help my readers be more comfortable with people who use white canes.


Rebecca McFarland Kyle is an author and editor.  She was born on Friday the 13th, which explains a few things about her horror and fantasy stories.


Image via Google Images, from Joni and Friends

Still Not Dead Yet

Labor Day weekend I had a minor stroke.  My husband called 911.  I rode in an ambulance to the hospital.  Once I got there, they took very good care of me, other than serving breakfast too late.  (I’m used to an early breakfast.)

I had the best therapists in the world, and am out of the wheelchair and can walk with the help of a cane.  (The picture above is at the Memphis Zoo, just before Halloween.  Our insurance wouldn’t cover a home health aide, so my husband is my primary caregiver.

Downside:  my concentration and short-term memory are shot.  Don’t know when or if they’ll come back.  My left arm is more decorative than useful, so driving remains a long-term goal.

Upside:  I’ve been out of diapers since October or November.  Thanks to my speech therapist, I can speak reasonably intelligibly.  I recently submitted a poem to Cricket and  a short story, “The Lizard-Men from Outer Space to B Cubed Press’ Tales of the Space Force.  I also completed a fantasy story, “Trolls are Different” to accompany my application for the SLF Older Writers Grant.

Since I am unemployed and unemployable at present, I’ve resolved to work on my writing more seriously.  My Iron Writer Quarterly Goals are to

  1.  write and submit three stories, one per month.
  2. Blog weekly.  (which is why you’re reading this)
  3. Exercise my left arm and eventually regain the use of it.

That last one may be a long-term goal rather than a quarterly goal.

People keep reminding me that I’m doing much better than other stroke survivors.  That at seven months, many stroke survivors aren’t able to get out of bed yet.  I may be complaining of all the things I can’t do yet as well as minor pain, but most stroke survivors have it worse.  And I’m still on the right side of the dirt:  I’m not dead yet.

 with a cane.  After reciting “eleven benevolent elephants” more times than any sane person should, I can speak reasonably Thanks to the efforts of my speech therapist, I can spe However, my concentration is shot, as is my short term memory.  My left arm is more decorative than functional.  I am learning to do things one-handed.  The PBA was the worst of the side effects (uncontrolled crying jags and laughing fits).  Diaper rash was the second worse.  Luckily, shortly after I learned to change my own diaper, I graduated to being able to go to the bathroom by myself.