Mobility Devices for Young Children

What are Kiddie Canes, Pre-Canes, and Alternative Mobility Devices?

The long cane used by some people with blindness or low vision has a white shaft, a black handle, and red near the bottom. The long cane provides a traveler with information about the ground in front of him as he moves. There are several alternative types of mobility devices that children with blindness or low vision or who have additional disabilities can utilize—these devices, which are similar in function to the long cane.

Types of Mobility Devices for Young Children

  • Kiddie Canes
  • Adapted Canes
  • Pre-Canes
  • Alternative Mobility Devices: toy lawn mowers, “corn poppers, etc.”

Kiddie Canes/Pre-Canes

Kiddie canes are small-sized canes whose overall design and grip meet the needs of very young children. These canes are lightweight, have a rounded tip that glides easily, a grip with a groove for correct finger placement, and a wrist strap. They 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. The 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- conventional or slightly rounded tips
  • T-bar handled canes with wheels
  • T-bar base push probes- fitted with wheels

Alternative mobility devices are shaped like frames or modified walkers and protect 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 that have been 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 consider adapted canes, pre-canes, and alternative mobility devices for students struggling with a standard long cane. Those who find it hard to hold the grip, swing the cane, or interpret its feedback may find these alternatives helpful.

Determining the Right Cane

A qualified O&M instructor should make the determination about 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.

Whether mobility experts suggest an AMD, pre-cane, or long cane, some families might hesitate to use any device. Concerns include drawing unwanted attention, inconvenience during outings, or complexity in learning. Conversely, other families welcome the device, seeing it as a way to signal their child’s blindness or low vision to others, enhance independence, and ready the child for future solo or less-supported travel.

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 has low vision. Use of kiddie canes and alternative mobility devices 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 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 he is 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. The frame-like device typically made of PVC piping is often referred to as an alternative mobility device. However, this term lacks specificity, as various frame-designed devices have been labeled 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 to 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.

For more information, see Foundations of Education, Volume II, A. Koenig & C. Holbrook (Eds.)