White Canes or Guide Dogs?

This article is part of a weekly series written by Kalari, a writer, athlete, mother and employee of The Chicago Lighthouse who is visually impaired. She shares her perspective on a variety of topics in order to build community.

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The topic of white canes or guide dogs has been a controversy in the blind community for generations. There are advantages to having both, so I believe it comes down to preference.

I consider myself a great cane traveler. As a child, I thought I would eventually get a guide dog when I went to college. I thought that a guide dog would provide me with extra security and companionship.

When I started college, however, I still preferred my cane. As a college student, I felt the dog would be too much responsibility. I already had to deal with living in a new city, getting around campus, adjusting to my classes’ workloads, and having a social life.

Since, then my cane has become a part of my identity. I love the feel of the handle in my hand. I love to hear the rhythmic tapping it makes as it slaps the pavement. I love flipping my cane out so it can snap together like my own secret weapon. It places me in the mind frame of a superhero getting ready to take on their nemesis. In this case, I am the superhero and the inaccessibility is my nemesis.

With a guide dog, I could not be as spontaneous as I am now. I do not have the time or the will power to bring another life in my household, even though the kids may want one. I am constantly traveling out of the city with my beep baseball team. My kids can barely keep up with my fast-pace lifestyle, so having a dog would definitely not be manageable.

Maureen is pictured alongside her guide dog, Gaston.
Maureen is pictured alongside her guide dog, Gaston.

Maureen Reid, Employment Specialist at The Chicago Lighthouse, prefers to use a guide dog to get around. She lost her vision as an adult and said while using a cane, she would still bump into objects and people. With a guide dog however, she is able to avoid all obstacles.

“I feel more graceful walking around with a guide dog than a cane. I feel safer when I travel with a dog and I have less collisions. I also feel it is a great way to get out and exercise,” she says. “Once you get a dog, the dog has to walk at least a mile a day, which gives me an excuse to get out and be physical.”

I find that another advantage to having a guide dog is that they can help you move through crowds easier than using a white cane. I have countless stories of people breaking my canes as I navigated through crowds. (This has happened to me so many times that now I carry a spare cane in my purse). I have been left stranded after people would break my cane, and many times they would not even offer an apology. People cannot see a cane from a long distance, but people can always spot a dog and make room for you to pass.

Do you prefer white canes or guide dogs? What do you feel the advantages to each are? Share your opinions in the comments below!

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