There are several types of mobility canes used by people with vision loss.
A shorter cane, called an ID cane, may be used for the primary purpose of identifying the user as a person with vision loss so that others will respond appropriately (e.g., by not impeding their path of travel or by offering assistance). People who use an ID cane may also rely on a sighted guide or use their residual vision for mobility.
Some people use a support cane, typically white, to assist with balance as well as identifying themselves as having vision loss. For example, an elderly person who needs extra support and stability may use this type of cane. Someone using a support cane may pair this with the use of residual vision or another mobility aid.
The white cane most often used for mobility is called the long cane. It assists with object detection and depth perception, providing advance information of gradient changes and upcoming barriers or dangers in the path of travel. As with the other types of canes, it also serves to identify that a person has vision loss.
People who use the long cane sometimes receive formal instruction on its use, called orientation and mobility training. Instruction provides people with skills to travel safely, independently and gracefully in their environment.
The long cane is meant to ensure that objects in the line of travel below 680mm, waist level, are detected. It will not detect objects protruding into the line of travel above waist level unless they are properly identified at or near ground level, in which case they can be called “cane detectable.” For more information on protruding objects and cane detectability, please see Protruding Objects and Other Obstacles.
Note that the use of a variety of coloured canes has increased in recent years. Although a matter of individual preference, the techniques used by people with vision loss remain the same.
The primary cane technique is called the “touch technique.” Users systematically tap the cane on the ground to their left and right side in a wide arc, about 25 mm beyond the widest part of their body. In addition to providing information about objects in the path of travel, the touch technique can provide the user with acoustic information.
Although many people receive formal training on how to use a cane, some people do not pursue formal training and develop their own techniques.
When people use their residual vision in conjunction with long white canes, they typically rely on their vision to detect objects above waist level and their canes to detect objects below waist level. For example, someone with good central vision but limited peripheral vision may use their vision to detect objects directly in front of them (such as tree branches and road signs) but use their cane to detect obstacles at ground level.