White Cane - History

History

Blind people have used canes as mobility tools for centuries. but it was not until after World War I that the white cane was introduced.

In 1921 James Biggs, a photographer from Bristol who became blind after an accident and was uncomfortable with the amount of traffic around his home, painted his walking stick white to be more easily visible.

In 1931 in France, Guilly d'Herbemont launched a national white stick movement for blind people. On February 7, 1931, Guilly d'Herbemont symbolically gave the first two white canes to blind people, in the presence of several French ministers. 5,000 more white canes were later sent to blind French veterans from World War I and blind civilians.

In the United States, the introduction of the white cane is attributed to George A. Bonham of the Lions Clubs International. In 1930, a Lions Club member watched as a man who was blind attempted to cross the street with a black cane that was barely visible to motorists against the dark pavement. The Lions decided to paint the cane white to make it more visible. In 1931, Lions Clubs International began a program promoting the use of white canes for people who are blind.

The first special White Cane Ordinance was passed in December 1930 in Peoria, Illinois granting blind pedestrians protections and the right-of-way while carrying a white cane.

The long cane was improved upon by World War II veteran rehabilitation specialist, Richard E. Hoover, at Valley Forge Army Hospital. In 1944, he took the Lions Club white cane (originally made of wood) and went around the hospital blindfolded for a week. During this time he developed what is now the standard method of "long cane" training or the Hoover Method. He is now called the "Father of the Lightweight Long Cane Technique." The basic technique is to swing the cane from the center of the body back and forth before the feet. The cane should be swept before the rear foot as the person steps. Before he taught other rehabilitators, or "orientors," his new technique he had a special commission to have light weight, long white canes made for the veterans of the European fronts.

On October 6, 1964, a joint resolution of the Congress, HR 753, was signed into law authorizing the President of the United States to proclaim October 15 of each year as "White Cane Safety Day". President Lyndon Johnson was the first to make this proclamation.

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