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Mobility Devices for Young Children

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

What are Long Canes, Rectangular Canes, and Pediatric Belt Canes?

For people with blindness or mobility visual impairment walking is a high-risk mobility challenge when compared to their sighted peers. When used correctly, a mobility device evens the playing field, by reducing the risk of walking without vision. When the person keeps the cane tips touching the floor, two steps in front of themselves, they get the time they need to react and improved balance.

The three commercially made mobility tools come with distinctive white and red shafts, and black grips. The choice of which mobility device to use depends on the person’s physical and cognitive abilities to use the it correctly for safety.

Types of Mobility Devices for Young Children

  • Pediatric Belt Canes (age 11 months to 5 years)

  • Rectangular Canes (age 3 years and up)

  • Long Canes (age 5 years and up)

    • Adapted Canes

Pediatric Belt Canes

Pediatric belt canes are a toddler’s first cane.

two belt cane frames face the camera, the standard or longer frame has the belt clipped in. The shorter specialty frame has no belt.
Complete belt cane set

Belt canes consist of a lightweight, small rectangular frame connected with magnets to a custom belt. Belt canes have two plastic tips with stainless-steel wheeled glides that slide easily over most surfaces. The belt cane currently comes with two frames and one belt. The longer frame is the standard length for most travel. The shorter frame is for inside small spaces with furniture and no drop-offs. The belt cane is the easiest mobility device to use. The child wears the belt cane which keeps the frame positioned correctly in front and in contact with the ground. The belt cane design makes it easier for young children to learn to keep the cane frame positioned in front of themselves for maximum safety.

Rectangular Cane (aka Alternative Mobility Devices or AMDs)

Rectangular canes are made of four lightweight canes shafts that are connected to form a rectangle. They have rubber grips on each side and there are three different cane tip choices available. Rectangular canes are more difficult than the belt cane because it requires people to have good use of their hands to be able

The full rectangular frame have the outdoor wheels,  the top left is the rover wheel, and the lower left is the indoor wheel.
Rectangular Cane with three different wheel types

to hold on and push it. Rectangular canes are easier than the long cane because they only need to push the rectangular cane forward, not swing it back and forth each time they take a step.

Ambutech sells three different tip designs. The center grip is to hold when going upstairs. The person holds the rectangular frame in front and one step ahead, so that the frame leads the way upstairs.

Long Canes and Modified Long Canes

Folding cane with an elastic band, pencil tip.
Long cane

Long canes for children are sometimes called Kiddie canes. Kiddie canes are simply a shorter adult-length long cane. Long canes are lightweight, have many types of tips and grips to choose from based on personal preference.

The long cane is the most difficult mobility device to use correctly. For the long cane to be an effective safety device, a person needs to have good use of at least one hand, and be able to consistently create the safety arc by moving the cane tip back and forth in front of each foot, each time they take a step.

Types of Modified Long Canes

  • Push broom tip

  • Tandem bar

The push broom and tandem bar are attachments to the long cane to aid the user in making the protective safety arc. The push broom tip makes it so that the bottom of the long cane now resembles the bottom of the rectangular cane, for an easy, complete safety arc. People can use one or two hands to push the long cane with the push-broom tip forward in front of themselves.

Red tip with to large foam wheels and a center connector bar
Push broom tip with outdoor wheels

Red tip with small plastic wheels and a center connector bar
Push broom tip with plastic wheels

The tandem bar connects the student’s cane to the instructor’s cane. The instructor uses the tandem bar to sweep the student’s long cane back and forth to create the safety arc as they walk.

top is the full length of the tandem bar. The lower left is the left clasp close up, the lower right is the right clasp close up.
Tandem bar

How Can Parents and Teachers Decide What Device (if Any) to Use?

Does My Child Need a Mobility Device?

Children with blindness or mobility visual impairment require a mobility device for independent safety when they walk and run. Children who can learn to use their vision to avoid obstacles do not need a mobility device for safety. People with mobility visual impairment may only need to use their mobility device under certain lighting conditions.

What Device to Use?

Belt cane. Toddlers who are blind or mobility visually impaired need to begin wearing their belt canes by age 11 months. This allows them to safely transition from standing, cruising, and taking steps while holding an adult’s hand, and finally to walking solo. Young children wearing the belt cane most of the day enables them to learn more quickly to react to the cane’s safety arc leading the way.

Rectangular cane. Children who outgrow the belt cane can continue to be safe walking when pushing the rectangular cane ahead of themselves. For safe independence, the child needs to push the rectangle in front of themselves everywhere they go. Older children who are struggling with the long cane may find the rectangular cane easier to use for safety.

Long cane. To be an effective safety device, the long cane requires people to use precise motor skills. It is best for young children to wait to begin learning the long cane until they have the motor and cognitive ability to learn the safety arc technique correctly in an hour. Providing the blind children the long cane too young leads to poor cane skills. Poor long cane skills makes children less safe when walking.

Determining the Right Cane

The determination about whether a student should use a pediatric belt cane, rectangular cane, or long cane, should be made by a qualified O&M instructor. The O&M instructor will work closely with families and school personnel, including a student’s physical therapist if applicable.

Some families are hesitant about having their child use any 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 mobility visually impaired, allows their child greater independence, and prepares the child for future travel either alone or with less support.

Why Do Children with Blindness or Mobility Visual Impairment Need Mobility Devices?

The most obvious answer IS the right answer, mobility devices level the playing field. Children who are blind or mobility visually impaired need mobility devices because they can’t see where they’re going. The safety arc created by the different mobility devices enables the child to see the path ahead through touch feedback.

When the safety arc is in front of them, they have the information they need to learn how to make decisions about where to go next. For example, when there is a wall blocking the path, the safety arc alerts the person two steps ahead. People with blindness or mobility visual impairment learn to use those two steps of warning to think about where to go next.

Girl from India wears red and black checkered pajamas and wears her belt cane, her two hands rest on the handle.
Two-year-old Hanna wears her belt cane at home.

Orientation and mobility (O&M) teachers are an essential part of the instructional team of your child acquiring the ability to use their mobility device most of the day. Use of pediatric belt canes with toddlers has 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 with blindness or mobility visual impairment with the aid of effective mobility devices can independently and safely explore their environment to gather information about obstacles and other details such as drop-offs and changes in texture of the under-footing along the travel path. They learn to use the information about their surroundings conveyed by the devices to stay oriented and to avoid possible injury.

For children with blindness or mobility visual impairment to be masterful mobility device users, they must consistently use their mobility devices throughout their entire day. Whether your child is using a belt cane, rectangular cane, or long cane at home, it is vital to have them continue to use it at school, arrange to write “must use mobility device everywhere for safety in school, on field trips and when outside” on your child’s Individualized Family Service Plan or Individualized Education Plan.

What are “Pre-Canes” and “Alternative Mobility Devices”?

Teachers and parents may still hear the terms alternative mobility device and pre-cane device used interchangeably. These are outdated terms, used before the belt cane and rectangular canes were invented and used regularly. In the 1980s it was obvious that children struggled to employ the long cane for safe independence. In those days, O&M specialists made homemade devices that were called alternative mobility devices (AMD) or pre-canes.

Many O&M specialists continue to innovate by creating unique mobility devices for their unique students. Let's hope their attempts to expand the number of mobility device options to meet the needs of their students is successful so we can increase the diversity of mobility devices available to us all!

The AMD was the first alternative to the long cane and children found it to be much easier to use before they learned the long cane. However, the term pre-cane is a misnomer because it implies preparation for long cane use. Young children with blindness or mobility visual impairment need easy to use mobility devices to move about most of the day in safety. Rectangular canes, belted or hand-held, are often the mobility device that can best meet the present needs of young children who may or may not go on to use a long cane. The most important outcome is the child’s independent safety as they move as freely as possible.

How Can Pediatric Belt Canes, Rectangular Canes, and Long Canes, Be Obtained?

The nonprofit, Safe Toddles, is currently the only supplier of Pediatric belt canes. Rectangular canes, long canes and their modifications come in many different lengths and are available through commercial suppliers. Use those search terms to locate your nearest supplier.

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