I've worked extensively with individuals with vision loss. I hold an M.S. degree in rehabilitation counseling from East Carolina University.
What Are Canes?
Canes, also called walking sticks or staffs, can come in different styles and vary in length. Both young and elderly individuals may find the need for a cane at some point in their lives. Age is not the primary factor determining when a person requires the assistive device. The ability to independently perform daily activities with confidence is also a pivotal factor.
There are numerous other factors that can influence a person's cane selection. For example, some canes may have fancy design patterns on them. Others may be more simplistic. These helpful tools may be made from wood, metal, some synthetic material, or a combination of these. Canes may be adjustable or non-adjustable.
7 Purposes of Canes: Past and Present
As a rehabilitation counselor, I counseled clients on maximizing their need for independence by using an aid, such as a cane. In addition, I frequently remind my students who have vision loss to apply proper techniques when using their canes for travel. Furthermore, professionals known as orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists help individuals with vision loss travel safely with canes. Others may assist as well with those with multiple disabilities. Since these assistive devices can be flexible, here are some regular activities people with disabilities do with their canes. I’ve also noted some ways in which canes have been utilized over time, applying cane, walking stick, and staff interchangeably throughout this article.
- Accessory–People may use designer canes as a fashion statement like the one in the photo. Such a use has the added benefit for giving the person’s self-esteem a positive boost. Although such canes may merely be that, an accessory for dress, these canes may also be essential for mobility and support when a person is walking.
- Concealing various things–Flasks of whiskey, medicines, ammunition, knives, snuff–All could be hidden in compartments in some canes during the 1800s. This allowed some versatility to the user when encountering different circumstances. These walking sticks were usually capable enough to still provide some level of support for the user.
- Protection–During the colonial period in the New World and before, walking sticks were seen as symbols of power. But they were probably used as defensive weapons by monks in Asia and in other places many centuries earlier. Staffs were important in protecting against bandits and keeping herds of animals safe from predators. However, the word “cane” began appearing around the 1700s, and these supportive aids are not generally known or thought of as weapons today.
- Pushing or pulling–Canes may assist those with limited mobility in reaching out to pull or push items. This may include shoes or other clothing. Canes may be helpful for some people with limited arm and upper body strength to open and close a door, move drawers, assist with moving laundry baskets, etc. Essentially, these tools assist a person in enhancing his/her independence by providing him/her options to perform tasks of daily living with confidence.
- Finding and searching–When walking, a cane can help a person with vision loss find stairs, doors, places to cross the street, or other landmarks. They can help locate dropped items. Likewise, these travel aids can help find changes in pavement or dangerous holes along the route for all cane users.
- Support–Assistive canes may help people rise from a sitting position. They may be leaned on while a person stands. They may aid the person in getting to and safely sitting in a chair.
- Walking–An “assistive” cane helps by stabilizing balance as a person walks. It allows for weight to be shifted from the weaker leg or injured side of the body as an individual moves. Much like “white” canes, which are utilized by people with visual impairments, assistive canes provide tactile information about the ground to the user. When a person with a vision loss is “walking, he/she may move the cane side to side in an arc. He/she may “tap” the ground, receiving tactile information about the terrain along his/her route. This type of cane is also known as a “probing” cane because the cane is applied in a way to assist the person with a vision loss in finding obstacles.
Canes Can Be Individualized
Generally speaking, canes can be applied to various duties and have differing features for their users. For example, a person may prefer a cane which folds because of concerns about space. Handles may be individualized as well – rubber, metal, or even wood. People may want a more stable rigid cane. In all cases, the person must think about his needs and consult with professionals to make the best choice to address his/her capacities, limitations, and drive for independence. To such an extent, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) offers free white canes to individuals who are visually impaired and meet certain qualifications. Yet, having knowledge about canes increases the possibility of making appropriate choices. For this reason, here are features and types of material canes may be made from:
- A strap or buckle may be an added feature which helps the person keep track of the cane or put it away easily. Tips of some canes can be changed depending on the desires of the user.
- The ability to adjust the height of the cane may be an option some want. Generally, to measure the right height for a cane, the base of the cane is placed about a foot from the feet with the elbow bent at about 30 degrees while the person is standing.
- Oak is a durable wood often used for constructing canes, but Eucalyptus and pine are other types of wood which are common. The selection in this area can be vast.
- Aluminum is one metal used for canes. Handles may be made from brass; some may be silver or gold. Canes can be constructed from carbon fiber, too.
Cane – Wikipedia. Retrieved July2, 2018, from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walking_stick
How to Choose a Walking Stick | Life Mobility. Retrieved July 2, 2018, from: https://www.lifemobility.com.au/how-choose-walking-stick
National Federation Of Blind | We Provide Free White Canes | nfb.org. Retrieved July 2, 2018, from: https://nfb.org/free-cane-program?gclid=CjwKCAjwmufZBRBJEiwAPJ3LpqB91Ao4jQ3vnhlwnwfKZM6wnmF0WVKNf07AkMAx9X2p3OI5nbTfZhoCQokQAvD_BwE
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on September 10, 2019:
This article focused on the past and present uses of canes, but canes are evolving. A company out of Turkey is designing a cane with sensors to detect overhead objects, such as branches, for people with visual impairments by accessing smartphones. The smart cane is called the WeWalk Smart cane, and it works with Google Maps.
I have no financial stake or related interest whatsoever in the product. This fact is informational only.
In truth, there has been “laser canes,” which worked with sonar and lasers to assist people with low vision or who are totally blind. These high-tech devices have had limited success as navigational aids in the past, but the future is bright for canes. Thanks for reading.
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on September 12, 2018:
I trained some with the bo during karate. It is quite an effective weapon and a useful walking aid. I read in your bio that you and I share the love and respect for the martial arts.
Thanks for commenting.
Coming from a writer I deeply respect, I am honored to see your comment.
Tamara Wilhite from Fort Worth, Texas on September 11, 2018:
The bo staff was always available as a weapon as well as a walking aid.
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on July 04, 2018:
Hello, dear Manatita,
It's appropriate to hear from you and somehow I must have been thinking about the wonderful friends and allies we have in the U.K. today because my wife and I were discussing the invention of the first "blindness cane." It's credited to an Englishman by the name of James Biggs who invented the mobility aid in 1921.
I pray to leave this body healthy, but I'm glad there are options for canes if need be.
I was particularly interested in the topic because my students use canes and Lori does on occasion when her legs are giving her a tough time.
Independence Day means nothing without recognizing the need deriving from strong and encouraging relationships. Everyone needs a hand or cane now and then, I suppose.
Thank you my friend and ally and spiritual brother for acknowledging America's holiday. May we remain blessed together, and may God keep the Queen safe and healthy.
Tomorrow I'm granted another reading day. I look forward to catching up with your wonderful and uplifting work.
manatita44 from london on July 04, 2018:
You have covered the uses of canes very well. I suppose I may need one some day. Ideally, it would be nice to leave this body healthy. Ha ha. Happy July 4th, Tim.
Tim Truzy (author) from U.S.A. on July 03, 2018:
I'm glad to know this was helpful for you. As with so many subjects pertaining to issues concerning disabilities, people don't think about it until they need those items or encounter something relevant to their situation. Canes are that way in particularly.
However, I appreciate the comment and the follow.
I look forward to reading some of your work.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 02, 2018:
I used a cane for a while and now must use a walker as my knee suddenly gives out so I fall. Your information was very useful as everyone wants to be as independent as possible.