Mobility Canes: The Definitive Guide

You may have seen people using a variety of canes, but have you ever wondered why there are different types? Or perhaps you’re visually impaired and wondering which cane you should consider for yourself? Look no further! We’re about to go through the various canes and explain how they are typically used.

Canes are a mobility aid that enable visually impaired people get out and about safely and confidently. There are different types of cane, which differ in design and function.

All canes are used to indicate to others that you are visually impaired, but some canes can do even more. This blog will talk through the different canes: how they are designed and what they are primarily used for.

Symbol Canes

First up we have the Symbol Cane.

A visually impaired person would use a symbol cane to indicate their visual impairment to others, but this cane cannot be used for scanning your environment or detecting landmarks and obstacles, so is best suited to those who still have a lot of residual vision.

Symbol canes are a way to let people know that you have low vision and may need some assistance as a result. For example, you may be able to avoid large obstacles and cross the road safely, but you may struggle to read bus numbers, and may need assistance to know what bus is approaching, and a symbol cane will help communicate you may need that support.

Guide Canes

Next is the Guide Cane.

These are longer than symbol canes and are used for basic mobility, and to protect you from hazards. Guide canes will find obstacles before you do, as you hold the guide cane in front of you diagonally across your body.

To use a guide cane most effectively, we recommend you have training from a professional such as a mobility instructor.

Long Canes

The Long Cane, as the name suggests, is the longest cane, and comes in different lengths, so that you can purchase the one most appropriate for your height. A mobility instructor can advise you of the most appropriate cane for your height as part of your cane training.

Traditionally, visually impaired people use a long cane that is white. However, some people prefer to use a long cane that is a different colour, as they feel it better shows their individuality, and visually impaired people may use different coloured canes with different outfits, so having it as an accessory as well as a mobility aid. There are many different colours available, so you can choose your favourite colour to help you get about.

You use a long cane to scan the environment around you, to detect landmarks and obstacles, and detect other tactile elements such as changes of surface.

The way this one differs from the Guide Cane is that a long cane’s end has a tip of some kind.

There are two types of tips that people primarily use: roller tips and pointed tips.

Roller tips are best for smooth pavements and offer the largest amount of information about your environment as they never leave the ground. This can lead to their downfall however: if they get trapped by uneven ground or other objects such as bikes, then they can jar your arm and impact your stomach.

To avoid impact, you can purchase a NoJab cane: this is a long cane with a retracting handle, so the handle will retract away from you if it encounters an object or surface it gets stuck on.

Roller tips are either cricket ball shaped, or more cylindrical.

Hard tips are best for rough pavements, as these are used when tapping the ground as opposed to rolling across it.

To use a long cane effectively with appropriate techniques, you will need to have comprehensive training from a mobility instructor. A mobility instructor will teach you cane technique, including crossing the road safely and accessing public transport.

Support Canes

Support canes are designed for people with physical impairments. An occupational therapist will prescribe a support cane, including determining the length of the cane you need. If a support cane is white, it will indicate the person is also visually impaired.

Red Striped Canes

If you come across a cane that has red stripes on it, this usually signifies that the person has a hearing impairment as well as a visual impairment. This can be on any of the canes mentioned in this blog post.

Watch these videos to hear more explanation on canes as Mark is joined by Simon Merrills, a qualified rehabilitation officer and long cane user himself.

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