Lewes Castle two different canes. Photograph showing a group of people, two of whom are carrying canes. One cane is fully extended and has a ball tip, the other appears to be a symbol cane.

Group of people, two carrying canes.

It is not always possible to tell if a visitor is blind or partially sighted. However, there are some visual signs which can help to identify those who have sight loss and may benefit from additional support. Guide dogs and canes are more obvious symbols; however, these aids aren’t used by everyone. The important thing to remember is that the degree of sight loss will be different for each visitor. Don’t assume that all partially sighted people are totally blind. Many have some residual vision that they can use. There are also many older people who have limited sight, which may be less obvious. If large print guides or good signage are available it supports independent access for these visitors as well.


Guide Dogs

  • Guide dogs are a type of assistance dog and help to improve the quality of life of blind and partially-sighted people by assisting navigation around obstacles.
  • Owners will have had specialised training in the safe and effective use of their dog. As the dog is the owner’s responsibility, in the rare event that an assistance dog misbehaves, please inform the owner who will be keen to control their dog.
  • Buddy dogs haven’t qualified to work as mobility assistance dogs and wear a bright blue harness.
  • Guide dogs in training wear brown training harnesses.
  • Qualified guide dogs wear fluorescent strips around a white harness.
  • Guide dogs are trained to walk in a straight line, to guide around obstacles and to stop at kerbs. The owner still needs to have some knowledge of their environment, so they can support the dog and tell it which way to go.
  • Even if a visitor has a guide dog, they may still need assistance around the museum, especially if it is their first visit.
  • It is important not to distract the dog, as it will be working, and can only be stroked with the permission of the owner.
  • All accredited assistance dog owners carry a card advising that assistance dogs should not be a risk to health and hygiene.



Photograph of Symbol

Symbol cane

Symbol cane: To show they have low but useful vision. Individuals will hold the symbol cane in front of them to let people around them know that they’re partially sighted. It’s particularly useful in busy places.

Photograph of guide cane

Guide cane

Guide cane: To find obstacles ahead of time. Individuals will hold a guide cane diagonally across their body and then use it to find obstacles in front of them, such as kerbs or steps.

Photograph of long cane

Long cane

Long cane: To avoid obstacles if they have restricted or no vision. Once individuals have been trained to use a long cane, they will roll or tap it from side to side as they walk, to find their way and avoid obstacles.

Photograph of Deafblind symbol red and white cane

Deafblind symbol red and white cane

Red and white banded cane: To show they have low hearing and vision. Red and white banded canes of all types show that individuals have a hearing impairment as well as sight loss.

Your Turn

If a visitor with the following enters your venue, what does it mean?

  1. A red and white cane;
  2. A dog with a bright blue harness;
  3. A cane that doesn’t appear to be used for finding obstacles;
  4. A dog a white harness andfluorescent strips.


Credit: Zoe Partington and RNIB

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