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The Checkered Eye Project

People wearing this symbol have partial blindness aka low vision.



Just a thought.

Dare mighty things?


Sometimes you need to conjure up a lot of gumption just to go to the corner store.  This is particularly relevant to people who are new to operating with reduced vision.


Due to recent goings on within my circle of acquaintances I have been reminded to take stock of what’s actually important to me.  What really matters? 


For a long time I’ve felt it was most important to “dare mighty things” as is outlined in a favorite quote of mine.  The same thing that is expressed by that song that says “if you get the choice to sit it out or dance I hope you dance”. 


I still do think those things are important.  I do think life is less regretful if you give things your best shot rather than choosing not to risk failure.


These days however I’m also noticing the importance of being able to be okay with the here and now that may or may not involve mighty things.  And the definition of mighty things can have great variation.


If you’ve been given a diagnosis that states you may have less than a year to live, do you get busy with your bucket list?  Sure.  If there’s stuff you’ve been planning or waiting on, now’s the time to go for it.  However, my thinking lately is that it’s even more important to be present for whatever’s going on RIGHT NOW.  If you are sitting out this dance, isn’t it best to take note of the music, the feel of your chair, the person with whom you are sitting?  How you are feeling about all that stuff?


I’ve noticed that some blind people find that they get great pats on the back for just walking down the street.  Some view this as pity.  Some take it as a kindness and feel good about it.  I can imagine that someone who knows nothing about living without sight might think it is a mighty thing you are doing.  Well, for some it is no big deal, for others it is a huge deal. Take a compliment!


Of course there is value in being daring sometimes in life, and it’s also important to be present for whatever is going on while it’s going on.  If you’re looking forward to the moment when you’ll be daring or back at moments where you were, you’re missing all the rest.


Here is the quote I mentioned earlier.

In the battle of life, it is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better.

The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually
strive to do deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt



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Some History

As a teen with low vision I told my mother I wanted a t-shirt that read, “I‘m not stuck up, I’m blind!”  I was self-conscious because nobody knew my sight was failing and I didn’t want to seem like a snob when I’d walk past people I knew without saying hi.  I have a condition called Stargardt’s disease, it started affecting my sight when I was 12 and by the age of 18 I was legally blind.  I could function quite “normally” but there were many life situations that were a challenge.

When as a young adult I moved from a small town to a city, I had some close calls in traffic and was advised to use a white identification cane (ID cane). This is the type of white cane that is recommended to people like me who don’t need it as a feeler, just as a symbol.

Many people are unaware that long before we had the mobility techniques that employ the cane as a tool, a white cane was just a symbol. In 1930s Paris, Guilly D’Herbement noticed blind people struggling in traffic. She thought the white sticks being used to direct drivers would be well used by blind people to increase their safety.  She launched an awareness campaign which was taken up by the Rotary Club and proliferated in the US by Lions Clubs.  So the original purpose of the white cane was as a traffic safety beacon.


The ID cane did help my safety in traffic because I didn’t worry that someone would think I was an idiot waiting at a green light, so I took fewer risks trying to save my vanity. I quickly learned that the cane was also useful when I needed help, other than crossing the street, while at the same time a bit of a problem for me because I felt self-conscious about people noticing that I was able to see quite a bit; I wondered, should I act blinder than I am when I carry the ID cane? That didn’t feel so good either!

What the ID cane did not convey was the fact that while legally blind I still have some vision.

In the fall of 2000 I found I had a bit of time on my hands as my youngest child had started full time school. One day I attended an open house held by a charitable national service agency for blind people in Canada and got into a chat with people I met there. We started swapping stories about situations when the lack of eyesight hadn’t been the problem but rather the fact that whomever we were dealing with was unaware that we had low vision. One of the staff mentioned that clients had been asking for a badge that would let folks know they couldn’t see well. We all agreed that it was a “great idea” but there was no such thing. Since I had some free time I went home and designed a wearable symbol and called it the Checkered Eye. The Checkered Eye uses a white background with the words Low Vision in black. Between the words is a stylized eye with the iris depicted as a black and white checkered pattern; simple but effective. I sent a letter to the service agency confident the problem was solved.

Perhaps you can imagine how disappointed I was to hear that they would not pursue this idea.

At this point I consulted with many people. I discovered that some with low vision weren’t interested in a wearable symbol, and that many were. Most were thrilled with the discreet option of a pin on their shirt or jacket. People who use walkers or wheelchairs said it would be easier to wear a symbol than to carry an ID cane. I also learned that brain ailments can result in visual deficits and difficulty speaking and so a symbol to point to may benefit some of those so afflicted. I personally noticed that sometimes my cane is hidden behind a check-out counter and so a symbol near my face would help in scenarios like that. I also found that people in hospitality, retail, health care and any service type job, were happy to know when clients might need specific care and thought the wearable symbol was a good idea too.

So I decided to go ahead on my own. After 14 years of grass roots efforts, mostly by people with low vision,  the Checkered Eye is now in use in Canada, the US, New Zealand and Switzerland.

It’s clear that these symbols have their merits and meet existing needs and their usefulness can be cemented by clear understanding.
Remember this: for safety, the white cane, for low vision sensitivity, the Checkered Eye. Pass it on!


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White Cane Week

Hey it’s White Cane Week!  The first week in February is White Cane Week in Canada.

White cane week was started by the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) in 1946.  It’s a time when various groups make efforts to raise awareness of issues concerning people who have any degree of blindness, and of course the white cane.

The Checkered Eye Project (CEP) also takes this opportunity to do a bit of awareness boosting about the white cane and of course the checkered eye.

Here’s what we’d like you to know:


The wearable checkered eye emblem and the white cane, as symbols, both indicate blindness.  Neither says more than that so if you need to know what kind or what degree of blindness a person has you’ll need to communicate with them.

The checkered eye is for face to face situations and just ads a bit of understanding.

Here is a photo of me wearing a checkered eye.  The version I'm wearing here is one that does not have the usual text saying "low vision".  We hope to be able to offer these once understanding is well established.  That way we'll no longer have to translate them. 


There are three types of white canes: the ID cane, the mobility cane, and the support cane.


The white cane originated as a traffic safety beacon in the early 20th century and is white because this was determined to be the easiest color for drivers to see. 

Below is a photo illustrating the use of an ID cane.  Held diagonally across the body this type is used by people who don’t need it as a feeler or mobility tool, just as a symbol.  This type of white cane is shorter and less sturdy than a mobility cane. 


Mobility canes look much the same and may have various different tips and handles.  The technique, with which blind people use these canes in a side to side sweeping fashion to locate obstacles and landmarks, was developed by Richard Hoover at a US military hospital.  He taught it to blinded veterans of WWII in the 1940s but it was not widely accepted and taught until the 1960s.

Ever wonder why there is red at the bottom of a white cane?  Me too.  I have had discussions with several people who teach orientation and mobility (O and M) to blind people in Canada and learned that the red is intended to increase visibility when the ground is snow covered. 

The following photos illustrate how the all-white cane blends into the snowy background, whereas the red tipped cane in the second photo is easier to detect.


One of the instructors indicated that the black cane originated in Russia where it was intended to create the desired visibility in snow.  

However, other O and M instructors told me that the black cane is a fashion choice intended for formal situations like weddings and graduations. I have come to learn that people do use black mobility canes for just this reason.  I haven’t confirmed the Russian origin story though.

Here’s a photo of a black cane in the snow.


It’s important to note that if a person is using a black cane as a mobility tool, it is likely understood that the person using it has a severe level of blindness.  However it is no longer a symbol for blindness and the user cannot expect it to convey the same safety message as a white cane does, to drivers in moving vehicles.  

The final type of white cane is, I think, the least well understood.  The white support cane is also used as a tool as well as a symbol.  In this case its functional use is to support some of the user’s weight while at the same time it’s intended as a symbol to communicate blindness.

Here’s a photo of a white support cane in use.


Just for fun, since there is already a black cane option for the fashion minded, guess what – I bet you guessed it!  Yup, you can now get any of a rainbow of color options for your mobility cane!  I think if I used a mobility cane I’d have one in every color – I am a bit spoiled!

The below photos are of my collection of canes, one of which I use personally and the others I use in speaking engagements.  Thre are 2 ID canes, a black cane, a support cane, and a mobility cane with a different color on each of its seven segments.  The second photo was taken with a flash and shows their reflective ability.



 Check for the checkered eye and watch for white canes - pass it on!

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