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White Canes

We take a look at how Blind Veterans UK became involved in the development of 'The Long Cane.'


Blind veteran, Joseph Loska steps out along a busy pavement.

In 1965 St. Dunstan's (now Blind Veterans UK) visited the United States of America and became involved in the development of 'The Long Cane', as the Americans called it, which they were pioneering. This version of what the British would usually have called a walking stick was slightly longer than an ordinary cane used by sighted people, being between 3 feet 9 inches and 4 feet 6 inches to suit different heights. At the time of the development phase, our then Secretary, Mr. A.D. Lloyds, visited the main U.S. mobility training centre to learn more about it, and shortly afterwards our blind veteran Walter Thornton travelled to the States to undergo a month's course to test out the long cane and explore the benefits and durability of it for a blind person. 

On his return to the UK, Thornton reported that the cane was safe and he felt more relaxed when using it. It could be learnt quickly, was suitable for blind people of all ages, and was suitable for those with additional disabilities such as deafness.

Walter Thornton's positive feedback instigated West Michigan University's Assistant Director of Mobility, Stanley Suterko, to cross the pond to our centre at Ovingdean, Brighton and train a select few St. Dunstaners on the utilization of the long cane. Thornton assisted him in this work. It was a hit among our blind veterans as it increased their mobility and self-confidence and, working with the RNIB, we later arranged for an American instructor to come to the UK for six months and train instructors for both charities. Following this many blind people in this country learnt how to use the long case and walk more quickly and with greater safety.