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The Checkered Eye Project

People wearing this symbol have partial blindness aka low vision.



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 angagements.  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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Business/Non Profit/Charity

I’m trying not to use foul language here.  As I mentioned a while back I was considering registering the CEP for charity status.  This would allow me to apply for grants and issue receipts for donations with the goal in mind of paying someone who knows how to accomplish the CEP mission – awareness. 

However I changed my mind after a telephone consultation with one of Canada’s leading charity law experts who used lots of phrases like “and what have you” and “so on and so forth” and I pictured as looking like Henry Kissinger.

Mr. Kissinger made it quite clear that there were lots of potential dangers, pitfalls, and onerous procedures involved in operating a charity.  He waited till near the end of the conversation to hit me with the final blow of how much it would cost to engage him or anyone in his company to do the paperwork, and the deposit required exceeded the annual earnings of the CEP on even the best years in its existence.  He did mention that I could do all this without a lawyer.  However, after starting down that path and discovering that even with my superior intelligence, I couldn’t wing it through the documents, and after speaking to two lawyers and an accountant, I was ultimately passed along to someone who “knows that kind of stuff”.

Now it wasn’t immediately after my telephone meeting with Mr. Badnews and his perky assistant that I decided to say (not gonna swear) never mind the charity registration.  You see Mr. Badnews Kissinger had referred me to go online and search “charity tax tools”.  This would lead me to a resource that would explain some different approaches to registering as a charity. 

The page was not all that hard to find and I did manage to read about the three suggested alternatives: partnering with an existing charity, operating as a non-profit, and operating as a business, the latter of which is what the CEP already does.

The first suggestion is actually something the CEP already does as well, we partner with the Port Elgin Rotary Club and Charitable Trust each year when submitting the paperwork that qualifies our public service announcements for free television airtime. This partnering idea brings me back to the thought that it would be such a great idea to just be a part of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind since it seems that we hope to benefit the same group of people.  Alas, they have strenuously and on many occasions declined the partnership idea.

I’d like to note here that there are quite a few individuals within CNIB who see the merits of the checkered eye and make clients aware of it as an option for self-identification, but the CNIB as a whole does not support the CEP.  “As a whole” is not foul language.

So it appears that I’ll continue learning as I go, working with the terrific associates I’ve connected with, and doing what I can for people who, like myself, have low vision.

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