The White Cane Connection

In 1934, MSB Superintendent John Bledsoe hired his son, Warren, as a teacher. In 1938, Warren left MSB to take a course at Harvard University in teaching children who are blind. Upon his return, Warren met Richard Hoover, who had been hired as a math and physical education teacher. Both men were teaching at MSB when World War II began and both men enlisted.

The U.S. Army created a special unit at Valley Forge Army Hospital to treat and rehabilitate military personnel who had lost their vision as a result of injuries. Hoover and Bledsoe were among those chosen to staff the program. During this time, Hoover, with Bledsoe’s help, conceived the idea of taking the traditional white wooden cane used by many blind people to signal their need for special consideration and turning it into a tool of independence. He discovered that by lengthening it to match the height and stride of the user, and making it out of lightweight metal, the user could use side-to-side sweeping motions to steer clear of obstacles and drop-offs. This innovation, the Hoover Cane Technique, became a new method of independent travel for people with visual impairment, and is now in use worldwide.

After World War II, Hoover lived on MSB’s campus while attending medical school in Baltimore. He introduced the new cane techniques to MSB students and demonstrated that they could work with congenitally blind students as they did with blinded soldiers. Hoover went on to become an ophthalmologist and a member of MSB’s Board of Directors. Dr. Hoover offered ophthalmological services to MSB students.

He also founded the Dr. Richard E. Hoover Rehabilitation Services for Low Vision and Blindness at Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC), among many other achievements. Dr. Hoover’s contributions were highly instrumental in the development of orientation and mobility services.