What does my white cane mean? I have enough sight to notice the sideways glances my cane attracts. (This post by another 'blind blogger' gives a great idea of what cane users can see). I don't use my cane all the time and quite often carry it neatly folded in my bag. So it must look odd when I unfold it and transform from sighted to blind.
So why do I only use it sometimes? And what does my using it signify?
After dark or around steps and other obstacles I use my cane to feel my way around. I sweep it in a wide arc in front of me to find kerbs, bollards, puddles and lamp posts. This is the kind of cane-use most readily associated with the blind but it is not the most important way I use my cane.
I have a long cane but mostly I use it as a symbol cane. (You know that a cane is being used in this way when it is carried so that it does not touch the ground). When held like this my cane has no practical function: it is purely symbolic, a sign saying "I don't see as well as you so you might like to move out of my way / use non-visual ways of communicating with me / expect me to step off the pavement in front of you if you are a car or bike / tell me who you are even if I know you really well or we had a conversation this morning." I tend to use my cane like this in busy or unfamiliar places and / or when I'm on my own. I'll always have it with me at conferences, in stations, airports, supermarkets and busy city streets. Once I took it with me to the library. This turned out to be pretty confusing for the librarian who couldn't quite grasp the fact that I needed help finding a book but that I was more than capable of reading it. I can see why my cane might cause a kind of interpretive panic: after all, I clearly have some sight (otherwise why bother with bifocals?) Stereotypical images of the blind always feature a white cane but actually only about 5% of cane-users have no sight at all. So a symbol cane says "I am happy to acknowledge my blindness to the world and in return you can feel free to talk to me about it."
It is a kind of visual shorthand which not only signals blindness, but also signals a willingness to talk about it. It is an offer of a conversation as well as permission to offer help. The problem is that the general public don't always know what my cane is trying to say. So every time I take my cane out and about I try and tell someone what it means. And now you know too.