PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A new device is giving toddlers who are visually impaired a chance to move, explore and learn, with less fear and risk of falling.
For a visually impaired person, a cane is what gives them mobility and a measure of safety as they navigate the mostly unseen world around them, but toddlers don’t have the physical dexterity or attention span to learn to use a cane effectively.
So their exploration of the world around them becomes a bruising experience. Not surprisingly, visually impaired toddlers become hesitant to move around.
“If you can’t move around safely, you don’t move and when you don’t move, you stop learning. It leads to language delays, motor delays, concept delays and social skill delays,” explains Grace Ambrose-Zaken of Hunter College and the founder of Safe Toddles.
That was the case with little Lea Dunlap. The three-and-a-half-year-old with beautiful blue eyes suffered a stroke right after birth that left her with very little vision.
“She looks sighted but people don’t understand that she could trip easily and doesn’t really know where she’s going,” said Lea’s mother, Karen Dunlap.
Too young to use a cane but anxious to explore. The solution? This deceptively simple, ingenious device dubbed a toddler cane.
It has a waistband so the child wears it right above the hips. It’s so lightweight even a toddler can easily maneuver it.
“She used to walk rambly and she would fall on Brooklyn sidewalks. It’s nice being able to enjoy walking with my daughter,” Karen says as they walk down Brooklyn sidewalks.
Even more important than not falling, is how the toddler cane helps children develop.
Ambrose says that for young children, “Their language improves as they are less stressed out, their posture becomes more erect and they become more social. It’s reducing that stress of the unknown.”
It looks like this is the case for Lea Dunlap.
This toddler cane is currently a prototype and the developers are still improving it. They are currently enrolling children 11 months and older with vision impairment in a study where kids would wear their canes as much as possible at home, at school, and in the community.
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