People have always carried sticks and canes to help them outdoors or when they are looking after animals or to let you know they are important in some way or just for fashion and fun. But who came up with the idea of the white cane? Not many people can tell you his name. He lived in the city of Bristol in England and was a photographer.
James Biggs was a photographer long before the days of digital cameras or cell phones that can take photographs that we can immediately send to our friends. James had to use a special kind of paper and chemicals to make photographs. He had to work in a very dark room, because any kind of light would spoil the photograph. One day, James was blinded as the result of an accident. He knew from working in his darkened studio that only really bright things stood out and especially the colour white.
When he was outside, James usually carried a walking stick that was black or dark brown, but he thought if he painted it white everyone would notice. This would be very useful if he was crossing a road, because people driving cars would see he was blind and slow down to let him cross safely.
James was pleased with how the cane worked for him so told others about it. Then he started writing about
The white cane to various institutions, to Chief Constables, newspapers, magazines, motor journals M.P.’s, including the Minister of Transport; then to newspapers
abroad, in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, France, Egypt and other countries; also to the Safety First Association, to Rotary Clubs
And similar organisations; and he got the BBC to broadcast the idea. Gees James, that’s an inspiring effort. Imagine if we all did something like that! Imagine how much easier it is to get a message out nowadays with the internet!
Since 1921, when James came up with the idea of a white cane, many different kinds of aids have been developed for blind people. But the white cane remains one of the most important and useful aids that I own and is instantly recognised. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson of the United States of America thought it was so important that he named October 15 ‘White Cane Safety Day’ and it has been celebrated every year since.
Happy White cane day to everyone around the world. Next time you see a blind person with a white cane, smile to yourself and raise an honourary glass to James Biggs!
I love my white cane!