O&M: What’s in a Tip? A Cane Tip that is…

Individual using a white cane with a marshmallow cane tip

I recently met with a first-grade student for our second orientation and mobility (O&M) lesson. He had been issued a cane and tip by a previous certified orientation and mobility specialist (COMS). At about 20 minutes into our 60-minute lesson, he began to complain of being tired. This puzzled me because I have been his teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) for the past two years, and he is always a ball of energy. I began to ask myself, “Is he tired because we are working after school? Is he tired because he doesn’t like what we are doing? Or is he tired because of the weight of his cane and tip?”

We located a bench and sat down for a break. As we sat I had him identify the parts of the cane. When he identified the tip, I asked him why he had the large roller ball tip. His response was, “I don’t know”.  I asked him if he would be willing to try out another tip, and he replied enthusiastically, “YES!”

I located two alternative tips: a roller marshmallow tip and a ceramic tip. We continued the lesson with the different tips. At the end of the lesson, I asked him if he wanted to change his tip back to the large roller ball. His reply was, “No, thanks; may I keep the roller marshmallow tip?” Thanks to this interaction with my student, I decided to share descriptions of various cane tips and their specific uses.

Cane Tips

Pencil Tip

A pencil tip is a thin and straight tip at the end of a white cane. This tip is usually used for two-point touch (tapping the ground) because it can become stuck in the cracks and crevices of a sidewalk or parking lot if it was in constant contact with the ground. Pencil tips are mostly made of plastic and nylon. The cost is about $2.50. The weight of this tip is about 8 grams.

Mushroom/Marshmallow Tip

The marshmallow cane tip is named for its shape which is very much like a marshmallow. The marshmallow tip is made from nylon and is designed primarily for the two-point touch technique. Because the tip has more of a round end, it tends to get stuck less than a pencil tip. It costs about $2.50. This tip weighs about 17 grams.

Rolling Marshmallow Tip

The rolling marshmallow tip, one of the most common cane tips, is shaped like a marshmallow and can rotate 360 degrees. This tip is made of heavy-duty molded nylon and contains a bearing that allows it to roll.  A rolling marshmallow tip can easily be used on different types of surfaces. This cane tip is most often used when the user is using the constant contact technique. Due to this constant touch with the ground, the person using it gets feedback about every change in the surface. A rolling marshmallow tip is not a very good choice for those who like to receive feedback from the surface by tapping their cane. The cost of this tip is about $10.00. The tip weighs about 39 grams.

Roller Ball Tip

The roller ball tip is almost the largest cane tip measuring two inches in diameter, about the size of a small apple. This tip is made of nylon and has a bearing on the inside which allows it to rotate left to right. It rotates just like a marshmallow tip. It is mostly used by people who are just learning to use a cane for independent navigation or by those who walk long distances. Because it is one of the heaviest, it should only be used for constant contact techniques for navigation. Due to the size of this cane tip, it tends to get stuck the least. The cost of this tip is about $9.00. The tip weighs about 69 grams.

Jumbo Roller Cane Tip

The jumbo roller cane tip is disc-shaped, resembling a semi-flattened marshmallow, with a built-in protected bearing and a rounded outer edge designed to roll from left to right. The tip is made from an ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene material. The tip is about 2.5” in diameter. Due to its size and weight, it is typically used with the constant contact technique. It will do a pretty good job on a hard surface, as well as a pretty good job on short grass. The biggest downfall with this cane tip is the weight. The cost of this tip is about $11.50.  The weight of this tip is about 71 grams.

Rover Free Wheeling Cane Tip

Ambutech’s Rover Free Wheeling tip, a soft rubber wheel that rolls forward and backward, is designed for rough terrain. Made with Santoprene (thermoplastic rubber) and 3” in size, this tip is made to be used with the constant contact technique. This tip is generally used by individuals with a significant amount of usable vision who are looking to do some off-road hiking and walking. The goal of this tip is to detect large changes in the terrain; it does not do a very job of detecting small changes in the surface. The cost of this tip is about $12.90. The weight of this tip is about 51 grams.

Dakota Disc Tip

The Dakota Disc tip is designed to travel over uneven surfaces such as grass, snow, sand, and pea gravel (playground flooring). It is designed to be used for constant contact. This tip, which is made from durable plastic, can glide easily over the surface of the ground. The Dakota Disk tip has a couple of cons as well—it may miss a small obstacle such as a rock or small hole in the ground because it will glide right over the top. It is also not designed for constant use on cement, asphalt, concrete, or dirt roads. This tip, available in white or red, is about $10.40. The weight of this tip is about 66 grams.

Ceramic Tip

The ceramic cane tip is half of a sphere with a black rubber ring around the bottom of the half sphere where it connects to the hook section or slip-on section of the tip. This tip provides substantial auditory and tactile feedback to the cane user. This tip is primarily used for two-point touch, however, it can be used for constant contact. When used for constant contact, it will occasionally get stuck in cracks. This tip costs around $16.00, and it is one of the lighter tips, weighing in at 17 grams.

Metal Glide Tip

The metal glide tip is made from metal and is used for the two-point touch technique. This tip will also provide more auditory feedback when it hits the ground. It can be used for constant contact; however, it tends to get stuck. The tip costs around $4.00. It weighs about 19 grams.

Omni-Sense Tip:

The Omni-Sense tip is made of two wheels that pivot in 360 degrees to move across a range of surfaces. The tip provides auditory feedback and provides feedback in changes of terrain. This tip will cost around $50.00.

Work with your child’s orientation and mobility specialist to ensure the optimal cane tip is used for your child’s needs and preferences.

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