Visually impaired and blind people have been important and contributing members of society for centuries.
The white cane hasn’t been around nearly as long, but since emerging in the early 1900s its contribution has been a mobility game-changer. It’s also a symbol of independence. This is why the white cane holds such prominence in the annual week of recognition for the blind.
“We all seek to be willing and productive members of society, where we can work without judgement, move about without fear, and live by our own will,” says OPSEU President, Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “The white cane is that tangible symbol and tool that reminds us we are all equal.”
The story of the white cane starts in 1921 when a photographer from Bristol, James Biggs, became the first blind person to use one. He did it to make himself more visible while navigating traffic around his home. It reached wide usage in the 1930s, going global in its popularity when Lions Clubs International began a program of distribution around the world.
The long cane was improved upon by Second World War veterans rehabilitation specialist, Richard E. Hoover, at Valley Forge Army Hospital. In 1944, he took the Lions Club white cane (originally made of wood) and walked around the hospital blindfolded for a week. During this time he developed what is now the standard method of long cane training, or the Hoover Method. He is now referred to as the father of the lightweight long cane technique.
“The contributions of the blind are everywhere,” says OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer, Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida. “Look to the invention of Braille by Louise Braille that allows people to read. In more widespread usage is the automobile cruise control system. This was invented by Ralph Teetor, a blind man. This week, we celebrate blind people and their achievements.”
For more local information on how you can support White Cane Week visit the Canadian Council of the Blind website or call 1-877-304 0968. Email: email@example.com