Types of white canes

There are different types of white (or long) canes, which are navigation tools for anyone living with blindness or vision impairment. They’re also known as mobility canes and are recognised throughout the world. 

A white cane provides independence to individuals so they can be active at home and outside. Not all white canes are the same, as VisAbility Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Instructor, Jodie, explains.

“Choosing a cane and a cane tip is like choosing a pair of shoes. Different canes and tips are suitable for different environments,” says Jodie.

Jodie Bruce holding a few canes
Jodie has thirty years’ experience working as an O&M

Where to buy the different types of white canes

White canes are available through your NDIS or My Aged Care plans. In order to incorporate them into your plans, you will need evidence that the cane has been assessed for you by an O&M instructor.

People can buy canes independently of their plans, but need to sign a waiver, acknowledging they haven’t received formal cane instruction.

“People need to know how to manoeuvre and use their white cane using the right techniques, so I would strongly recommend O&M instruction.”

Leading brands of canes are Ambutech and Bevria. A basic rigid cane can cost from as little as $40, with a fold-away (telescopic one) at $80. Tips can range from $5 to $35.

When to start using a white cane

Children with low vision are encouraged to start using a cane as early as possible, especially if they have a condition where their eyesight will gradually deteriorate.

“Children can start on pre-canes or kiddie canes. Parents should encourage children to use them from an early age, so the cane becomes a natural part of their lifestyle and  incorporated into daily routines,” explains Jodie.

“If someone has never had any sight, they will have never had any visual information about the world around them. It’s important to rely on tactile cues and sounds – like echoes,” she adds.

“People who were born with vision are at an advantage, because they can understand objects. They have an appreciation of what is around them.”

O&M Jodie walks along a ramped area with a long white cane
A long white cane is a mobility device to help you move around

People with low vision or who are blind and receive orientation and mobility instruction learn how to manoeuvre safely through their community and use the cane to identify platform edges, steps, uneven surfaces.

Throughout O&M training, individuals are encouraged to use their senses – hearing, touch, and smell – to help them manoeuvre around with their cane.

“O&M instruction gives individuals a better understanding of various ground surfaces, noises, and echoes. For example, a cane user will be able to detect the difference between concrete and bitumen surface.”

O&M training with various types of white canes

Our O&M therapists will develop a program specifically suited to you in line with your goals and needs. As a guide, you may need ten sessions of long cane instruction.

Night orientation classes offer an opportunity for individuals to become more confident and mobile in the dark.

What does the red on a white cane mean?

White canes came into circulation in the early 20th Century. In 1921, James Biggs, a photographer from England, became blind following an accident. He painted his walking stick white to make it highly visible. In 1930 George A. Bonham, a member of an American Lions Club, suggested the cane should be white with a red stripe to make it reflective and more noticeable.

A white and red cane has become an international symbol for vision loss. One with alternating red and white stripes signifies that the user is both deaf and blind.

How does a white cane work?

There are different types of cane techniques that may involve:

  • Constant contact. The cane tip rolls or slides from side to side, sweeping back and forth.
  • Touch technique. The cane tip moves from side to side, with a tap on each side.
  • Diagonal manoeuvring. The cane is in front of you, held diagonally. It is either on or off the ground to detect objects as you move forward.

The type of technique you use depends on your ability, the environment around you and the cane and tip you are using.

Long cane

A long cane or mobility cane is the most common cane for people with vision impairment. It’s lightweight and long enough to reach ahead. It can come in a slimline style that may suit people who lack physical strength. It’s also available as a fold-away cane (in three to eight pieces) or in a telescopic format. These are both discreet and portable. Some people prefer rigid, long canes because they are generally sturdier.
The long cane is:
  • The most popular and commonly used by individuals with severely restricted or no vision.
  • Most suited for orientation and independent travel. It makes contact with the ground to detect obstacles, drop curbs, and ground surface changes. 
  • An orientation and mobility instructor will consider the grip, tip, weight, and length of a long cane suited to you. They will take into consideration your height and gait.
  • 20cm to 152cm in length. Note: Sizes available between 20 – 36cm are known as kiddie canes.


Jodie stands in front of a tree on a path showing the long cane and a fold away cane
O&M instructor Jodie holding a long cane and a folding cane

Guide cane

A guide cane is a shorter cane and can detect immediate obstacles in front of you – such as kerbs and paths. It is slightly sturdier than an identification cane, and you can lean on it to go up and down a step but not put your whole weight on it.
A guide cane is:
  • Useful for people who have difficulty in determining depth perception and surface changes.
  • Not designed to be a means of support because it is not long enough to touch the ground.
  • Available in sizes from 70cm to 115cm.
  • Held in a diagonal position.
Jodie using a guide cane to step up the kerb at a car park
A guide cane is not fully supportive of your weight

Identification cane

An identification cane is a short cane to indicate the user has a vision impairment. It doesn’t touch the ground and is a visual cue to others indicating vision impaired status.
An identification cane is:
  • Held in a diagonal position
  • Not designed to be used on the ground or a means of support
  • Available in sizes from 70cm to 110cm. It is not long enough to touch the ground.

Support cane

A support cane helps maintain stability. It offers physical support and is a means of identification. Similar to a walking stick, it aids balance. It has limited potential as a mobility device.
A support cane is:
  • Used when the individual has a problem with balance.
  • Identifies the person has a vision impairment.
  • Available in rigid or folding and telescopic formats.
  • Available in sizes from 72cm to 95cm.
Jodie walks along a path with a support cane
A support cane is similar to a walking stick

Kiddie canes

Kiddie canes are small in size and meet the requirements of young children with vision impairment. Lightweight in design, a grip helps children with correct finger placement.

Modern electronic white canes  

Canes are now available that utilise modern technology and have additional features built into them. The most popular electronic one is the WeWALK. It has built-in speakers, GPS and smartphone integration and sensors that send vibrations to the users to indicate obstacles ahead.

Person crossing the road holding a WeWALK device
WeWALK can be integrated to your phone via an app

Using Google maps, you can plug in your destination and receive spoken directions to guide you. Many people welcome this new technology, but some say the canes are heavy to use.

You can incorporate a cane into your NDIS or Aged Care Plan. Choosing one that is right for you is crucial to your mobility and independence.