Iowa Department for the Blind
Independent Living Program
Newsletter - Vol. 3, 2007

White Cane Safety Day is October 15th!

With proper training, a blind person is able to use the cane to go where she or he wants, when she or he wants.  This is why the cane has come to be regarded as an important symbol of freedom and independence for someone who is blind.  The white cane is a useful tool for detecting and avoiding obstacles and landmarks along one's path of travel, and it helps to alert others in the community that the person using it is blind.

The cane used by a blind traveler, often called a "white cane," is usually made of fiberglass or aluminum, and it is comprised of a solid shaft.  Some white canes can be folded into segments or telescoped for easier carrying when not in use.  The white cane is intended solely as a tool to facilitate independent travel by someone who is blind.  The type of white cane that a blind traveler would use, whether it be long, short, straight, folding, or telescoping, varies depending on personal choice.  Some travelers use the long, straight white cane, while others will use one that is folding or telescoping.

Training in the use of the white cane is included in the comprehensive services provided by the Iowa Department for the Blind.  Depending on a person's level of independence and adjustment to blindness, the rehabilitation teacher or counselor may provide counseling on the benefits of the cane, basic instruction for independent travel within the community, or in-depth training to enable a person to go wherever he or she wants.

A Brief History of the White Cane 

James Briggs, a photographer from Bristol who lost his sight after an accident, claims to have invented the white cane in 1921.  To make himself more visible to traffic, he painted his walking stick white.  In the 1930's, organizations around the world began promoting the white cane as a symbol of blindness. 

In 1931, the movement began in North America.  This movement not only promoted the cane as a universal symbol of blindness but also as a tool for independent mobility.

Governmental Policies

The first White Cane Ordinance passed in Peoria, Illinois in 1930.  It granted blind pedestrians protections and the right-of-way while carrying a white cane.  Similar laws were passed in a number of states, including Iowa.

However, it wasn't until October 6, 1964 that the white cane was recognized at the national level.  On that date, a joint resolution of Congress was signed into law authorizing the President of the United States to proclaim October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day.

Presidential Statements

Lyndon B. Johnson was the first president to proclaim October 15th as White Cane Safety Day.  In 2001 President Bill Clinton stated, "With proper training, people using the white cane can enjoy greater mobility and safety by determining the location of curbs, steps, uneven pavement, and other physical obstacles in their path. The white cane has given them the freedom to travel independently to their schools and workplaces and to participate more fully in the life of their communities. It reminds us that the only barriers against people with disabilities are discriminatory attitudes and practices that our society has too often placed in their way."


White Cane Safety Day in Your Community

To promote White Cane Safety Day in your community:

        Encourage your mayor to sign a White Cane Safety Day Proclamation.  For a copy, contact Barb Weigel.

        Encourage local newspapers, radio stations, and television stations to promote the day and its history (For example, if the Mayor signs the Proclamation, encourage the media to cover the signing).

        Coordinate a white cane march.  Gather blind and visually impaired residents within your community to participate in an organized march to raise awareness of the white cane and White Cane Safety Day.  If you need assistance with contacting individuals in your area, contact Barb Weigel.

        Include White Cane Safety Day as part of the month's activity schedule.  Perhaps, offer a presentation on the white cane.  A representative from the Iowa Department for the Blind may be able to assist you with this.  For more information, call 800-362-2587 and ask for Independent Living.

        Use bulletin boards and other public displays to disseminate information about the white cane and White Cane Safety Day.

        Invite someone who uses a white cane to speak to your residents or staff. 


If you know someone who could benefit from the services available through the Department for the Blind, if you would like to set up an in-service with a Department for the Blind representative, or if you simply want more information, call the Department for the Blind at 800-362-2587 or visit

Upcoming Events

To find out what is happening at the Department and in your area, choose the Upcoming Events link.

Upcoming Events

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INDEPENDENT LIVING PROGRAM NEWSLETTER  is published by the Iowa Department for the Blind. Please direct questions and suggestions to the Iowa Department for the Blind, 524 Fourth Street, Des Moines, IA 50309-2364, 515-281-1333.