Mobility canes. Some call them “white canes”. Others prefer the phrase “symbol cane”. Then there are those who use the word “stick” instead.
Whatever the nomenclature, mobility canes are a recognisable representation of sight impairment.
However, due to the various sizes and design they can come in, people may be confused as to what the differences are and if they are meant to convey different meanings.
Fortunately for you, OXSIGHT have a handy little primer to guide you through the varieties and what they represent.
The Symbol Cane – These canes are the shortest of all canes and are not meant for physical support. They are carried around to notify others that the individual may have a visual impairment. Often made out of lightweight aluminium, symbol canes are often collapsable into three or four segments so they can be folded up and stored conveniently away.
The Guide Cane – The next size up from symbol canes are guide canes. These are normally held diagonally in front of you body and used for basic protection, like detecting obstacles such as steps or kerbs. Like symbol canes, they are normally collapsable for easy storage. They may require training to use competently.
The Long Cane – The largest size of cane is the long cane. These extend out and are used by those with limited or no vision to feel the layout of the environment. Again they are collapsable, however they are normally made-to-measure to ensure maximum functionality for each individual. Training is required in order to safely operate long canes.
The Support Cane – Shorter and thicker than long canes, the support cane is used as an aid by providing physical support. They may have a handle on one end and are strong enough to support body weight which means that they are often heavier than the other types of canes. The end of a support cane will generally grip the floor to ensure that it does not slip when in use.
Just The Tip
Due to their functional nature, tips on the ends of guide, long, and support canes can be customised based on preferences and intended use.
Some tips may hold an advantage indoors, while others may be more suited to rugged terrain. They come in different shapes and sizes, and more may be introduced in the future as cane technology is further optimised.
Here are some of the more common ones:
Pencil Tip – A thin, straight piece of plastic which slightly extends the length of the cane, pencil tips are used in conjunction with the two-point touch technique. They are extremely lightweight so will not stress the wrist as much. However, due to their size, they are prone to being snagged in cracks and other hazards so are not as suitable for rough terrain.
Marshmallow Tip – Imagine a marshmallow on the end of a stick and that’s what you have. Their larger size provides a greater surface area of contact between the tip and the surroundings. This provides more feedback for the user. They will be slightly heavier due to the increase in bulk.
Ball Tip – One more size up is the ball tip. They are great for beginners and are suited to heavy or extended use as they wear down slower. Constant contact techniques are preferred over two-point touch when using ball tips due to their weight potentially straining the wrist. Their size means users will get alot of feedback and they are very suitable for rough terrain.
Roller Tip – These tips can come in different shapes, such as marshmallow, ball, or disk. They are capable of rolling and so making constant contact techniques easier to do as well as minimise the amount of wear the tip takes. They are good for urban environments but may struggle in more unconventional settings.
Flex Tip – Shaped like a bell, the flex tip does exactly that. When sweeping from side to side, the bell end will bounce over uneven surfaces, making it less prone to snagging. It is specifically designed for rough outdoors use.
Rover Free Wheeling Tip – Perhaps the most heavy duty tip, the rover free wheeling tip is a soft rubberised wheel attached to the end of the cane. It is designed to be rolled forwards and backwards and help navigation over really rough terrain.
Bundu Basher Tip – This tip looks like the end of thin hockey stick and was initially designed to aid navigation through the bush in South Africa. It curves up at the end to prevent it from snagging on rough terrain.
Once You Go White…
White – The most traditional and widely used colour for mobility canes. Instantly recognisable as an indicator of visual impairment.
Red Stripes – Often seen on top of white coloured canes, these red stripes indicate that the user also has a hearing impairment in addition to their sight loss.
Any other colour – Although non-traditional, it is possible to purchase canes in other colours. While they will not have the immediate effect of informing others of a visual impairment, they enable the user to display their own personality.
Glow in the dark – Mainly for navigation at night, these canes will not only help the user but also those around them as they can indicate where the user is. Usually, these canes do not require batteries as they will charge up in direct sunlight during the day.