I was riding on the subway on Monday, November 3, 2014 mulling over the needs of children with visual impairment and blindness. The early education teachers needed the children to have concrete experiences in order to develop concepts. The preschool teachers needed them to be more social, for example walk over to a friend and start a conversation. The physical education teacher needed them to enjoy the benefits of running. What did all these needs have in common?
Safe, self-confident mobility
Toddlers who are blind and mobility visually impaired have one thing in common, the inability to achieve safe, self-confident mobility because they cannot see well enough to avoid sudden collisions. Therefore, they need a cane in order to develop gross motor, concept, language and social skill goals.
I thought, if only there was a long cane that was compatible with their abilities. What would a developmentally appropriate long cane look like? How could we make a long cane that babies didn’t have to be responsible for and would give them the information and safety they needed to achieve their developmental milestone potential?
My first thought was a hoop skirt that touched the ground 360 degrees. Yet, truly what they needed was information specifically about the path of their next step. That was when we began the search for a design that would allow toddlers to have all the features of a white cane, but in toddler form.
On March 16, 2016, we succeeded in making a belt cane using a circle skirt. The skirt was the mechanism that connected the child to the carbon fiber cane frame. The rectangular, polygonal cane frame complete with rolling tips, employs an elastic webbing to stay in the forward path position when worn by an energetic three-year-old boy named Logan and his older sister Lily.
Lily has optic nerve hypoplasia. Her mom, Nicole, allowed her and Logan to wear all the designs I crafted. Nicole also gave me generous feedback about the many designs, and, in exchange for all of these gifts, I offered in return my only asset. I provided her daughter Lily with extracurricular O&M sessions.
The Safe Toddles team grew on September 16, 2016 to include the resources and support of the genius medical device engineer, Shames and Cattell Professor of Engineering, Marom Bikson. At his lab at the Center of Discovery and Innovation on the City College of New York campus, he asked engineer Mohamad FallahRad and a robust team of student engineers to join the effort.
Marom and Mohamad translated the original homemade design into a sleek 3-D bungee belt cane that could withstand the force of an entire class of New Mexico preschoolers. However, our first successful test was with Jojo, a four-year-old with optic nerve hypoplasia, on September 5, 2017.
Since that sunny day in September, our little group of hard working, committed folks at Safe Toddles have produced and shipped over a thousand canes. We have shipped them to almost every state in the United States and to fifteen countries. We post videos of the changes that children who are blind and mobility visually impaired make when provided with belt canes to wear most of the day, every day.
Having consistent tactile path information enables children who are blind and mobility visually impaired to develop the self-confidence they need to develop motor, concept, language and social skills.
Safe Toddles Quarantined
We wish we could continue to make the belt canes right now, but we are complying with the order to maintain social distance by staying home.
Until we can get back to work, perhaps it would be useful to describe how I made a belt cane at home. Perhaps others can recreate and improve upon the belt cane design.
If you have any questions or would be willing to share your belt cane creations- please do contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by Facebook and Twitter @SafeToddles
How-to make a homemade belt cane
The homemade belt cane consists of an elastic waistband circle skirt and a lightweight frame with rolling ball cane tips.
Step 1: Create the cane frame
1. the outer belt was crafted by creating a top square with plastic tubing. The entire cane shaft is held together with taut elastic cord. Carbon fiber rods (cane shafts) are strategically placed within the plastic tubing to provide structure and support.
2. Connect the two cane shafts to the top square using plastic tubing, elastic cord and strong tape.
3. The rolling ball tips were attached to the elastic cord. The elastic cord was thread through the entire inside of the cane frame structure. The end of the cane tip was pulled into the end of the plastic tubing. Below is a picture of the elastic cord connected to the cane tip before and after it was pulled to fit snugly into the plastic tubing.
4. Next, the top square frame is outfitted with elastic webbing
Front webbing. The right and left sides of the top square are controlled by elastic webbing. The front square webbing was created by sewing two capital "T" shapes using two elastic bands. Each end (3 ends) of this shape contains a loop that will be fitted tightly to the top square and the shaft.
One loop is attached to the front of the top square and a second loop is attached to the right side of the top square. The third loop is attached to the right cane shaft. The same configuration is completed for the left side.
Rear webbing. The rear elastic webbing is all one piece. It looks like a capital "H". The middle line of the "H" is two inches longer than the sides of the "H". There are six loop ends. One right side loop is positioned on the back of the top square, and one is positioned on the right rear side of the top square, with the third loop connected to the right rear of the cane shaft at the same point as the front elastic loop. The same configuration is completed for the left rear side.
Next make the elastic-banded circle skirt
1. Measure, cut and sew a circle skirt with an elastic band. I followed the YouTube video How to make a Circle Skirt - for any age + any size posted by MADE everyday. Click on the link to watch her easy to follow instructions on sewing a circle skirt with an elastic waistband.
2. Attach the circle skirt tightly to the outside of the frame, careful that the waist band is at the center of the frame.
The measurements are based on the size of the child. The waistband should fit snugly and the cane tips should reach at least two steps ahead. When next to the child, the top of the cane shaft would reach to the child's arm pit. If you have any questions- please let us know!!