Mobility canes for people with visual impairments - Sense (2024)

People with visual impairments use a variety of different types of cane to support them to move around.

Mobility canes for people with visual impairments - Sense (1)

On this page, find out more about the difference between a guide cane and a symbol cane, how to get a cane, and more.

On this page:

  • Guide canes
  • Symbol canes
  • Long canes
  • Red and white canes
  • Do I need to use a cane?
  • How to get a cane
  • How to use a cane

Guide canes

Guide canes are used by blind and visually impaired people to help them move around. A guide cane is a long white stick that usually comes up to about the user’s waist.

You use it by sweeping or tapping the cane from side to side to get more information about what’s in your environment.

You can also hold it diagonally across your body to detect obstacles that are higher up.

By moving the cane around in front of you, you can feel any obstacles that are in your path. This could include kerbs, steps or any objects in your way.

Symbol canes

Symbol canes are canes that you hold in front of you to show people around you that you are visually impaired.

Unlike guide canes, you don’t actually use them to help you move or navigate your way around. Instead, they’re helpful for letting people around you know that you have low vision – especially in crowded places.

Symbol canes are usually shorter than guide canes. Some can even be folded up and put away inside your bag.

Long canes

A long cane is a longer version of a guide cane. It usually comes up to the user’s chest or armpit.

It allows you to feel obstacles that are further away in front of you.

Unlike a guide cane, a long cane usually has a tip that either rolls or points.

You usually need to have some training in order to be able to use a long cane effectively.

Red and white canes

Most people with visual impairments will use a white cane, but some people have red stripes on theirs.

This shows that they have a hearing impairment as well as sight impairment.

People who are deafblind may use any of the above types of cane (guide canes, symbol canes or long canes) with red stripes.

Mobility canes for people with visual impairments - Sense (2)

Do I need to use a cane?

Whether or not you want to use a cane to help you get around is up to you. Everyone’s situation is different.

If you’re partially sighted, you might find it helpful to carry a symbol cane to let people around you know that you can’t see very well.

If you have a more severe sight impairment, you might find that a cane helps you to be more independent.

To find out if a cane is right for you, you could request a needs assessment from your local social services.

To find out more, find a service or organisation for visually impaired people near you using the RNIB’s Sightline Directory.

How to get a cane

You can buy a cane independently, or you can get one by having an assessment from your local social services.

If you want to buy one yourself, you can buy canes from the RNIB, or many online retailers such as Amazon.

But it’s recommended to get a cane from social services. This way, you should be able to get your cane for free, and you’ll get trained in how to use it, too.

How exactly the process works will depend on where you live.

To find out more, use the RNIB’s Sightline Directory.

How to use a cane

When you get a guide cane or long cane, you should also get offered training in how to use it.

Training is the best way to learn how to use your cane. It will make sure that you’re holding it correctly and safely. People supporting you may need some training on how to support you effectively with the cane, too.

But these are some general tips:

  • You can find obstacles in your path by sweeping your cane from side to side.
  • You can also hold the cane diagonally across your body to protect you from obstacles in front of you.
  • Some people use their cane to follow along with kerbs or building lines. This helps them to navigate their route.
  • You can also use your cane to feel tactile paving, which usually alerts you to an upcoming hazard (like a road crossing).
  • Guide canes and long canes can also help you locate stairs. You can use the cane to tell when you’ve reached the top or bottom of the stairs, and whether they’re going up or down.

Support from Sense

We’re here for people with complex disabilities and their families all over the UK. Get in touch to find out more about the services we offer.

Find out more

This content was last reviewed in September 2023. We’ll review it again in 2025.

Mobility canes for people with visual impairments - Sense (2024)


Do visually impaired people use canes? ›

A white cane is a device used by many people who are blind or visually impaired. A white cane primarily allows its user to scan their surroundings for obstacles or orientation marks, but is also helpful for onlookers in identifying the user as blind or visually impaired and taking appropriate care.

What color cane for visually impaired? ›

White canes are important mobility tools for their users. White canes allow people who are blind, DeafBlind, or visually impaired to navigate the world around them safely and independently.

Which type of cane is important for low vision person? ›

A white support cane can identify you as a person who is blind or low vision. The probing cane (more commonly called a “white cane” or a “long cane”) probes for and locates obstacles in your path of travel.

Which is a significant disadvantage of using a cane for visual impaired mobility? ›

Head-height obstacles such as tree branches are a major concern. In many cases, objects above knee level are also not sensed until it is too late. For example, if there is a table in the path of the user, the cane may pass between the table legs, under the tabletop.

What are smart canes for blind? ›

1. Enhanced Obstacle Detection: Safety first! Stay safe and aware with WeWALK Smart Cane 2, featuring custom-designed detection technology that alerts you to overhead obstacles through haptic and audible feedback, all while maintaining the ground-level feedback of a standard white cane.

What are the sticks used by visually impaired people? ›

Mobility canes are a form of mobility aid that enable blind or visually impaired people to go about their daily business when out and about, especially in unfamiliar areas. White mobility canes are used by many people who have a visual impairment.

What does a black cane mean? ›

Canes, like hats, were often part of someone's "haberdashery" back in the day. These ubiquitous black canes were not readily visible to sighted people to indicate someone's blindness. Accidents happened.

What does the blue cane mean? ›

Blue or yellow added to the white cane signifies that the user is blind or low vision. Small children are trained with colored canes to encourage them to use their cane.

What does a white cane mean? ›

An all-white cane means that the user is completely blind and has no usable vision. A white cane with a red bottom means that the user has low, but some usable vision. A white and red striped cane means that the user is totally blind and/or deaf.

When should you not use a cane? ›

If you are not self-assured of your body's abilities, this could be a tell-tale sign that you would benefit from a walker instead of a cane. To handle a walking stick, it will take a certain degree of upper-body strength.

What does it mean if a pedestrian is using a white cane? ›

A totally or partially blind pedestrian who is carrying a predominantly white cane (with or without a red tip), or using a guide dog, shall have the right-of-way, and the driver of any vehicle approaching this pedestrian, who fails to yield the right-of-way, or to take all reasonably necessary precautions to avoid ...

What problems do blind people face while walking? ›

The problems that blind people face when outdoors include colliding with obstacles, navigating staircases, and slipping on damp terrain. Blind people face the challenge of avoiding various types of obstacles when walking outdoors, which can vary in configuration, danger level, and dynamics.

What disability do you need a cane for? ›

Certain medical conditions may necessitate the need for a cane. Having a diagnosis such as a stroke/CVA, Parkinson's Disease, peripheral neuropathy, vertigo, or multiple sclerosis (MS) can cause strength, flexibility, and balance issues to the point that a cane is necessary for safe walking.

How do blind people navigate without a cane? ›

Not all persons considered blind use a long white cane or dog guide. People who are visually impaired often rely on their remaining sight and auditory and tactile cues in their surroundings for orientation and travel. Some may also use aids such as telescopes for specific tasks.

What is the best cane tip for blind people? ›

Rolling marshmallow tip

It is one of the most common cane tips and allows users to go across a variety of surfaces with ease and have constant contact with the ground. This is my everyday cane and I have tons of friends that use it as well- the marshmallow tip appears in the emoji for blindness canes as well.

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