Buying my first white cane

White canes serve two purposes. First, for the severely-visually-impaired it helps navigate tight spaces and uneven terrain. (You never realize how many tripping hazards there are in your average day until you can’t see them.) Second, it lets everyone know that you can’t see.

It’s a common misconception, even among those losing vision, that you have to be totally blind (aka “No Visible Light”) to carry a white cane. In some states you have to meet certain “legally blind” requirements (it varies from state to state); but in most places if you feel your eyesight slows your speed or reflexes, and you want to alert others, it’s a-ok to carry a white cane.

Of course, that doesn’t help the weird looks you’ll get holding a white cane and reading a newspaper at the bus stop.

I’ve never heard horror stories of people getting yelled at for not being blind enough, but my “crippled friend” (getting double-hip replacement surgery in two months @ age 33) gets plenty of dirty looks at the grocery store parking lot when she’s having a good day and can hold onto a shopping cart instead of a cane. In some people’s opinion, she’s not crippled enough to take that parking spot if she’s not in a wheelchair (and they will let her know it!)

I have no idea what I would say to someone confronting me about still having some vision while carrying a white cane. I wonder if I’ll find out.

Shopping Locally

I live a few blocks north of Greenlake in Seattle. I hit the Bartell’s in Wallingford and a few Walgreens’ around town. No white canes, no clue as to where to get one. I decide to save the gas and shop online.

Shopping Online

Googling around I found three things:
1) White cane makers make very few white “support” canes,
2) Support cane makers offer very few models in white, and
3) Most white support canes are ugh-lee.

There is a wider selection of CLEAR support canes than white.

Do the blind have no fashion sense, or – like the fat – are we deemed unworthy of style?

I finally hit upon a decent looking model from a company called Ambutech.

They aren’t exactly Cover of GQ, but they aren’t Middle-School Sports Injury, either.

Ambutech Catalog Page

I decided to go with the fixed-length model with the T-Handle, so I clicked the order page.


Because this is a fixed length, you have to tell them how tall to make it. I have no idea.

This may be my first white cane, but it is far from my first cane. In many Seattle homes there is an umbrella stand near the door. In my home, there is a cane box.


In spite of my collections of canes (I have another collection of them in Texas), until the day before yesterday, I had no idea what size cane I used.

I’m a guy. I have to check my shoes to tell you my shoe size.

Like my shoes, I try canes on and get the ones that are comfortable. That doesn’t exactly work for online shopping. (The mystery of why I don’t buy shoes online is SOLVED!)

I measure from the bottom of the rubber tip to the highest part of the handle. It’s 36″ exactly.

Using the pull-down menu, I select 36″ and click the “Add to Cart” button. Clicking on this button takes me to my cart, which they say is empty.

I hit the back button and try again. Same result.

I close Safari and open up Camino. Click, click, click, add-to-cart… same result.

Frustrated, I closed Camino and decided that buying straight-from-the-manufacturer may not be the best way to go.

My wife attempts

When C got home from work, I asked her to pull up the web site on her account.

Click, click, click.

OK, now click “Add to cart”.


…and it added it to her cart.


She smiled and asked, “Do you want me to buy my honey a cane?”

Well, if you’re offering.

Ambutech Calls

The next morning over breakfast, C’s iPhone begins ringing. It’s a strange number.


It’s Ambutech. Apparently the web order says we didn’t choose a size.

C verified that I measured correctly and finalized the order. Now I’m just waiting for it to arrive in the mail. Let’s hope they’re better at making canes than websites.

Part II: My White Cane Arrives… and I avoid it for over a week.


8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jami on June 1, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    My son is legally blind he is 9 and just got approved to get a cane and see a trainer. I really enjoyed reading this we are dealing with the weird look from people but no one has actually said anything to me or my son yet. I will admit I thought you had to be totally blind to use a cane or I would have looked into it for my son when he was much younger. He will use it in the bright sun because the light hurts his eye very much but once he is in the store the sunglasses come of the cane gets folded and he walks around fine with me… that is when the really weird looks start. people just have to understand.


  2. I haven’t exactly had someone tell me I’m not blind enough to use the cane but I did recently have someone go totally psycho on me for “pretending” I couldn’t see. She started screaming that “obviously” I could see because I wasn’t using the cane properly. I still don’t really know what to tell people who are confused about why I can read and still carry a white cane but so far no one has asked the question.

    Sadly, the white cane for identification purposes doesn’t work as well as it used to. I’m quite sure that 20% of people I come across have NO idea why I’m carrying it. If I’m USING it – which I do where it’s dark (like the metro) or confusing (buildings with too much glass and mirrored surfaces) – they figure it out straight away. But if I’m not tap-tap-tapping it swinging it in my path, they have NO idea why that woman is carrying that long white stick thing.

    All of that said, I am SO much happier carrying it. I feel about so much more secure just having it with me that I’m willing to risk the occasional nut-job who wants to accuse me of pretending. I’m also VERY glad to be learning to use it now instead of waiting until I really am 100% dependent on it – as my vision leaks away, I suspect I’ll use it more and more so, by the time I really need it heavily, I won’t be on the learning curve. Well, at least I hope it works that way!

    Anyway, best of luck to you! I hope you feel as much better with your cane as I feel with mine.


  3. Posted by john carver on December 3, 2012 at 8:13 am

    i hate this but i got to ask, does anyone know where i can get my brother a cane for free , he on ssi and in phoenix az . i am in columbia mo, we just can not affored to buy one with all his meds. an cost of libving. he had one a it was stolden bye someone. at dennys. while taking a pee. can you belive that. well if you can help please send me a e-mail


  4. Thanks for a great laugh.


  5. Posted by Erin on February 11, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    I’ve been frustrated lately because even though I’m legally blind without correction, my contacts are apparently so good that I don’t qualify for services for the blind in my state. The thing for me is I have so many eye issues that it’s not just visual acuity for me. For one, I’m blind in my left eye, but low vision in my right. My left eye does have peripheral vision, but my right eye does not. In addition I have a tumor on my optical nerve that cannot be removed. I am already deaf from tumors on my auditory nerve that crushed the nerve so there is a very real chance I could become blind. I’m trying to learn braille, but all the places I’ve contacted said that I’m not blind enough and they can’t help me until I can’t use contacts anymore. I’ve gone through hell trying to learn sign language after going deaf and I’m trying to prevent that with my vision by trying to learn braille now. I just ordered a cane through NFB so I hope that I can get one. I’ll have to ask my deaf-blind friends who use a cane to help me learn how to use it.


  6. Posted by Erin on February 11, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    Oh, as far as people saying “you’re not blind enough”, my family already has even though I can’t walk on grass or broken sidewalks without tripping. I’m trying to ignore them.


  7. I don’t even know what my condition is called. I can’t see down or right with either eye, plus I have flashing lights and vortexes (swirling images). My eyes are totally different every day. I am made to believe that I am selective with my condition while I am actually in denial until I am bady injured or walk into people. I knocked a lady down and she yelled at me and told me to watch where I was going which I suck at. I told here I was neatly blind, she told me to stay home or get a seeing eye dog. I was humiliated horribly. I enjoy blending in with people and feeling normal so I don’t want to carry a white cane. I still carry my skateboard everywhere and can use a smart phone. I am gonna be a real spectacle with a white cane also. Wtf! I wish I could find people to talk to about this. I am completely without validation or understating from my friends and family.


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