Amherst County girl who is blind learning to walk with the help of a new cane just for toddlers

Published: Jul. 24, 2018 at 12:18 AM EDT
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Toddlers and exploring usually go hand in hand. It's how they learn. Imagine having to learn what's around you, without being able to see it. One Madison Heights girl is doing just that, with the help of a new device made for kids just like her.

Madison Crago is happiest on the playground. She'll tell you all about it.

“Swing, swing I’m so happy,” Crago said as her mom pushed her on a swing.

Madison fearlessly takes on the “big girl” swing and climbs to the top of a rope ladder at the age of two. But her parents never expected she would be able to do that at such a young age.

"Not when we first found out,” said Madison’s mom, Michelle.

Madison is completely blind. Her parents say the fearless moments are doable because of a special cane that wraps around their daughter’s waist.

Madison holds it tight and says, “3,2,1- blastoff!” It’s not a rocket ship, though. It’s a, “toddler cane.”

The cane is custom fit to her body, wraps around her waist, and has two rods sticking out. It allows her to feel two steps in front of her while she's learning to walk.

The cane is Dr. Grace Ambrose-Zaken's baby. Zaken is Coordinator of Rehabilitation Teaching and Orientation & Mobility at Hunter College and has her doctorate in education. She and her team developed the cane just over a year ago.

"It just takes a few times of falling off the steps at three years old to decide, I'd rather just sit,” said Zaken. “And it's can't learn anything at three just sitting."

For Zaken, it's about making sure toddlers who might not be ready for a regular cane just yet, can still learn to move safely. Zaken said safe mobility opens the door to all kinds of learning for children.

Madison doesn't explore without it around her waist. She knows when steps are in front of her, when she's gone a little off path, and when she's reached her destination.

"Having two steps of warning of what's in your path is just like a flash light for Madison,” said Zaken.

Now that she's got the walking down, even more learning can happen. She can discover.

Madison’s parents no longer think of limitations.

"As she grows you will move from being afraid for her to being surprised by her,” said Crago. “And that's just- we're constantly surprised.”

Dr. Zaken is founder and CEO of Safe Toddles, a non-profit for the toddler cane. They provide the canes to families for free. Right now, it's a prototype being tested by 100 toddlers across the world. More information can be found at: