The Blind Child's First Mobility Teachers
Barbara asked me if I would be interested in speaking
about parents as the blind child's first mobility teachers
I responded with an enthusiastic yes! I was delighted
because I believe this statement to be true, and I welcomed
the opportunity to relate to you my ideas on this subject.
have come to respect and value the information and positive
thinking about blindness which I have gained from the
National Federation of the Blind. Blind personsincluding
blind children and their parentshave taught me
the most about blindness. In a small way, then, your
sharing with me through the years comes full circle
as I now share my thoughts with you.
thoughts and words today are from a book I am writing
about blind children and independent mobility. Interwoven
in this book is the common theme that parents truly
are the blind child's first mobility teacher. It begins
when the expectant mother introduces her baby to movement
in utero. Whenever the mother sits, stands, turns, or
walks, the child inside her experiences movement. Once
the baby is born, the mother and father become attached
to their child through touchthrough holding, carrying,
and playing with their baby. The joyous world of movement
has begun, and it is the parents who are the first,
the primary, educators of their child. It is only natural,
therefore, for parents of blind children to be their
child's first mobility instructor. After all, they are
the ones who set the stage for the play of movement.
parents are the natural educators of their child, then
the professionals are secondary educators of the child.
In the early life of a blind baby parents may be introduced
to professionals, programs, and services established
to assist in caring for their baby's needs. Parents
may have a blindness professional visit their home,
or they may take their baby to an early intervention
program outside the home. Some of these services are
given directly to the baby. In others the professionals
provide guidance to parents with suggested activities,
materials, and strategies that will facilitate the child's
learning. The intent of these programs is to inform
parents and at times give hands-on intervention with
I have visited many of these early intervention programs
over the years and have learned much from observing
the creative teaching of many talented, dedicated, and
hard-working professionals. I have also visited in the
homes of many families of blind babies. I have learned
equally as much through observing the creative teaching
of talented, dedicated, and hard-working parents. The
significant difference is that parents are not paid,
and they do what they do for twenty-four hours a day.
I note this difference to punctuate my observations
that parents have a much longer, sustained, and intimate
relationship with their child than do the professionals.
Yet, when blind babies and children enter early intervention
programs, parents are often presented with an attitude
which implies "We know what is best for your child."
This attitude challenges the natural teaching role of
parents. When educators, whether intended or not, separate
parents from the program of service, in whole or in
part, then a message is sent to the parents that someone
elsethe blindness professionalwill do for
their babies what theythe parentscould not
or did not do. This may affect the kind of relationship
that parents have with their children. Parents may develop
feelings of inadequacy. They may take less initiative
or be hesitant about movement activities with their
babies and children if they have come to believe that
the professional's role is more important.
of professionals, I can't help saying something that
has disturbed me for a long time. Why do we call teachers
who work with blind children "vision" teachers? It sounds
like a contradiction in terms to me. Can you imagine
getting a knock on your door and when you open the door
the person says, "Hello, I'm the vision teacher. I'm
here to work with your blind child." So, I use the term
blindness professional because it seems more relevant
Programs of services to blind children do what they
do best when they promote attuning between children
and parents. The parent/child relationship is indivisible,
and that is how it should be treated and respected by
the professionals. Blindness professionals and other
educators who appreciate this parent/child relationship
will rely upon the parents as a vital natural resource.
They will support parents in their efforts to establish
mutually pleasing and nurturing relationships with their
babies, and they will help them with accurate information
example, when I was studying about babies I was fascinated
by something that, in some of the research, is called
a voice/space event. When even very young babies hear
the sound of their mommy's voice they turn toward it
in expectation of seeing Mommy's face. I discovered
the first time I worked with a blind baby that this
baby's head and eyes, although he could not see, moved
in the direction of the sound of his mother's voice.
This baby, too, was looking for the voice/space event.
The obvious alternative technique at this point would
be to assist the baby's arm and hand to the mother's
face, linking sound with touch. This common human trait
of the voice/space event, which in the sighted baby
links sound to vision, thus is adapted for the blind
baby by linking sound to touch. The usefulness of this
adaptation depends largely upon how I, the professional,
present it to the mother. First of all, I cannot be
a substitute for the mother (or the primary caretaker)
in this situation. The voice/space event must take place
with the mother, not me. Second, if I present this to
the mother correctly, she will come to understand that
she, too, could have made this discovery. She will then
go on and use this knowledge and the confidence she
has gained from it to make her own observations, adaptations,
and compensations with her baby without my assistance.
And this is how it should be. Professionals should not
supplant the parents as the child's primary educator,
they should encourage and nurture them. This includes
the role the parent should play as their child's first
mobility teacher. And mobility for children begins with
play between parent and child.
for children begins with play between parent and child.
the early years parents engage in a variety of play
activities with their children. The importance of play
cannot be overemphasized. Play is "fun"-damental to
being human. Fun and play is the child's form of work,
of getting the job done, of acting on the world, and
reaping the rewards from it. The head of the Department
of Infant Studies at Rutgers University, Dr. Lorraine
McCune, writes, "When play is defined to include all
of the baby's freely chosen encounters with objects,
a large portion of the child's waking time is playtime."
implications of this statement for blind children are
many. When blind children are restricted in the kind
and amount of play they may perform, and when adults
limit the child's free intentional movement, the context
of their understanding of people, places, and things
will also be limited. This will necessarily cut short
their ability to reason, experiment, and create. Blind
children are vulnerable to having play done to them,
initiated for them, and taught to them in formal activities.
Adults would be serving the blind child's best interest
if they would instead place their energy into setting
up the environment so that the blind child could initiate
his or her own play more often. Such spontaneity is
fundamental to being human, but blind children are often
in jeopardy of having spontaneous experiences restricted
by well-meaning adults. These principles are crucial
for parents and professionals to understand as they
consider their role in promoting movement and mobility
in the blind child.
children are young they are learning to identify and
label the world. Blind children are no different. They
need to become familiar with the world, too. Familiarization
develops orientation. For the sighted child, vision
puts them in the action. For the blind child touch,
sound, and movement puts them in the action, too. You
cannot label the world for a blind child by touching
it for him. To be meaningful the experience must come
from the child's own action. For example, use of the
cane facilitates self-initiated action and thus contributes
to the creation of an active learner.
of the cane facilitates self-initiated action and thus
contributes to the creation of an active learner.
The skilled use of tools is a fundamentally human activity.
For children, toys are tools! (Remember, we said that
"play" is a child's work. Toys, therefore, are a child's
tools.) They are skill-enhancing instruments. The hand-held
tool (or toy) is an extension of the body in space for
all children. During play the child is introduced to
objects in the world. To the child all of these objects
are potential toys. Some of these objects will serve
an everyday function, such as the hand-held spoon, for
example. A spoon is more than something you use when
you eat. It is a tool of action. When we think about
the spoon in this way, we can begin to understand its
connection to the blind child's white cane. The cane,
too, is a hand-held tool of action to get a job done.
The better the skill in using these toolsspoon
or canethe better the job will be done. Since
we know that hand manipulation of tools develops over
time from "on body" to "off body" for all children,
we can then infer that the spoon is a precursor to the
cane. Both tools manage space near and far respectively,
the spoon being closer to the body and the cane being
further off the body. Whether "banging" on a plate with
a spoon, or "banging" on the ground with a cane, these
tools demonstrate the blind child's use of movement
the child's first mobility teachers you will want to
know what the cane can do. The cane is a tool that performs
many functions. It can inform, inspect, explore, detect,
and protect. Most of all it facilitates getting to know
and moving within the world. To illustrate, the cane
is more than a "windshield wiper" on the world. It is
the "steering wheel" that can be manipulated to take
you in the direction you want to go. It's the "headlight"
which gives preview of what's ahead; it's the "bumper"
which protects from unexpected encounters; and it is
the "antenna" which is constantly receiving sounds and
resonance information from the surroundings. The cane
is also the "tires" which adjust to the terrain and
provide a smoother, more stable ride. Finally the cane
is the "sideview mirror" which gives peripheral protection
whenever the traveler needs to circumvent an object.
Like the car, the cane is as effective as the driver
using it. Both driver and cane user require training
and must obey the laws of the road. Mostly the canelike
the cargets you where you want to go.
light-hearted analogy is a fun way to punctuate the
varied uses of the cane. Thinking of fun, what child
is not fascinated by a stick? It connects the child
to the ground in a way that is fun. When walking, it
seems natural to hold a stick and "touch the world;"
therefore, it is the most natural act for the blind
child to be using a cane. Fun, play, toys, tools, self-initiated
movement, canesare you beginning to see the connections?
your child's first mobility teachers the decision to
use a cane must be made by you, the parents. You may
come to such a decision in conjunction with the orientation
and mobility specialist, or without such a professional.
The point is, it should be your decision. Generally
a cane will help facilitate a blind child's movement
shortly after he or she begins walking. I have known
blind children, however, who took their first steps
across a large space with a cane. In these cases the
child was ready to walk but would not self-initiate
many steps across large spaces. Therefore, observe the
blind child's movement around the event of walking.
If the cane seems to promote movement, go with it. Do
posture, gait, and self-assurance seem improved with
the cane? If yes, then it's facilitating movement.
the child is evaluated by an O&M professional and it
is decided that he or she is not ready for a cane, then
ask yourself these questions: What is my child ready
forsomeone's arm? A pre-cane device that may be
more complex to handle than the simple design of a cane?
The less safe and efficient movement promoted by the
so-called pre-cane techniques? I believe the answers
to these questions will lead most parents to the decision
to take charge, purchase a cane, and get started. It
may be a bit scary, and you may be a bit doubtful in
the beginning, but have faith in your own intuition
and in your childyou're a team. If the orientation
and mobility specialist is on the same radio station
as both of you, all the better. If not, you and your
child can dance to the music. When others see what's
going on they may decide to join the dance. It is not
only okay to take the lead in starting your child with
cane mobility, but it may be necessary if the alternative
of inaction will negatively affect your child's self-esteem
and skill development. You cannot count on the professionals
always to have the right answers. Please believe me.
I'm a professional, and when I think of some of the
decisions I've made as a professionalbased upon
erroneous assumptionsI want to bury my head in
remember my personal journey in working with children.
When I began teaching children I used the same post-World
War II techniques all mobility teachers are taught,
including sighted guide, pre-cane safety techniques,
and certain readiness skills. It wasn't until I happened
to take some courses in infant studies at Rutgers University
and I was introduced to NFB literature by parents such
as Carol Castellano (Carol is the President of the New
Jersey Parents Division and the Second Vice President
of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children)
that my assumptions and beliefs about children and cane
travel were challenged. And that was really scary and
threatening to me. But it was also liberating. I will
always remember Fred Schroeder's article, "A Step Toward
Equality: Cane Travel Training for the Young Blind Child."
I shall never forget his analogy about crayons and canes.
He said that keeping a cane away from a young blind
child because the child wasn't ready to use it as an
adult was like taking crayons away from a sighted child
because the child couldn't write like an adult yet.
the sighted child using crayons, the blind child initially
will use the cane with more exaggerated movements. This
is for many reasons: postural security, balance, the
newness of the tool, and the human urge to experiment.
Through familiarity and maturation the cane will gradually
be used with more purposeful movements and, therefore,
more efficiently. Please know that the act of playing
with the cane is a natural way for young children to
experiment. It is how they learn about the cane and
how it will work for them. This playing is not a reason
to discontinue the cane for fear of a lack of "readiness."
Remember, we said that play is the child's work. Therefore,
do not be discouraged if the child's initial use of
the cane appears to be just playing around. Some of
the best travelers started out having fun with their
Accordingly, do not insist upon the blind child's demonstrating
mature cane skills very early. Such skills as proper
adult grip, position, extension, arc, touch technique,
and so forth will come in time with maturation. You
will risk frustrating the child, and a negative attitude
may develop towards the cane if you expect too much
in the way of adult cane techniques. Expect the child
to use the cane from the source of control best available
to him or herhand, wrist, arm, shouldergiven
the strength and control he or she has from those sources.
With growth and maturation these components of movement
will expand and so will the cane techniques that work
off of these components.
blind child will want to check out what is being contacted
by the cane. You might notice the hand sliding down
the shaft to touch the connected object, or the foot
moving to check it out. This behavior is also displayed
by adults who use the cane for the first time. A basic
principle operating with young children is "connection
before coordination." This should be accepted as a normal
stage in their learning. Do not scold the child or try
to prevent the behavior. This behavior will decrease
as they learn more about the world around them, and
as they become more goal-oriented in their travel.
that are fun and enjoyable to the child also tend to
facilitate sensory integration and skill development.
The cane is a natural tool for these activities. For
example, children enjoy banging the cane. They like
hearing the echoes they can make with it. They will
hold the cane in different ways, even upside down. What
they are doing is exhausting all the possibilities of
what they can do with a cane. This is a fundamentally
human characteristic, and we should not limit such exploration
as long as it does not hurt the child or another person.
in school set the stage for what will be expected of
children in their adult lives. This is true for blind
children, too. But, as stated earlier, blind children
are more vulnerable to having their independent movement
restricted by others. Most classroom teachers and aides
do not know what to expect or encourage regarding the
movement of young blind children. Some educators learn
quickly and are very good at facilitating movement,
and others are not so helpful. This should be of no
surprise to us. But what is more upsetting is that some
professionals in the blindness field have limiting views
about blind children and independent movement. In situations
such as this the parent will need to inform not only
the teacher working with a blind child for the first
time, but the blindness professional, too, about their
expectations for their child in the use of the cane
and independent movement.
parent cannot assume that just because an orientation
and mobility specialist is consulting with the school
and working with their child that the child's movement
needs will be promoted to the fullest extent. Even if
you and the orientation and mobility specialist are
reading from the same page of the same chapter of the
same book, this doesn't mean that what is happening
in school is what should be happening. I have often
given a mobility lesson to a child in school and then
have come back for the next lesson a week later to discover
the cane in the same location. I knew from the condition
of the cane and the tip that it had not been used since
our last lesson. So, it is in your child's best interest
for you to know what's going on.
your child is not moving about under his or her own
volition, then he or she is moving about under someone
else's. Parents will need to decide what they want for
the child and make it clear to the school personnel.
It is that important an issue. The blind child is being
prepared to believe one way or another about his or
her own movement in school and the larger world. They
will either learn that they can take responsibility
for their movement or not. It is that simple.
course, I am primarily thinking about the sighted guide.
Now, sighted guide is certainly a sufficient, and sometimes
appropriate, method of travel. I'm just concerned about
young children's using it as their standard operating
procedure for moving around. Also, I think the term
implies that the guide must be sighted. One thing I
have learned from this convention and other NFB conventions
is that the blind certainly do lead the blind, and most
efficiently, too. Some professionals now prefer the
term "human guide," but I am even uncomfortable with
this. It still implies that one person is leading and
the other following. There are times when we all prefer
to walk with someone, and it is not a matter of guiding
or leading. Carol Castellano came up with a term that
I like best. She calls it "paired walking." And isn't
that what it really is?
the questions of when to use the cane, how much, and
where (school, home, playground, etc.), first ask yourself
if the cane promotes and facilitates movement, confidence,
curiosity, safety, and getting to know the world. If
it does, then use it. I believe, by the way, that the
cane should be used both at home and school. (By home
I do not mean inside the house in which you live. I
mean all the places your family may normally go with
the childthe mall, restaurants, church or synagogue,
homes of friends, etc.) Using the cane in one setting
and not the other is a limitation and sends a mixed
message to the child.
this time I would like to share a few words with you
about vision impairment, visual efficiency, and visual
inefficiency. Many visually impaired children ambulate
with general safety and independence in their homes,
schools, and familiar areas outdoors. The need for the
use of the cane may not be so obvious for these children.
Therefore, here are some questions you might want to
think about if your child has vision:
Is your child relaxed while moving independently?
Is your child's stress level elevated in unfamiliar
or congested areas?
Is your child's performance in street crossings and
night travel age-appropriate?
Are your child's gait and posture negatively affected
as a result of pushing vision to the point of inefficiency?
Are you holding your child's hand not because you want
to, but rather to avoid uncomfortable or difficult-to-manage
Do you think the cane may facilitate safe, effective,
efficient, or confident travel?
the answer to any of these questions is yes, you might
want to give the cane a go. If you've answered yes to
any of these questions and are still doubtful about
trying the cane you may have hidden negative attitudes
about blindness which are getting in your way of making
a logical decision about the cane. As your child's first
mobility teacher, you owe it to your child to keep an
open mind about the cane.
opportunity that you have here at this convention is
to observe visually impaired travelers using canes.
You might think of this as your NFB Convention school,
and this is your 101 course in mobility. After all,
you will remember that you are your child's primary
mobility teacher. Observe the confidence, poise, relaxed
posture, and grace with which visually impaired cane
travelers move. Observe their safety and efficiency.
One of the things, by the way, that I would like to
do at this year's NFB Convention school is to receive
a mobility lesson under blindfold by a blind mobility
instructor. So that's an open invitation to anyone here
who is blind and teaches mobility.
insight I'd like to pass on to you is something I was
told by a parent who learned this by observing blind
people with canes at her first NFB convention. I think
it sums up many of the thoughts I'm sharing with you
about vision and visual inefficiency. This parent told
me she had concluded from her experience that you have
your vision for what you can see, and you have the cane
for what you can't. I can think of no other more truthful
or basic statement than this on the issue of visually
impaired people using a cane.
think it's important to share a word or two with you
about blind children who have developmental delays.
All children observe the world through their sensorimotor
systems. Vision is not essential to observe the world.
The brain is an equal opportunity employer and does
not negatively discriminate against the various modes
of gathering information and observing the world. The
five senses, like fingers of the hand, retrieve information
and give meaning to the world and the child's movement.
Blindness is a physical characteristic, the absence
(partial or total) of sight. I do not think it fundamentally
alters how humans think or adapt and compensate. We
do not think with our eyes. We think with our brains.
So, whether we read Braille or print, or communicate
with sound or manual sign language, it is the brain
which takes in the sensory information, decodes it,
and processes it.
developmental route for blind children who have added
factors impacting upon their developmentcognitive,
physical, emotional delaysis more precarious.
These children are especially vulnerable to having others
do for them what they can learn to do for themselves.
But, like all children, they thrive on a can-do approach.
If anything, these children need more of the "learning
by doing" method. Remember, the process of independence
begins with self-initiated action. It is through their
own action that the child has the chance to observe
the consequences of that action, then refine it and
practice it as a new skill. Children who are given the
opportunity to initiate their own movements are motivated
to do more, learn more. When others do the movement
for, or to, them, children lose interest in their own
activity and become passive.
example, a blind child who uses a wheelchair would have
greater possibilities for independent (self-initiated)
movement with a one-wheel drive or motorized wheel chair.
With one hand the child could operate the chair, and
with the other use a white cane for preview of obstacles
ahead. This set-up, which promotes independence, would
be superior to the alternative of the child's being
constantly dependent upon someone else to both push
and guide him. In fact, I saw someone in a wheelchair
this morning who was using a cane for preview.
you suspect that your child is delayed in development
by factors other than blindness, you will need to secure
reliable information and services to provide a sound
menu of experiences and activities. To such a menu you
can add the alternative techniques of blindness. As
your child's first mobility teacher you can creatively
adapt and compensate along with your child. You can
promote your child's self-initiated movement, and you
can expect others to respect the goals that you set
for independent movement.
In Budapest, Hungary, there is an interesting program
called conductive education. It's a program for the
physically impaired child with cerebral palsy and other
physical impairments that affect the child's development
of independent movement. Some of these children are
also blind. The program's philosophy is ortho-functional.
The child learns by doing. Self-help skills are essential
and valued along with academics. It is more important,
for example, for a child to get to class independently
and late than to get there on time because of dependency
upon someone else. The conductive education approach
believes that if a child is perceived as dysfunctional,
then the goals set for that child will reflect those
perceptions. How we perceive a child can make all the
difference in the goals we set for them. It is the difference
between using a promotion model versus a deficit model.
The deficit model stresses limitations. The promotion
model emphasizes possibilities. The independence these
children are likely to achieve depends a good deal upon
our expectations of them. Do we see children with limitations,
or children with possibilities?
me give you an example of what I mean. The following
sentences are from the book First Steps, published
in 1993 by the Blind Children's Center. These sentences
demonstrate the disturbing sighted bias and erroneous
assumptions about blindness yet to be found in the professional
is the first sentence of the introduction:
world of children with visual impairments is a very
different one from ours."
response is, "How so?" Are the authors implying that
blind children are fundamentally different from sighted
children? I don't believe it, and the evidence doesn't
support it. We all live in the same world.
is the second sentence of the introduction:
these children are faced with a puzzling array of sensation
and information, our loving guidance can create a safe
and nurturing path for them to follow."
response is that the current research about how children
learn, specifically infants, suggest that the world
is not perceived as a puzzle. Rather infants organize
their sensory information to make sense out of the world.
They improve upon their perceptions, adapting and compensating
as they get more information. It would appear that the
authors altered these data to fit their pre-conceived
notion about blind children. The sentence implies that
what is needed for learning is for blind children to
follow the adults' lead instead of the adults following
the child's lead. Again, this is inconsistent with my
experiences and with the research.
third sentence of the introduction reads:
family members, educators, and health care professionals
find themselves drawn together by the formidable challenges
of these children's infant and preschool years."
In my response I ask you to consider these definitions
from Webster's of the word formidable:
causing dread, fear, or awe. 2. hard to handle or overcome;
as a formidable job.
College Thesaurus lists the following synonyms for formidable:
appalling, tremendous, arduous, or Herculean.
would not choose any of these words to describe my role
or the parents' role with the blind child. I would suggest
that this is not the message I would choose to communicate
to parents and other educators about what it will be
like to raise or educate blind children. All parents
are presented with challenges in raising children. The
differences in raising blind children will necessitate
at times different challenges. From my experience, probably
the most "formidable" aspect of raising a blind child
that parents will face is trying to get the professionals
to provide the appropriate education and training which
their child needs. And this is a problem with attitudes
and bureaucraciesnot the child and not the physical
fact of blindness.
here is a sentence from the book regarding the sighted
intent of using a human guide is not to relieve the
child who is visually impaired of his travel responsibility,
but to provide the child with the skill of taking an
active role when traveling with a sighted person within
both familiar and unfamiliar areas."
first response is, how can you observe your own movement
off the arm of another person? This is a logical impossibility.
Whose responsibility is it for the active movement of
negotiating the environment? Why is it assumed that
when a blind child is walking with a sighted person
that he or she will be naturally guided? What is active
about following another's lead? And why does the guide
need to be sighted? There are times when sighted guide
is appropriate, but to suggest that there's some skill
in it which a child needs to learn for independence
is ludicrous and false.
subtleties of the written word hit home hard when you
are the subject matter. Blind persons and parents of
blind persons hear the bias in these words clearly.
First Steps is written by a professional, credentialed
group of authors. The Blind Children's Center provides
a real service for blind children, and in many respects
this book is rich in useful information. But at its
core are assumptions that communicate to those thirsty
for knowledge erroneous beliefs about blindness. I believe
these assumptions damage blind children. History has
given us enough of these harmful, false images. We do
not need them dressed up in the respectability of professional
jargon, then pawned off to us as modern, scientific
is time we stress a promotion model, not a deficit model,
It has been said that "We should study right research
and research the study right." Research would better
serve the needs of blind children, and our energies
would be put to better use, if we spent more time raising
questions and debunking erroneous assumptions about
blindness. Here are some questions I have:
What do we truly believe about the capabilities of blind
travelers when professional organizations will not certify
blind orientation and mobility specialists?
What are the vulnerable areas in the blind child's opportunities
to express their innate "need to know" and "drive to
What is really essential to functioning with the cane?
How can the sighted guide, pre-cane techniques, or pre-cane
devices be considered precursors or predictors of independent
travel? Where is the research to substantiate these
What do orientation and mobility specialists believe
about the parent-child relationship?
How can the use of resonance and the broader perception
of sound and space be facilitated in blind babies and
older children? How do we enhance or distort its use
in the type of canes we recommend and choose for them?
Has our sighted bias ignored the contribution to movement
that the utilization of auditory object perception (echolocation)
What subtle, or not so subtle, messages do we send to
blind children which discourage them from moving actively
in the world?
How do we interrupt or inhibit the self-initiating and
sustaining movement of blind babies and children?
How do our touch and physical handling of blind babies
and children affect the development of the use of their
own touch? How do the touch and verbal cues which we
impose upon children in a travel situation affect the
abilities of children to figure out and solve their
own travel problems?
What do we do to a blind child's interest in and ability
with the cane when we try to teach adult skills for
which they are developmentally not ready? When we delay
giving them a cane in favor of a pre-cane device?
How are the blind child's self-image and desire for
independence affected when we teach them that someone
else will take responsibility for their own movement?
When that "someone else" is always sighted?
believe that the consequences of the orientation and
mobility profession's not addressing these questions
and many others will result in the increased vulnerability
of a profession already in jeopardy.
the blindness movement has been developing its own growing
body of literature based upon a different perspectivea
perspective which has evolved from over fifty years
of the collective experience of thousands of blind people.
Here are some of my observations of the philosophy which
fuels the passion and reason found in the NFB literature:
it assumes that blindness need not be fixed,
it promotes the concept that "differences are not deficits,"
the alternative techniques of blindness promote a "can
do" approach to life, and
it deals with issues and concerns that are fundamentally
I have described to you today is what I call a pediatric
perspective on independent mobility. I hope it fuels
your beliefs and actionsas your child's first
mobility teachersin promoting your child's independent
movement in the early years.
summary, the "need to know" and the "drive to move"
are fundamental to being human. Therefore, orientation
and independent mobility is more than a way of moving
from one place to another, it is a way of life. It is
a way of knowing, a process of reciprocal interaction,
of being with the world instead of separate from it.
This process during the early years of life enables
the blind child to engage in the world in an increasingly
independent manner. During these early years a common
thread will sew together the variety of experiences.
This thread is the fundamental fact that, as all children,
blind children have an innate sense of order, an inherent
ability to organize their experiences, to learn from,
and improve upon, those experiences. From the earliest
sensorimotor schemes to the formation of intentional
thought and complex problem solving, the drive to "want
more" and to "make more" out of what reality at any
given moment appears to offer, is as much the foundation
of purposeful thought and movement for blind babies
and children as it is for those who are sighted.
is of particular importance that parents be provided
with accurate information both about blindness and this
natural process so that they can better teach and assist
their children to interact independently with and within
the world. Together as a teamparents, child, and
professionalswe engage in common goals that will
facilitate the child's natural "need to know" and the
"drive to move."
history of formalized orientation and mobility has entrenched
an adult-to-adult approach, with sighted guide and pre-cane
techniques being taught prior to cane instruction. This
tradition can be thought of as a top-down model. In
this model adults first learn the concepts then learn
the motor schemes to match these concepts. With a pediatric
perspective, however, the approach will be bottom-up.
(I want to acknowledge the influence of Dr. Lorraine
McCune on my thinking. Her knowledge and clear thinking
about what babies do and how they learn contributed
much to the development of this model.) First, the child
learns purposeful movement, then with a solid foundation
of motor-schemes which they have learned to trust and
rely upon, the child "learns" the concepts. Out of the
experience come the concepts, the ways of thinking about
the world. With this bottom-up model, parents and other
educators will explore strategies, activities, and toolssuch
as the canethat will facilitate purposeful thought
and purposeful movement.
approach rejects the notion that children must have
a certain maturity level before they can use a cane
for movement. Maturity unfolds as movement and motor-schemes
become more sophisticated. Canes can assist in this
process from the moment a child begins to walk.
this bottom-up model, cane travel will not be considered
an isolated set of skills. Instead, the spoon becomes
the precursor to the cane. Tools to manage space that
are hand-held and get a task done (spoons, scoops, shovels,
etc.) will be respected in this bottom-up approach.
Motor skills for cane usage, from this perspective,
are not a mysterious set of unique skills requiring
extraordinary knowledge and specialized training. They
are extensions of ordinary motor-schemes and tool-usage
that all children can learn, and parents can teach.
There is also no need for so-called pre-cane techniques
and pre-cane devices in this approach. In truth, pre-cane
techniques are actually alternative travel techniques
(which are, incidentally, inferior to cane travel techniques),
and not at all necessary in any way for cane usage.
The same is true for pre-cane devices. They are actually
alternatives to the cane, and in no way add to a child's
preparedness for the cane.
with this approach, parents and other educators will
be cautious not to insist prematurely upon cane techniques
that may be appropriate for the adult but not be at
the appropriate developmental level of the blind child.
The blind child needs to explore, figure it out, and
develop self-taught solutions which are respected by
the adults in their lives. Pediatric orientation and
mobility from the bottom-up perspective respects the
developmental needs of all children: security, movement,
interpreting sensory information, communication, and
autonomy. These needs are met in the day-to-day living
of the child; in feeding, bathing, playing, socializing,
and exploring the world. From this perspective, the
blind child's use of the cane is simply a natural part
of growing up, as normal as learning to use a spoon.
blind child's use of the cane is simply a natural part
of growing up; as normal as learning to use a spoon.
all I want to stress that our beliefs as parents and
educators will affect what we give and how we give it,
what we teach and how we teach it, and what our expectations
will be for our blind children's development towards
independence. These beliefs will not only affect our
relationships with each other, but what our children
will ultimately come to believe and expect of themselves
as blind persons.
hope that these thoughts assist you in your roles as
your children's first mobility teachers.