Blind Toddlers Walk Freely With a Wearable Cane

A new wearable cane is giving blind or severely vision-impaired toddlers the ability to walk and even run safely, long before they have the skills to use a hand-held cane. The toddler cane was developed by two professors at CUNY who were looking for a way for vision-impaired toddlers to move independently like other children.

A vision-impaired child runs while wearing a SafeToddles toddler cane
A vision-impaired child runs while wearing a SafeToddles toddler cane
Photo credit: CUNY Matters

“Vision-impaired toddlers want to run and explore the world just like sighted kids, but they trip over unseen objects, fall, and walk into walls,” says the cane inventor Grace Ambrose-Zaken, coordinator of Hunter College’s master’s programs in rehabilitation teaching and orientation and mobility. This limits their exploration of the world and the social connections they make.

Childhood blindness can lead to delays in speech, motor function, and the ability to play and socialize. By giving children the ability to walk safely, the toddler cane may reduce or prevent these delays. It isn’t until age 5 that most children can develop the skills to use a hand-held cane.

The toddler cane fastens around the waist and consists of two canes attached at the ground by a bumper, which extends about two steps in front of the child. Just like a cane used by an older child or adult, it provides tactile information about upcoming terrain and potential obstacles.

Not only does the cane allow young children to walk, but it has improved the posture in those who had walked in a hunched position or walked sideways in a protective stance. With the toddler cane, they suddenly walked upright and even felt safe enough to run.

“We thought we’d have to train children how to use this, but they get it immediately,” says Professor Marom Bikson. “The toddlers start to run for the first time in their lives, and, when you take it off them, they’re crying in protest.”

When Ambrose-Zaken conceived of the idea, she initially thought of something akin to a Southern belle hoop skirt. She made prototypes in her garage and then collaborated with Bikson, who helped improve the design. They went through hundreds of prototypes before arriving at the current design, which is custom-made to fit each child. The professors formed Safe Toddles to provide the toddler cane free of charge to children in need.

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work
SafeToddles Toddler Cane

Work By
Marom Bikson (Professor, Biomedical Engineering) | Profile
Grace Ambrose-Zaken (Coordinator of Rehabilitation Teaching and Orientation & Mobility Program, Hunter College)

Colleges and Schools
Hunter College
The City College of New York

Bonus Content
‘Life-Changing Research’ At CUNY Colleges: Professors’ Invention Helps Vision-Impaired Toddlers Walk – Even Run – Safely (CUNY Matters)

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