Living with an iconic aid

The case of the white cane


  • Maria Bäckman Stockholm University



the white cane, lived experiences of disability, ableism, passing, turning points, stigma


There are plenty of objects that are conspicuous in the way they signal to the surroundings that the user has some kind of physical impairment. Most obvious are perhaps wheelchairs, motorized wheelchairs, hearing aids and crutches. These objects can be described as aids in the sense that the purpose is either to mitigate the effects of reduced physical abilities or to compensate for the loss of a sensory faculty. The focus of this article concerns an object that both increases mobility and replaces such a faltering capacity. It might even be the most iconic of all aids: the mobility cane, also known as the white cane, long cane or white stick. Based on the work at a Swedish Low Vision and Resource Centre, this article discusses the use of the white cane among people with severe and progressive visual impairment. The fact is that this aid, which for an outsider would easily seem to be a rather natural choice, can arouse completely different feelings in somebody who has a severe visual impairment. It is a well-known circumstance amongst low visions teachers and therapists that persons with acquired or progressive sight impairment are often not quite happy about using the aid. Therefore, the aim of the article is to utilize notions of everyday experiences to gain further insights into why the white cane for many of its potential users are associated with strong feelings of both personal ambiguity and social stress. In order to highlight these emotional, and still cultural and political, tensions, the discussion is grounded in critical disability studies and informed by ableism, stigma, and passing as theoretical concepts.




How to Cite

Bäckman, M. (2023) “Living with an iconic aid: The case of the white cane”, Culture Unbound, 15(2). doi: 10.3384/cu.4233.



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