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Choosing the Right White Cane: Factors to Consider

May 26, 2021 | Leave a Comment

by Eleni Gaves, COMS

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Man walking with a white cane.

Getting a first cane can seem overwhelming up front. From different sizes to materials and then to cane tips, there’s a lot of variety. And certainly, there is a lack of clarity about what each thing does or why so many variations exist. Add in the fact that you may be wondering how to hold it, or how to even use it, and you’ve got a fairly confusing pile of questions to walk through. Today we’ll answer some of these questions, and hopefully, make it seem less daunting to get started.


What is a White Cane Made of?

First, we have the cane material. The main materials you will find are aluminum or graphite, with fiberglass being a common third option. Fiberglass is the lightest and aluminum the heaviest. With being the heaviest though, aluminum can take a little more wear and is not prone to splintering the same way the other two may be. With a lighter graphite or fiberglass cane, you will want to check periodically for splinters and trade out the cane as soon as you can if you find any.


Folding or Rigid?

Your white cane can come rigid —  as one solid length — or folding. The benefit of a rigid cane is that it transmits tactile feedback better than the folding. The downside is  it may be more difficult to simply place your cane under your chair in a restaurant or next to your feet in the car.


What Difference Does the Cane Tip Make?

You have a lot of choices with tips, and this is where it can pay to be aware of what’s out there. Most tips are plastic or hard rubber, but there are a few options that are metal or ceramic. The benefit of metal and ceramic is that they make a much more noticeable sound when used. This is beneficial if you are confident in hearing some of the echoes the tip can create and using that to your advantage.

Between the types of plastic tips, there is a choice between rolling and stationary. The benefit of the rollers (marshmallow or ball) is that if the surface you are sliding the cane on is rough or uneven, you have a better chance of not getting the cane tip stuck than if it doesn’t roll. It can also pay to note that the larger the cane tip, generally the less you will notice the cane sticking into cracks. The downside of a rolling tip is that, like a folding cane, will lose some of the tactile data in order to provide that benefit, compared to a plain pencil or teardrop style tip. These tips are also usually noticeably heavier than some of the non-rolling options.

Other specialty tips exist, such as a disk for hiking, but can be harder to come by.


How Long Should the Cane Be?

Now that you’ve got some basic info on what you might consider for materials or construction, we get to the point that will truly, truly make a difference in your cane —  its height. You do not want a cane that is too short, for many reasons that all relate to safety. As a base height, your cane should be as tall as halfway up your sternum, or to just inside your armpit. This gives you, with proper technique, enough warning to stop before running into most obstacles once the cane detects it. If you find you aren’t getting enough warning at that size, or maybe you walk really fast, feel free to grab a slightly longer one.


What About Purchasing a White Cane?

Now that we’ve talked about cane basics, maybe you’re looking online to purchase your cane and wondering how do you narrow down the results? Some common brands to look for are Revolution or Ambutech, which are available through several websites and the Second Sense Product Center. Canes usually run around 30 or 40 dollars plus extra for some of the tips. Alternatively, the fiberglass cane we mentioned earlier is available through the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). By filling out a short application, you can get one in your size, rigid, with a metal tip, for free.

When choosing the cane material, type, tip and length, you can see there are tradeoffs of one feature or another. The most important thing you want to make sure of is that you’ve got the correct size. And, once you’ve gotten your cane, make sure to schedule time to meet with an orientation and mobility specialist to get first-hand training in the most effective ways to use it.


If you have more questions about white canes and mobility training, don’t miss my virtual workshop on Tuesday, June 22 at 1:00 pm.

Eleni is a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist at Second Sense

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