The Cane Debate

There is an ongoing debate in the visual impairment community whether a long cane (the mobility aid that many blind and visually impaired people use) should stay the standard colour of white or be coloured to represent a person’s individuality. Every blind and visually impaired person has different views on this and their own reasons for why they think that way, there is no right or wrong answer.

The RNIB have launched the cane debate as part of their #HowISee campaign on whether canes should always be white or if they should be coloured to represent a person’s individuality. Make sure you check out their brilliant video on the cane debate:

They very Kindly asked me to get involved with the campaign and share my own views on the cane debate.

So today I thought I’d share some of the reasons for each side of the debate with you and tell you my own view on this topic.


Reasons for using the standard white cane

A photo of a white cane

  1. The colour white is associated with canes so that the public know that a person has a visual impairment.

Changing this may cause confusion and lead to problems. People may therefore not know what each colour means or what it represents.

Blind or visually impaired people may not receive help when out and about as the general public might not understand what a coloured cane means, as white is the universal colour.

If a visually impaired person does not receive help when they need it, it may make going out independently very stressful and may cause issues.


2. The white cane is recognised all over the world.

The white cane is universal and is recognised everywhere you go.


3. The public associate a white cane as a mobility aid for blind and visually impaired people

Coloured canes may confuse this and they may see it as a general accessory rather than a mobility aid.


4. People who have both a visual and hearing impairment often use a red and white cane which symbolises this, which is something that the general public recognise.

If people with a visual and hearing impairment change this, then it might confuse the general public. They may also feel like they cannot use a coloured cane because of the two colours so may be restricted to using the standard red and white cane.


5. Some blind and visually impaired people feel safer using a standard white cane, rather than a coloured one.

This may be the case when travelling independently in the dark, or in an unfamiliar place. This can often mean that they don’t worry whether the public will see their cane as white ones are easy to see.


Reasons for using a coloured cane

Picture of a purple cane

  1. People should be able to show their individuality.

A cane is a mobility aid, meaning that it is a blind or visually impaired person’s key to independence. It is something that a blind or visually impaired person carries with them throughout the day so being able to represent their individuality by having a coloured cane means that it can be seen   as an accessory, rather than just a mobility aid.


2. Some blind or visually impaired people may feel more comfortable using a coloured cane, rather than a standard white cane.

Learning to use a cane can often be daunting for many blind and visually impaired people, it can leave them feeling vulnerable or thinking that their disability is the first thing that the public see because of their cane. Using a coloured cane can often take away these negative thoughts and feelings.

It may also encourage people, especially children, to start using a cane.


3. People receive compliments on their coloured cane, which can start a conversation .

The general public may have only come across white canes, rather than people using coloured ones. This may come as a surprise to them, so they may be intrigued and want to know more.


4. Having a coloured cane tackles the stigma of a stereotypical blind person.

The idea of a white cane is often attached to the stereotypical blind person. Using a coloured cane can often educate others and tackle this outdated stereotype.

People recognise a long cane with the action it is being used, rather than the colour

A cane is used in the same way, regardless of its colour so does it really make a difference to people you pass in the street?


5. Using coloured canes means that people can have a collection of them if they wish.

Having various coloured canes means that blind and visually impaired people can have a coloured cane for every occasion. It can make things more interesting! Many people with a visual impairment choose their colour cane they will use on a daily basis depending on their outfit, this is interesting as they are viewing it as an accessory, as well as a mobility aid.


My thoughts on the debate

I wrote a post on how I learnt to embrace the cane which you can read here. It took me a long time to fully feel confident and comfortable when using a cane, I felt vulnerable, anxious and thought I was sticking out like a sore thumb which was obviously not the case.

I started off using a white cane as this was what I was given by my local mobility team, but I absolutely hated it so my Mum and Dad bought me a pink cane. I did like the pink cane as I felt like it was a bit different, but it didn’t take away the feeling of anxiety when using it. In fact, I still tried my best to not use one whenever I could, I probably came up with every excuse under the sun.

However, having a coloured cane did spark interest among many people, I often received compliments about my coloured cane and still do so today. I think people find it really interesting and it doesn’t seem to deter them away from thinking that it is my mobility aid, people still offer me help like they would if I was using a standard white cane, and I’m still treated in the same way. People don’t express their pity, instead they often talk about the colour of my cane and how much they like it. At the end of the day, I’m still using it in the same way, the colour does not change that. I don’t think the colour of a cane makes much difference, it still has the same purpose.


I’d say the turning point for me when using a cane was when I went to university, I started to feel more comfortable and confident when using one, it was the first time that I felt like I could get around independently. I didn’t have that feeling of anxiety anymore. I couldn’t imagine my life without a cane now.


Although I am confident in using a cane and I like to think that I’m independent, I still use a coloured cane. I have a purple one and I don’t plan on changing it any time soon. I love it! I don’t think that coloured canes are just for people learning to use one or for encouraging children to use a cane, they can be for anyone. Having a coloured cane allows me to be original, I’m a girly girl so having a cane that fits my style is great. I use my cane all of the time so I think it’s important that it represents the person I am.


I know that coloured canes aren’t for everyone, some people prefer the standard white cane and that’s absolutely fine. I think it’s all about personal preference and what you feel most comfortable using.


That concludes today’s post, I hope you have enjoyed reading. If you have a visual impairment, do you use a white or coloured cane? Let me know in the comments!

Make sure you check out RNIB’s #HowISee campaign and share your experiences.

Holly x



  1. December 12, 2017 / 5:33 pm

    This is definitely such an interesting campaign. I loved hearing what your thoughts are on it. Although I use a while cane, I’d love to try using a coloured one to see how I feel about it. Great post as always lovely xxx

      December 12, 2017 / 6:31 pm

      It is! Would love to see how you got on with a coloured cane. Thank you hun xxx

          December 13, 2017 / 8:26 am

          Definitely! Xxx

  2. Lynne Nicholson UK
    December 12, 2017 / 6:07 pm

    For me personally I’m considering blinging my cane but as it comes in four sections the handle would remain as is and the bottom two sections and I would just bling the section below the handle. Apart from currently in the snow the bottom being white means it stands out against the footpath, grass verge, and road. Also it is recognised universally. I only recently learnt the meaning of the red and white cane.

      December 12, 2017 / 6:30 pm

      That’s a great idea

  3. communicatorstephanie
    December 13, 2017 / 4:53 am

    I didn’t realize this was a debate; this was a really informative post! Thanks!

      December 13, 2017 / 8:25 am

      Thank you, so glad you enjoyed reading 🙂

  4. December 13, 2017 / 12:10 pm

    “Rock your disability.” It’s more than my motto; it is how I am treated in public and, yes, by my friends. I’m a paraplegic with my ever present wheelchair.
    Most chairs in the US are cheap, and their riders are treated accordingly. I’m fortunate to have a titanium chair that allowes me to be independent.
    Your cane allows your independence, and I’m wondering if you are treated better with a cane that “rocks your disability.”

      December 13, 2017 / 2:34 pm

      Completely agree! Very interesting points there

  5. December 13, 2017 / 2:18 pm

    Great post Holly – Thank you! I use a white cane (sometimes; still adjusting to it), but I would love one with a bit more pizazz. I believe, in the US, there are only white canes (we don’t even have the red and white canes for those who are VI and HI). If anyone has any info to the contrary, please let me know.

      December 13, 2017 / 2:36 pm

      Thank you! That’s really interesting, surely you could get one somewhere

  6. Samantha Fothergill
    December 16, 2017 / 11:51 am

    V interesting article.

    I’m not blind ( I work for RNIB) but my concern about the cane colour debate is that the white cane is a universal symbol of blindness. If it comes down to individual choice then that impacts upon the universality issue ie the choices that individuals make impact others. It’s a bit like (and I stress bit) herd immunity. If some people decide to go their own way and not immunise It doesn’t just impact them it impacts everyone.

    In addition, at RNIB we constantly have to remind public authorities about the need for consistency in design to enable spaces to be universally accessible. We are asking designers to kerb their desire for individuality and innovation because accessibility is all about standards. That is perhaps the flip side of the cane debate.

      December 16, 2017 / 12:08 pm

      Thank you. I completely get what you mean, your thoughts are really interesting

    • Lynne Nicholson UK
      December 18, 2017 / 12:42 pm

      Samantha I doubt that you would be happy if airlines dictated you could only have carryon luggage of a certain colour and make and that hold luggage was equally bland as you’d prefer yours to stand out to be easier to spot on the carousel. The standardisation is the measurements.
      It is about education as I still meet people who have no idea what a white cane is for and when I used a white walking stick (before I realised I wasn’t dizzy and nauseous without my prescription specs which meant I could see a whole foot in focusish rather than four inches without) thought it was white as a fashion statement.
      It is the length of cane and how it is used that counts. For me personally I like a white end to “ground” me so I am blinging just below the handle when I buy some new canes.

  7. December 19, 2017 / 2:55 pm

    Not blind myself but I would assume that if someone was using a pink or purple long cane in the same way they use a white one, they were blind or severely visually impaired and were using it for the same reason. I don’t see why someone should have to use a white cane except in places where visibility is particularly important (such as when crossing roads at night). I know quite a few disabled people and most of them like their mobility aids (such as wheelchairs) to not look like medical devices, and coloured long canes are a good example.

      December 19, 2017 / 11:51 pm

      I completely agree with you. As long as they’re being used correctly then I don’t think it’s a problem

  8. January 31, 2018 / 8:30 pm

    This is one of my favorite topics. I’m in the decking the cane out camp and was even before I knew this was a debate. Losing eyesight by itself is challenging enough. Having to deal with stigma associated with the cane was not up my alley. I respect those who feel differently and can understand some of their concerns but as mentioned in a few of the comment many people don’t really connect with the standardized cane. And let’s be honest in our fast moving society they aren’t paying attention. You may have heard the number of fatalities of pedestrians who are sighted has gone up because they are looking at their devices instead of focusing on where they are walking. The same can be said for drivers who’s attention is all over the place.

      January 31, 2018 / 10:02 pm

      Yes I 100 % agree with you! Yeah, the sighted world are more focused on other things, so I don’t think they even pay attention

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