Can My Child Get Around Alone?
Reprinted from A Resource Guide for Parents and Educators
of Blind Children
the section on "Play," we discussed how the tiny infant
reaches toward a sound, and later crawls toward it. Even
at this early age, the child is beginning to learn how
to find his way around alone.
your child learns to crawl, he will soon pull himself
upright and take steps. At first, he will just follow
hesitantly along a sofa or hold onto someone's hand.
Calling him from a short distance away will encourage
him to move toward you. Another idea is to place the
child's feet on your feet as you hold his hands (with
the child facing away from you). You can then take him
through the motions of walking, with you doing the work.
Actual physical support will, of course, gradually be
dropped. You may need to remind friends not to carry
your child around after he has learned to walk.
the toddling stage, and even before, your baby will
be developing ways to tell what is ahead of him, so
that he can move freely. Each child has a different
temperament, a different home, and different circumstances.
One home may have two stairways, many rooms, and the
toys of brothers and sisters here and there. Another
home may be a two-room apartment. Each situation has
its advantages and its problems. We urge you NOT to
make large changesand particularly not to move
to a different homejust because your child is
blind. Make temporary arrangements, such as stairway
gates, as you would for any baby, and later remove them
as the child no longer needs them.
children find it helpful to push a large object around
as they begin to walk. Various types of baby walkers
are on the regular market. Some toddlers like to push
a kitchen chair around on the linoleum. (A chair is
very stable, and may be especially helpful for the hesitant
child.) A toy lawn mower, wheelbarrow, doll carriage,
etc. may be pushed also. Since such a push toy provides
information about what is ahead, it is excellent readiness
for cane travel. Lori used such a method even before
she could walk. She pushed a toy in front of her as
she crept along; in order to tell whether there was
a wall or other obstacle ahead. Another child, observing
his blind parents using their canes, used a plastic
baseball bat in good imitation.
tiny child may try to stand up under a table and bump
his head. If this is a problem, teach him to reach up
with his hand when he stands. (Later this will usually
not be necessary, as he will stand up in more conventional
places.) When the older child bends over, he also may
need to check with his hand for potential bumps. He
may choose to squat in place, without bending his head
much, to avoid this problem.
child has his individual ways of learning. Different
types of encouragement will be helpful with different
with learning how to move his body, the child forms
a mental picture of the house or apartment so that he
knows his way around. Talk with him as he is learning.
You might say to the two-year-old, "Yes, there's your
fuzzy chair. You went past the sofa and you found it!"
To the five-year-old, you might say, "Remember that
the door to the basement is closer to the sink, and
the door to the garage is farther away. Then you won't
always have to open a door to tell which is which."
toddler is also forming a mental picture of himself.
Help him name the parts of his body through conversation
and rhyming games. The bath is an especially good setting,
as you say with the child, "Now we wash the left footcan
we find the toes?"
Expect your child to walk by himself most of the time.
He can learn his way around the house and yard at your
own home, and at any other homes you visit regularly.
Show your child any rearrangements of furniture. You
may decide to keep toys and other objects off the floor
in some rooms. Try to keep doors either fully closed
or fully open to prevent the hazard of a half-open door
projecting outward. Do not enforce such rules too rigidly,
however, since your child needs experience with the
real world. He can learn to go around the coffee table,
and to realize that his little sister is likely to leave
her blocks all over the family room.
for opportunities for your child to get around by himself
away from home also. Show him where the stairs are,
but let him walk up and down alone. Let him explore
his new friend's playroom without holding onto someone's
for Cane Travel
The Southview School System had just begun to offer
cane travel to children in preschool and the early grades.
Six-year-old Kelley was eager to learn to walk to the
school bus alone. She was the only child in her class
on her particular bus, and she disliked needing to be
"taken" to it. She hoped to find the bus by herself
right awayafter all, she had always boarded it
at the same place.
she proceeded, however, Kelley found that she had much
more to learn than she had realized. She often needed
to ask questions such as, "Is this a fire hydrant or
a mailbox?" "Am I turning left now?" "Does the bus stop
on the sidewalk?"
had, of course, walked past fire hydrants and mailboxes
many times. She had walked forward, turned left, and
turned right. She had climbed into and out of parked
cars and buses. However, she had always been guided
by someone else, without understanding exactly where
she was, and without putting words with actions. Therefore,
she still had many concepts to learn before she could
walk to the bus aloneconcepts which could have
been learned during the preschool years.
contrast to Kelley's lack of understanding, help your
young child to realize where he is and where he is going.
Talk about the feel of grass, sidewalk, or gravel underfoot.
Comment on the steepness of a hill. Notice the rush
of air when you open an outside door, or when you walk
past a large building into an open space. Pay attention
to the smell of the bakery or the sound of the river.
Even though your child is walking with you, he can learn
to gain information for independent travel.
your preschooler examine the mailbox and the fire hydrant,
and help him reach the top. Let him mail a letter. Talk
about the names of objects, places, and motions. Repeat
each experience over and over. As you walk with your
child, sometimes say, "Now we are turning left," or
ask, "Are we turning left or right?" Talk about the
curb as you step up or down, and examine a parked car's
position by the curb. (The child will need to use his
hands to understand what the curb is like, where the
car is, etc. He may get dirty, but he will learn.) Later,
have your child tell YOU how to proceed along a familiar
route. In walking to a neighbor's home, ask him which
way to turn, how many blocks you must walk, etc.
your child to follow directions, such as, "Go through
the doorway on your left" or "Please pick up your chair
and bring it here." Even a toddler can walk toward you
as you call him. Since knowing right and left is very
important for a blind person, it is worth teaching as
early as possible. Wearing a ring or a toy watch can
make this learning easier.
your child to give directions also, especially for finding
his home. By kindergarten, he should be able to give
his complete name, address, and telephone number. An
older child should be able to explain how to reach his
home (as well as other familiar locations) from various
approaches, and to describe how to recognize it. Thus,
the blind passenger is not passively dependent on the
driver of a vehicle, but instead actively participates
in reaching the location.
for ways in which your child can use sounds to find
his way around. Instead of going to him, ask the child
to walk toward your voice. When you say, "Please pick
up this box," you might tap on the box to show him which
one you mean. Play games in which "hide" an object which
makes a noise (without turning off the noise) and ask
the child to find it. Talk about sounds outdoors, such
birds and airplanes. Notice that footsteps and other
sounds create different echoes in an enclosed space
than they do in the open. Play "Follow the Leader" as
you move along while making a sound.
sounds of traffic are particularly important. If your
child pays attention to these sounds and begins to understand
them early, it will be that much easier for him to learn
cane travel later. When you are waiting to walk across
a lightly traveled street, let your child tell you whether
he hears any cars. When you prepare to walk across at
a traffic light, have your child listen for traffic
to stop and start. When he crosses alone with a cane
later, he will need to listen for the cars going across
in front of him to stop, and for the other cars to start
up with his green light.
independent traveler also needs to understand the rest
of the scene which surrounds him. Help your youngster
realize, for example, that the sidewalk is usually between
the building and the street, and that parking meters
are usually by the curb. Mention directions such as
north and south, and gradually help your child to use
and understand them. Sometimes ask him to point to the
traffic, and later to show you which way it is moving.
These kinds of things all build an understanding of
one's location and of the surroundings.
a sighted child enters a new school, he will look with
this eyes to see where things are. The blind child needs
to walk around and touch things, and this cannot easily
be done while class is in session. Take your child to
the preschool or kindergarten room before school starts
and let him explore. Arrange a convenient time for the
teacher to meet him. Walk through typical routes such
as from the playground to the coat room, while discussing
such things as right and left turns. Help the child
to examine things by touch, and to explore with his
cane if he has one. As you walk along you might say,
"Feel the rough brick on this wall ... Now, here's a
sink; lets turn the water on and off once ... Here we
go through a big door. Notice that your cane makes a
different sound when it hits the door instead of the
wall. Lets open and close the door. Look at this bar
that opens it from the inside; its a lot different from
a doorknob, isn't it? ... Now, this wall feels smooth;
its made of plaster and its painted green ... We're
walking through a doorway and into the coat room. We'll
walk along this wall and look at all these hooks. You
and the other children will hang your coats on these
though your child may still be assisted in moving around
during the first days of school, this practice will
provide much confidence and readiness to learn. Such
orientation is valuable also for the older child entering
a new school (even though he is skilled with a cane),
so that he will not have so much to learn on the first
day of classes. If a resource or itinerant teacher will
be working with your child, he may take care of this
for you; and a special school usually will plan to orient
each child individually also.
your child is walking with someone, expect him to walk
at normal speed. Expect him to move along on his own
power rather than being pushed or pulled. When a tall
adult walks with a small child, he will naturally take
his hand. When the two individuals are similar in height,
however, it is better for the blind person to take the
arm of the sighted person. (A gentle grip just above
the elbow is suggested.) In this manner, the blind person
can easily feel the other person stop, step up or down,
etc., rather than feeling he is being pushed ahead into
unknown territory. The youngster may need reminding
to grasp the arm gently rather than squeezing, and to
move along rather than holding back.
in walking at normal speed, in various situations, and
with different people, is important in preventing the
habit of walking very slowly or with an unnatural motion.
the future use of a cane as a big step to real independence;
help your preschool child to look forward to using one.
If at all possible, have him walk with a blind adult
who is a good traveler. There is no better way to show
that the cane really works. Many a youngster has protested
that "a blind person couldn't go there alone," only
to be taken there speedily by a good cane traveler.
Nothing is more convincing.
Learning Cane Travel
The earlier cane travel lessons are begun, the better.
Beginning cane travel can be taught effectively to preschoolers,
and should certainly be started by the early elementary
years at the latest. Of course, a kindergartner should
not be expected to cross a busy street alone. He can,
however, learn what a cane is for, hold it with reasonably
correct form, and begin to use it in a nondangerous
area. The sooner he begins, the sooner he will be really
competent and the more natural the cane will seem to
believe that cane travel should be delayed because the
young child may not be capable of perfect form and because
he should not enter dangerous areas alone. Some may
also say that a child must walk without a cane for several
years to prepare himself for walking with a cane later.
delay results in the buildup of bad habits such as groping
and shuffling, and also encourages fear of unknown obstacles
ahead. With a cane, the child can find obstacles before
he runs into them, and can find steps or curbs before
he falls off the edge; thus he can learn to move quickly
and with confidence. Learning to travel is a developmental
process, like talking or readingit begins with
halting efforts and continually grows. We encourage
the baby in his first imperfect words, and the beginning
reader in his limited vocabulary, because that is the
way he begins. It is the same with the young cane traveler.
He may not use the cane perfectly or all the time at
firstbut he can begin. "Pre-cane" techniques,
such as trailing the hand along a wall, can be helpful
for the toddler who has not yet learned cane travel,
but they are no substitute for the real thing.
Kelley, in the example above, finally learned to walk
to the school bus by herself, she was not left completely
alone. An adult remained close by. However, Kelley was
carrying out the actions by herself, and was learning
innumerable things which she had not learned when led
around by the hand. Similarly, when she learned to cross
the street without holding onto someone, an adult was
always with her at first. Later, when she had built
up enough experience, she was allowed to cross without
an adult nearby.
cane travel is introduced to young children in the proper
way, other results are nearly always very successfuloften
rather dramatically so. Understandably, teachers and
parents are often hesitant or skeptical at first, since
such programs are relatively new. But when the child
learns to walk three times as fast as he had before,
gradually loses his fear, and feels the joy of independence,
everyone, especially the child, is very pleased.
was allowed to walk alone with her cane from the second
grade room to the resource teacher's room each morning.
She traveled reliably enough so that no one went along
to watch her, although if she was late someone went
to look for her. One day the fire alarm went off when
Becky was halfway to the resource room. She immediately
went out the front door and started across the schoolyard,
having been taught that one should always leave by the
nearest door immediately when hearing the alarm. Becky
was soon joined by a teacher, but would have been able
to walk alone as far as necessary for safety. She had
long ago overcome the need for constant assistance.
a child has learned to use the cane well, it is important
that it be regarded as a regular, normal part of his
equipment for living comparable to shoes, for example.
It should be used whenever he walks around, except in
the home and in special situations such as sports. When
the blind person holds someone else's arm for convenience,
he should continue to use his cane, and thus avoid being
completely dependent on the other person. With this
approach, the blind student is always conscious of where
he is and where he is going, and is always prepared
for the unexpected, such as an unreliable companion
or a surprise fire drill. The student should not be
allowed to believe that he has memorized the school
building or grounds so well that he need not use his
cane. Without a cane, he must either move very slowly,
receive special attention, or constantly face the likelihood
of bumps from mop buckets, stairways, open locker doors,
classmates standing in his path, etc.
If your child has some sight, you may face the question
of whether he should walk with a cane or use only his
sight. For the younger child, ask yourself, "Does he
walk as quickly and easily as most children his age,
and with no more bumps than average?" If not, cane travel
should be provided. As your child reaches the typical
age for crossing busy streets alone and for carrying
out business transactions with strangers, more questions
must be asked: Can he safely dodge a car whose driver
assumes the pedestrian can see well? (Note that a motorist
will probably be wary of a LITTLE child, but will assume
that an older one will get out of the way. A white cane,
however, positively requires the motorist to stop or
yield.) Can your youngster read signs easily, or will
he appear foolish by not doing so? Can he easily interpret
hand gestures from several feet away? If not, he will
be often misunderstood and sometimes in physical danger.
Many people with partial sight can see well enough to
avoid tripping, but use a cane for identification and
to prevent problems such as those above. They also often
find that walking is much less of an effort or strain
when a cane is used instead of vision alone.
High and High School
Many older blind students face a problem of too much
to carry. Perhaps the student has a laptop, several
large Braille volumes, and a notebookwith one
hand already busy with the cane. You and the school
administration may need to provide suggestions and arrangements;
this is much better than allowing the student to depend
on others to carry his things. Might certain books be
kept in the room where they are most used? Could equipment
be stored in the library, the office, or another central
location? Teachers can often tell the student which
days certain equipment will be needed. Two lockers might
be provided, at opposite ends of the building. A large
backpack or tote bag can be immensely helpful.
your teenager's independence with that of his sighted
classmates, and seek to eliminate any restrictions which
he has and they do not. Perhaps more and better travel
training is needed to provide him with the necessary
knowledge and skill. Perhaps he already has the knowledge
and skill, but hesitates to use it because someone fears
he will get lost or hurt. The blind high school student
who has received good training should be able to travel
independently in school, on the street, and on the public