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All the Light... Shines a Light on History of un-Safe Mobility for Blind Children

Updated: Jun 16

Netflix's New Series “All the Light We Cannot See” Shines A Light on the History of un-Safe Mobility for Blind Children

   The Netflix TV Show anachronistic use of the long cane during WWII is a more progressive stance on blind children’s safety than was actual historical fact. The character Marie Laure at age 6 and 16 years uses white canes in the TV series. Yet, there is no proof that six-year-old children used Lions Club canes in 1932 and the long white cane did not exist in 1944. If the blind girls did have a white cane or a staff, it was not for safe mobility (probing the next step for safety) it was for identification or balance support.

   Historical records show blind children are not the reason either the short or long white cane was invented. Blind children’s access to white cane safety began long AFTER Lyndon B. Johnson signed the first Presidential Proclamation for White Cane Safety Day, in 1964. 

Blind children’s access to white cane safety began long AFTER Lyndon B. Johnson signed the first Presidential Proclamation for White Cane Safety Day, in 1964. 

    As proof, Ambrose-Zaken’s YouTube video includes footage showing 1966 state-of-the-art orientation and mobility (O&M) instruction of blind children. Footage shows teaching blind school-aged children skills for walking independently without white canes.  “From Here to There” was written, directed and narrated by Phil Hatlen, then principal of the California School for the Blind (1962 to 1966). Hatlen released the film in 1966.

   White canes were invented for adults. In 1930s the Lions Club cane was invented for Elmer Thomason, a blind businessman in Peoria Illinois, and in 1932 shipped around the world to blind high school students and adults.

Thomason used a long staff before Bonham gave him the short, white Lions Club cane to use instead. The long, ornate staff likely helped Thomason to keep his balance as he made his way independently through downtown Peoria.

Newspaper clipping from Journal Star, Peoria, Sunday October 10, 1993 shows Elmer Thomason’s long, ornate staff next to the tiny Lions Club cane.  Held aloft by Thomason's daughter "Mrs. Hutt"
Thomason's staff was much longer than the Lions Club white cane

According to history of Lions Club published in 2008 , Bonham had been in the audience of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan in Sandusky, Ohio. It was a trip Bonham could not wait to take because he was president-elect and he wanted to learn everything he could about his leadership role in the Lions Club and, of course, meet Helen Keller.

Keller and Sullivan did not want to leave sunny California for a Lions Club convention in Ohio, but did. In the audience, Bonham heard their well-honed pitch, asking leaders in the field of blindness to find ways to help blind people to help themselves.

On one of Bonham's subsequent trip to his Lions Club headquarters, he passed Thomason's newspaper stand outside the Peoria Courthouse with renewed interest. This time, as he observed Thomason needing assistance to get across the street, and he wondered... How could he aid Thomason in getting across the street independently?

Bonham hypothesized, if Thomason's long wooden staff was replaced with white cane, he might not need help to cross the street.

Bonham hypothesized, if Thomason's long wooden staff was replaced with white cane, he might not need help to cross the street. Changing Thomason's staff for a short white cane didn't change driver behavior. Bonham next tried having Thomason wave the short white stick at drivers.

When waving the "all-white" stick didn't work, Bonham added red to the bottom. Red and white, the colors of the stop sign. This time he claimed victory.

The red and white short Lions Club cane was sent worldwide with usage instructions. For use when seeking to cross a street independently:

  1. hold the Lions Club cane in the air

  2. Wave it

  3. Once the cars have stopped, cross the street keep waving the cane.

News came back rather swiftly from all parts of the world, that waving the Lions Club cane did not get drivers to stop.

Undeterred, the Lions Club advocated for each state to adopt the White Cane law. In short, the law stipulated that drivers must recognize the white cane held aloft and waving as a signal that the pedestrian is blind and needed them to stop so they could cross. Once all 50 states passed these laws, President Johnson signed the first presidential proclamation of White Cane Safety Day in 1964.

Lions Club Short White Canes

  • Were not designed to make the blind person have independent safe mobility. It was only for holding aloft (off the ground).

    • The cane tip off the ground endangers a blind person's safety, not to mention must have been a mystery to sighted drivers.

  • Were not created to solve the safe mobility problem faced by toddlers born blind.

  • Were not effective at communicating to drivers to stop.

The Lions Club Cane was created for adults because, the theory goes, only blind adults would be expected to travel independently and would need to alert drivers that they could not see, by themselves. In fact, no matter the circumstance blind babies need safe mobility, too.

Black and white photo of stylishly dressed woman and man using the crosswalk on a 3-lane street in the 1930s while holding their white canes chest high center front. Three 1930s automobiles lined up along their right side.
Stylish couple crosses the street using Lions Club cane technique.

US Army Long White Canes

  • Were designed in 1945 specifically to improve safe mobility of recently blind WWII veterans.

  • Were not created to solve the safe mobility problem faced by toddlers born blind.

  • Are difficult to use correctly for safety, when used 100% correctly are 60% effective (Kim & Wall Emerson, 2014).

Safe Toddles Pediatric Belt Canes

  • In 2014, the idea to wear the white cane specifically to improve safe mobility of congenitally blind toddlers was conceived.

  • In 2016, garage prototype passed the toddler test.

  • In 2017, we showed proof of concept with 3D printed model in New Mexico Preschool for the Blind.

  • In 2018, we began shipping belt cane to blind toddlers.

  • In 2019, we became a non-profit, published research study improved outcomes from belt cane usage, and began producing our multi-media curriculum.

  • In 2020, we maintained operations through COVID.

  • In 2021, we moved into our Fishkill Headquarters, began growing our Board of Directors and nonprofit presence.

  • In 2022, published research study in JVIB, which defined mobility visual impairment and showed improved outcomes from belt cane usage.

Safe Toddles Belt Canes were invented for toddlers born blind and provide them easy safety. Everything we do is based on research with real blind kids in their real environments. It has been shown repeatedly that safe mobility is essential to blind toddlers achieving developmental milestones on time.

Safe Mobility is Essential to Blind Toddlers Achieving Developmental Milestones

Bill Penrod of Northern Illinois University (NIU) Orientation and Mobility Program just completed his study of 50 children (60% boys) with blindness or mobility visual impairment aged 11 to 56 months old (Mean age=29.04, SD=11.41) before and after being introduced to the belt cane.

He looked at the reasons given for obtaining a belt cane. They indicated that the children’s visual impairment made it unsafe for them to move about. Adults were seeking an effective tool that blind or mobility visually impaired children could easily use to walk as safely and as independently as possible.

They were seeking an effective tool that their children could easily use to walk as safely and as independently as possible.

NIU documented the blind children's demonstration of specific motor skills on video. The video coders logged the number of seconds the children spent demonstrating the eight specific motor skills during the pre- and final- video footage. The eight motor skills logged by the video coders in order of passive to active independence were

  • Laying Down

  • Sitting

  • Crawling

  • Standing with Assistance

  • Walking with Assistance

  • Standing Solo

  • Walking Solo

  • Solo Running/Hurried Walking

Before Belt Cane The children walked independently about 10% of the time. They spent sixty percent their time sitting quietly, standing with assistance and walking with assistance. In 3 hours of pre-video footage 8 blind children used mobility tools for a combined total of 8 minutes.

After Introduction to the Belt Cane In final-belt video footage, the children wore the belt cane 100% of the time. The children walked and ran solo 60% of the time.

Safely standing, walking and running solo is the start of everything important in childhood development. Safe Independent Mobility is supposed to happen by age 2. These blind or mobility visually impaired children began the belt cane study at age 2 and a half. They were idle and needed assistance to walk. Blind children wearing the belt cane learned to safely stand, walk, and run solo.

There is nothing a child cannot learn using their ability to safely walk independently!

global map with 33 countries in light green, toddler girl stands wearing pink and her belt cane. Did you know...? Safe Toddles is used in 33 Countries! Blind kids live everywhere Donate to expand our reach!


Hatlen, P. & Wurzburger, P., Collins, R, & Kellis, T. (1966). Film entitled From

    Here To There.  (Accessed May, 21, 2024).

Kim D.S., Wall Emerson R. (2014). Effect of Cane Technique on Obstacle

Detection with the Long Cane. J Vis Impair Blind. Jul;108:335-340. PMID:


Kleinfelder, R. Mart, P. (2008). LIONS CLUBS in the 21st CENTURY, AuthorHouse.

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