REHACARE.com spoke with Ellen Schweizer, the Association’s founder, about the experiences children and parents make with the long cane for blind children and the fact that inclusion is not a burden but can be fun.
Ms. Schweizer, you co-developed the long cane for blind children. What are the characteristics of a great children’s cane?
Ellen Schweizer: The most important aspect is that children actually have access to a long cane in the first place – and as early as possible. If you picture a one-year-old child and the size of his/her hand, it makes sense that the weight of the long cane and the size of the handle, as well as skin comfort, play a special role.
In 2012, we developed several prototypes and also published a do-it-yourself instruction guide. We subsequently co-developed the production-ready versions for very small and slightly older children with the experienced manufacturer Comde, known for its superior quality. Our stipulation was a weight of no more than one gram per centimeter because the lever action on the wrists is enormous. The cane weighs one hundred grams for a child at a body height of one meter.
Contrary to the conventional view, we recommend a full-sized long cane for children, measuring their full body size. Children move much faster and are more careless than adults and thus need to scan the surrounding environment much further ahead. What’s more, your own body height is intuitively a natural dimension we don’t have to learn by rote. The body height also corresponds to the distance from fingertip to fingertip when the child spreads his/her arms.
Why is it important for children to learn how to control a long cane as early as possible?
Let’s say, the child uses its long cane as a "toy" at age one. While the child plays, he automatically learns that the cane is virtually a natural extension of the radius of his tactile perception. The child can directly experience this principle. Over the years, we were honored to give dozens of children of all ages their very first long cane. In every single case, it is immediately apparent that the expansion of their world is a positive experience and typically has a liberating effect. Almost all children use the cane within a few short minutes to move independently. Without a white cane, a blind child continues to rely on being guided by the hand outside the home. In the worst case scenario, the child subsequently develops a permanent dependence on third-party guidance.