Teaching the visually impaired how to use canes to get around is about to become hi-tech. NY1's Health reporter Kafi Drexel filed the following report.
Instructors at the Jewish Guild for the Blind on the Upper West Side have found a new use for Wii technology. They are testing out a new device called the "WiiCane" to see if it can help improve mobility training and use of the cane in young children.
"One of the greatest challenges for an [orientation and mobility] instructor, which I am, is trying to teach a student to travel and walk outdoors in a safe line, in a straight line. And one of the greatest issues is to try to prevent the students from veering which means angling left, or right off their straight line," says Stuart Filan of the Jewish Guild for the Blind. "So the WiiCane is like a super idea. It's a great indoor training device to have our students get the feeling of what it feels like to veer and how, independently, in real time, to correct that situation."
The training tool is being developed by the New York City-based design team Touch Graphics. It uses Wii motion-tracking technology to help students get the feel for not only walking in a straight line, but practice turns. A computer receives movement data and dings if the student remains on track or moves in the right direction.
"Evidence shows that once learned, those skills are translatable into actual outdoor travel, and that's huge," says President Steven Landau of Touch Graphics. "Because then, people crossing the street won't veer into oncoming traffic and lots of other things in the course of their independent travel, where they need that ability to continue walking in a straight line without a lot of external information."
The Wii Cane training program is not meant to replace traditional training methods, but is only a supplement. However, instructors at the Jewish Guild for the Blind say their young students respond to computers and they see responses in training in some of them that they haven't quite seen before.
"Some of the students are really getting off of it," says Filan. "They keep talking about it, they can't wait to come back and to hold onto the cane, work the receivers and manipulate their bodies through space to get to see if they can walk the straight line."
The WiiCane is also being developed for adults who are new cane users. It is expected to be available for commercial use by January 2011.