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Comparing visual and tactile path preview

Updated: Feb 19

What happens when a driver takes her eyes off the road? When she looks up she might jerk her head back and quickly turn the steering wheel to correct for a veer and avoid a collision. By contrast, when a driver keeps her eyes on the road she can smoothly navigate a turn so that the passenger barely notices. The advantage of vision is distant path preview allows you to make subtle path changes to avoid objects and follow the clear path.

Sudden visual path information is a lot like typical tactile path information, the jerk is physical and shocking to the system. Sighted people experience sudden visual path information much less often than belt cane users experience the push back from tactile path information. Tactile path information looks very jerky, because it is. Blind kids can't "keep their eyes on the road" to make smooth course corrections. Thus, walking towards a wall, the belt cane is working when it suddenly stops the blind child in her tracks. She never sees the wall coming, because she is blind.

It is important not to judge the jerkiness of tactile path preview by the standard of visual path preview. Instead, every time you see a young blind child's cane suddenly stop them from colliding with a wall, understand that is a great outcome. It is a body collision avoided. When the cane frame takes the hit, the child gains confidence in the same way we sighted people learn to appreciate our eyes and quick reflexes.

The video I have put together shows a two year old girl who is blind. In the first scene, she is stopped from hitting the cabinet in her kitchen, she then makes a course correction and goes on to locate her mom using her words.

Next we see her stopped because a rise in the sidewalk, she uses her cane to learn that there is an iron gate blocking her way and turns to locate a clear path. Next we see her step more cautiously because her cane frame stopped her at a sidewalk rise. At the park, she finds a pole and purposefully clangs it with her cane frame on both sides, and then turns to ask her dad,

"What is this?"

Finally, we see her cane stop her from hitting a sign post on the sidewalk with her body, and then she uses her cane frame to again clang the sign post, this time she reaches out with her hand to explore the sign post further.

The benefits of tactile path information is sometimes hard to understand in the eyes of those who can see, because it appears jerky and cumbersome. Yet, each time blind toddlers feel that jerk is a win for them. From the point of view of a blind toddler, tactile path preview is a kinder way to explore the world. Much better than body slamming walls, sign posts and kitchen cabinets.

Remember: Every time the cane clangs, a blind toddler is saved from a body bruise.

Pediatric belt canes are best when worn most of the day - more belt cane clangs and less body bangs encourage self-confidence, independent exploration and expansive learning.

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