Caning the Terrain

by Carol M. McCarl

Salem, Oregon

I don't know about you, but I'm so programmed to using my cane that I never leave home without it. Before leaving, I decide which cane to take based on the activity planned and the type of terrain I will be encountering. I have a variety of canes and do not believe that one size or style fits all. First let me tell you about my cane options.

I purchase canes that are 54 or 56 inches in length--I am 5 feet 8 inches tall. With the exception of one rigid cane, I have folding canes. Two of the latter have roller tips and one has a pencil tip. I also own an identification cane, which is lightweight, narrow and somewhat fragile. It communicates vision impairment to the public.

If I'm going out for the evening with a friend to attend a concert, I take my identification cane along. It can easily be slipped into my purse, or I can loop a finger through the elastic that holds the cane in the folded position. Even when I may be accompanied by a sighted guide, I take a cane since I may need to help in an emergency, use the restroom or otherwise move about independently. Besides that, one of the most important reasons to carry the white cane with red tip is to communicate with people who see. There should be no question as to why you accidentally bump someone in a crowded lobby when you are carrying a cane.

When I come to work each day, I am usually carrying the pencil tip cane since I am not going to do a lot of walking. I don't use a cane at all in the office, but I do use it when traveling around the campus of the Oregon School for the Blind where we rent space for the Blindskills, Inc. office. I may meet students or visually impaired staff when walking between buildings to attend meetings so the cane is really valuable.

When I plan to do more extensive walking, I take a cane with a roller tip. This enables me to choose between making the left to right arc motion or the rolling sweep across the pavement. I can easily check the level of the path and determine the dips and rises more accurately with a roller tip cane.

I have even found the roller tip cane to work very well at the coast when I'm navigating a narrow trail. When the trail becomes too steep, my guide and I hold opposite ends of a rigid cane so, as he leads, I can tell how far down or up he is stepping. I hold the rigid cane in my left hand and continue to use the roller tip cane in my right, so I still have contact with the path in front of me. Many pathways are concave so the roller tip moves smoothly back and forth, helping me feel the width of the path.

In my home I keep an old telescoping cane right by the front door. I use it to go across the street from my driveway to get my mail. The lightweight cane with its metal tip is sensitive enough for me to feel the bottom edge of my driveway and check the width of the puddle that can usually be found there this time of year. I also use that cane to guide me when I roll the recycling and garbage bins down my driveway on Tuesday evenings.

When traveling by plane, I use my pencil tip cane and have my identification cane in my carry-on bag as a spare. One never knows when a cane might break or malfunction so I always take two for traveling. I place the folding cane in the seat pocket in front of me so it is handy. When walking down the narrow aisle of the plane, I hold the cane almost vertically and move it only slightly from left to right.

To be ever ready for emergencies at night, I keep a folding cane on my bed and another cane just to the left of my closed bedroom door. In the event I have to make a quick exit, I want to be prepared. During hotel stays, my cane stands next to the hinged side of the door of my room so it is ready for my use at all times.

Some people who have low vision use a lightweight identification cane. It can be carried folded when not needed but is valuable for making street crossings or traversing large open spaces of shopping malls.

Another model cane which is used by some of the members of the Blindskills, Inc. support group is the VIP support cane from AmbuTech, of which there are two models. The rigid aluminum model has an adjustable threaded bottom section and locking collar with an 8-inch adjustment range. The adjustable canes are available in three handle styles. The other model is a folding support cane with a t-shaped handle.

Just to prove to you that I routinely use my cane whenever I go out my front door, I'll tell you a short granddaughter tale. Last Friday my daughter, Janey, and her 2-year-old daughter, Stephanie, were visiting me. We had just decided to go shopping so I got my coat from the front closet, closed the closet door and heard my granddaughter say, "Gamma's cane," as she handed me that old, beat-up cane that was by the front door. I made an exception that day and took it shopping with me. My style-conscious daughter didn't notice it until we were in the dressing room of a department store, and she saw it on the bench. Her comment: "That is a pretty old cane isn't it?" "Yes," I said, "old and dependable like me."



34 DeBaets Street

Winnipeg, Canada R2J 3S9

Phone: 800-561-3340 or 204-663-3340


Web site: 

AmbuTech has folding, rigid, support and identification canes.

California Canes

16267 Walnut Street

Hesperia, CA 92345

Phone: 866-332-4883 or 760-956-5265


Web site: 

California Canes sells roller tip and pencil tip folding canes and rigid canes.

Revolution Enterprises, Inc.

12170 Dearborn Place

Poway, CA 92064

Phone: 800-382-5132


Web site: 

Revolution Enterprises sells the identification cane with seven sections, one style of support cane with a button to extend the length, roller tip and pencil tip folding canes and rigid canes.

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