What are the different types of canes for people with sight loss?

January 16, 2024 4:17 pm Leave your thoughts

One of the first things many people think of when they think of a blind or visually impaired person is someone walking with a white cane. But not everyone knows that there are different types of cane. Today we’ll be looking at the differences and what they mean.

Types of cane

Symbol cane

A small, foldable cane that indicates that you have low but useful vision. It is not used to detect objects on the ground. It measures about a metre in length when extended and you hold it to let people around you know that you’re partially sighted.

Guide cane

A long, rigid cane used to find obstacles in front of you such as kerbs or steps. Guide canes usually reach from ground to waist height and are used by people who have some useful vision but not enough to safely navigate a route through obstacles and hazards.

Long cane

The longest of all the canes, usually measuring from ground to mid-chest height. Long canes help you avoid obstacles if you have restricted or no vision and require training to use. You roll or tap the long cane from side to side as you walk.

Red and white cane

Any of the above canes with red banding on them indicates that you have a hearing impairment as well as sight loss.

Types of cane tips

Pencil tip

A cylindrical tip shaped a little bit like a pencil. They are often used on guide canes to identify obstacles and tend to be a similar diameter to the cane. However, because of their narrow shape, pencil tips are more likely to get stuck in pavement cracks or drain grids.

Marshmallow tip

Resembling a giant marshmallow, these tips are wider and shorter than the pencil tips. They can be fixed in place on the cane for a tapping technique or they be on a roller for a sweeping technique that allows constant contact with the ground.

Roller ball tip

These have a wide 5cm diameter and are mounted on a bearing to roll easily from side to side on the ground with the constant contact technique. They are designed to give greater sensitivity for picking up surface changes.

The all-terrain cane tip

iSightCornwall trustee, Steve Holyer, has once again been designing products to help improve the lives of people with visual impairments. After the success of RoomMate, which provides audio descriptions of public conveniences, Steve has taken on the challenge of designing a new type of cane tip for guide and long cane users.
Steve was frustrated by his traditional roller ball cane tip snagging on various surfaces and causing his cane to jab into his body. So he designed the Huju All Terrain Cane Tip which is the only tip that can be used on all terrains including grass, sand, gravel and cobbles without snagging.
The cane tip curves up at the end like the tip of a ski and is designed to fit Ambutech long and guide canes. It is made from a high quality type of plastic used in the aerospace industry called acetal which is hard wearing, strong and gives excellent tactile and audible feedback from surfaces.

We asked four cane users to test the Huju All Terrain tip and the overall impression was very positive. One user said: “Overall I’ve been very happy with the tip. It skips quite happily over the top of most obstacles, giving enough feedback to let you know it’s there but without the unpleasant jolt you can sometimes get.”

Another user said: “The tip worked well for me, it was great at identifying obstacles while walking and is the best tip I have tried so far.”

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