Mobility Devices, Strollers, and Wheelchairs
The long cane provides a traveler who is blind or low vision with information about the ground as they move. It has a white shaft, a black handle, and is red near the bottom. There are several alternative types of mobility devices that children who have additional disabilities can utilize. They are similar in function to the long cane.
Does your child use a stroller or wheelchair? Keep in mind, a child can sweep, tap, or glide a cane or mobility device on the ground in front of them while walking or while in a stroller or wheelchair. But, even if your child is not able to hold a cane, you can take special considerations to ensure your child is an active participant in traveling.
Types of Mobility Devices for Young Children
- Kiddie Canes
- Adapted Canes
- Alternative Mobility Devices: toy lawn mowers, “corn poppers”, etc.
Kiddie canes are small sized canes. Their overall design and grip meet the needs of very young children. Kiddie canes are light weight and have a rounded tip that glides easily over the ground. They also have a grip with a groove for correct finger placement and a wrist strap. These canes resemble the long white cane in appearance.
Adapted Canes/Alternative Mobility Devices (AMDs)
Adapted canes and alternative mobility devices fall into two basic categories: modified straight canes and modified walkers. Each device has its own advantages and disadvantages. Selection of one device over another is specific to an individual student’s needs.
Types of Adapted or Modified Straight Canes
- T-bar handled canes have conventional or slightly rounded tips.
- Alternatively, T-bar handled canes can be fitted with wheels.
- T-bar base push probes can also be fitted with wheels.
Alternative mobility devices are shaped like frames or modified walkers. They provide protection across the full width of the traveler’s body. These canes are usually rectangular polyvinyl chloride (PVC) frames made from PVC piping and coupling joints. Some are actually orthopedic walker devices modified to glide along the ground in front of the child. Some walker-type, alternative mobility devices have glides on either side that resemble sled runners.
How Can Parents and Teachers Decide What Device (if Any) to Use?
O&M instructors generally think of using adapted canes, pre-canes, and alternative mobility devices when students experience difficulty handling the conventional long cane. Students who have a difficult time grasping the conventional cane’s grip, swinging an arc with the long cane, or interpreting the long cane’s feedback, often benefit from learning to use adapted canes, pre-canes, or alternative mobility devices.
Determining the Right Cane
A qualified O&M instructor should determine whether a student should use a kiddie cane, adapted cane, or alternative mobility device. The O&M instructor will work closely with families and school personnel, including a student’s physical therapist if applicable.
Regardless of whether mobility professionals are recommending an AMD or pre-cane or the long cane, some families are hesitant about having their child use any type of mobility device. They may feel that the device will call unwanted attention to their child, may be in the way during family outings, or may be too complicated for their child to learn to use. Other families may embrace a mobility device because they believe it helps the public understand that their child is blind or has low vision, allows their child greater independence, and prepares the child for future travel either alone or with less support.
What Can Young Children Learn from Using Pre-Canes and Alternative Mobility Devices?
As teachers of orientation and mobility (O&M) have gained increasing experience teaching travel to young children, growing numbers of O&M instructors and families have come to consider mobility device instruction a vital component of O&M training for young children with blindness or low vision. Use of kiddie canes and alternative mobility devices have been associated with the emergence of free movement and exploration, quick and sure gait patterns, efficient muscle use, good posture, muscle strength, and coordination.
Young children who use adapted canes, pre-canes, and alternative mobility devices learn to probe the environment to gather information about obstacles and other details such as drop-offs and changes in texture of the underfooting along the travel path. They learn to use the information about their surroundings conveyed by the devices for staying oriented and for avoiding possible injury.
If your child is using an AMD, pre-cane, or long cane at school, arrange to observe a lesson so you can see what they are able to do with the mobility device. If your schedule doesn’t allow you to observe in person, ask the school personnel to make a videotape or to take pictures for you.
Do the Terms “Pre-Cane” and “Alternative Mobility Device” Mean the Same Thing?
Teachers and parents may hear the terms alternative mobility device and pre-cane device used interchangeably. Usually, the device that resembles a frame fabricated of PVC piping is called an alternative mobility device. This term, however, is not specific, because a variety of devices with frame designs are referred to as pre-canes. The term pre-cane is also a misnomer because it implies preparation for long cane use. For young students, a pre-cane, or alternative mobility device, is often the mobility device that may best meet the needs of students who do not go on to use a long cane.
How can you obtain Kiddie Canes, Pre-Canes, and Non-Canes?
Canes and alternative mobility devices are available through the commercial suppliers for people who are blind or low vision. Additionally, some O&M specialists fabricate and sell pre-canes and alternative mobility devices through their private consulting businesses.
Using a Stroller or Wheelchair
Does your child use a stroller or wheelchair? If your child is able, they can use a cane or mobility device from their stroller or wheelchair. Regardless, it’s important to promote your child’s autonomy in traveling.
- Let your child know before you move them into the stroller or wheelchair. You can use a touch cue, such as lifting their arms, to let them know you are going to pick them up. Using a consistent way to let your child know it is time to move will help them anticipate what is going to happen.
- As you move your child into the stroller or wheelchair, involve them in the process. Your child can reach out and touch the seat before you sit them down. You can use hand-under-hand techniques to fasten the seatbelt. Your child can touch the wheel of the wheelchair to let you know they are ready to be pushed.
- As the two of you move from place to place, stop to see, touch, and hear landmarks that will help your child recognize objects in the environment, and through them. As you push your child from the bedroom to the kitchen for breakfast, stop at the doorway to rooms you pass. When you go out to the car together, stop on the front porch to touch and listen to the wind chimes.
- As your child becomes more familiar with a route, involve them in directing where you push the stroller or wheelchair. When you stop in the living room by the shelf with toys, wait to point to or verbalize about the direction of the kitchen. Try to build in opportunities for your child to direct you, rather than passively going along.
For more information, see Foundations of Education, Volume II, A. Koenig & C. Holbrook (Eds.)