American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections Special Issue: The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) EARLY CHILDHOOD
by Carol Castellano
From the Editor: From time to time leaders in the National Federation of the Blind are invited to review new devices designed to help blind people. On occasion these innovations show great promise. Sometimes, however, despite the best of intentions, they reflect a limited understanding of the needs and abilities of the blind. In the letter below, Carol Castellano responds to the developer of an app and accompanying device meant to improve mobility for blind toddlers. Carol Castellano has served as president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and of Parents of Blind Children-New Jersey (POBNJ). She is the author of four books, including Making It Work and Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade.
The device referred to in the letter below is designed as a "wearable mobility device" that "would take the need for dexterity and precision out of the hands of the toddler and build it directly into the design." That, friends, is precisely the problem! The prototype device consists of two metal pipes with roller ball ends. The device is suspended from a waistband or vest. Between the roller balls is a connecting pipe. The roller balls and connecting pipe would roll out in front of the child. The device does not require the child to use his or her hands.
Dear Dr. —,
I am sorry to tell you that our organization cannot support the development and distribution of your mobility system for blind toddlers. We appreciate the intent of the project to create a developmentally appropriate mobility device that encourages free and safe movement. However, we feel that the benefits the device provides, such as next step warning and improvements in gait and speed, do not outweigh its negatives. Following are our main concerns.
It seems that use of this device would delay the acquisition of actual cane skills, such as holding the cane, receiving tactile information directly into the hand and arm, and interpreting and responding to that information. It appears that the device would not encourage the exploration of surfaces and the development of self-directed active discovery. For example, when a child is using a cane, she or he can reach down the shaft to explore and identify objects. The cane promotes an understanding of distance as the child reaches out in all directions, including up. The use of the cane also helps the child become aware of reflected sound. As the proposed device does not allow practice in these areas, it seems that the development of orientation skills could be delayed. Use of the device may develop certain adaptive skills, but not those associated with actual cane use.
Another area of concern is our sense that the device seems to encourage passivity. It does not have to be held, and it puts the child in a kind of bubble. In addition, because an adult must put it on the child and take it off, it creates an artificial barrier to the child's spontaneous movement and shifts ownership of the child's movement to the adult. The level of adult involvement that is required might delay the child's ability to monitor his or her own safety.
It appears from the videos that in order to get close to an object the device touches, the child would have to turn to the side. This is a further concern. Would the child be able to sit down close to an object or person spontaneously? If a child plopped down to a sitting position on the floor opposite another child, would the front bar of the device hit the other child?
An important question that is not addressed in the provided materials is when the child would outgrow the device and be ready for actual cane use. Since the device does not teach most cane skills, we fear that valuable time may be lost through its use.
In conclusion, we feel that children who would make progress in the intended outcomes with this device would also make progress with regular instruction and practice in cane use. The device therefore seems to us unnecessary and possibly harmful, as it could delay the acquisition of critical cane skills.
Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss any of the above.
Member of the Board
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children