O&M Division newsletter, Winter 2006

This column is for you to share ideas and strategies that have worked;, raise concerns; and share information -- send them to the editor (page 2). Lori Miller, an O&M specialist who is blind, experienced traveling in a new light last spring when she became a mother! Her son Khareus was born on May 4, 2005 -- congratulations Lori!

Traveling with Baby -- Tips on Strollers for Blind Parents
Lori Miller, COMS, Indiana

Traveling with a baby has certainly had its challenges, but it can be tons of fun for baby and parent. One essential aspect is to find a method or form of travel that works best for both adult and child. There are many variables that factor into the process and I will attempt to share what has worked for me, which may or may not work for others. The following information is based on my personal experience and likes and dislikes.

Selecting the right stroller:

I have discovered after going through several different types and styles of strollers and literally going around the block several times and up and down store aisles that there are a number of features that are very important if you intend to pull the stroller instead of pushing.

In the typical stroller, the wheels closest to you are fixed and the others swivel, creating a fishtail effect when you pull it, and the baby is facing backward, looking away from the adult. Working with the fishtailing requires a whole lot more effort and caution when navigating narrow sidewalks and close confines, and for safety reasons I don't like the baby facing away from me. My first stroller operated this way and after a 3-mile walk with it I was exhausted!

So I like a stroller that has a reversible handle which allows baby to face forward or backwards, and wheels that have the option of being fixed or rotating (this makes it travel more like a standard stroller if you decide to push it, although some people do not like how it feels at first). Over all, even when pushing, we have found that when all the wheels are rotating, the flexibility is a plus because you can turn the stroller in close areas like elevators and hallways. Minimal height adjustment for the handle is also helpful to me, as I'm not very tall.

Another wonderful feature to look for in a stroller is what is called a boot -- a cloth covering that zips over baby, providing warmth and protection from weather. This makes me feel like the baby is safer because it lessens the risk of small objects (like blowing leaves) from falling in on the child, and it may discourage toys being thrown out while on the move.

The harness should be fairly simple and easy to operate, especially if you have to frequently remove the child while riding on public transportation.

One stroller that has all the features and more (and is baby and mommy's preferred choice for travel) is Peg Perego's Venezia stroller (www.perego.com ). This particular stroller is rather pricey but in addition to having all the features (the adjustable-length handle can be reversed and each set of wheels can be fixed or swiveling), it is easy to fold and unfold and has handles on both sides for carrying. It isn't the lightest stroller on the market, but I am able to manage carrying baby in one arm and guiding the stroller up or down the 6 steps outside of our home. I also like the fact that the seat back can fully recline so baby can sleep, which helps when you need to figure out what to do with baby while eating in a restaurant. My baby has been content to sit or lay in his stroller and play with toys while we eat -- of course, this was a solution before he reached the stage of wanting to sit in a high chair!

I am constantly back and forth between environments ranging from semi-rural (streets without sidewalks), to the narrow hilly streets of San Francisco, maneuvering on and off Muni and across street car tracks, and I have found this stroller to fit my lifestyle of travels.

Tips when traveling:

While in transit and in public places I have found that a pacifier clip to keep the pacifier attached to the child has been a big plus. I choose pacifiers that have swinging handles because you are more likely to hear them if they are thrown to the ground. I also choose toys that make a sound when they contact something, such as interlocking rings, etc.

When flying, I've found it helpful to place an infant carseat in the stroller and push or pull it to the gate. You can take the stroller on the jet way and the flight attendants will check it at the last minute and bring it back to you when you deplane. It is a real plus when transferring gates because you can use the stroller to transport baby instead of carrying.

Next steps:

My baby Khareus is almost ten months now and mobile -- crawling! We just did another cross country trip, and traveling with an infant convertible carseat this time was much more of a hassle. So, I've invested in a Sit & Stroll which is a carseat and stroller in one. It is supposed to be superb for public transportation and flying -- I saw another woman using it on one of my flights and realized that she was having much less of a struggle to juggle everything.. So, after I actually get it and use it, I'll have more to share here in the newsletter.

Fall 2006 Newsletter, O&M Division

The author of this article, Lori Miller, is a blind mother who is also a Certified O&M Specialist. After writing an article about strollers for our Winter, 2006 newsletter, Lori's adventures expanded as her baby grew into a toddler, and she is back with more wisdom that we can pass along to blind parents.

Kids and Traveling
Lori Miller, COMS, Indiana


As my baby entered toddlerhood, I decided to look around for alternative ways to travel besides the stroller. I began to dread pulling the stroller up and down the stairs of our home before securing my toddler in the stroller, and at the bus stops I was tired of having to quickly fold the stroller as the bus pulled up and then board the bus while juggling child, stroller, cane, and a diaper bag. Other parents had talked about using a backpack, but I hadn't tried it because it wasn't an option when my son was recovering from surgery for a birth defect.

However once he had healed, I was determined to find a backpack that would work for both of us, even though it was difficult to find something that would fit me because I am petite. I went to REI because it had the biggest selection and was the most convenient location to travel to, although our adventure to get there reminded me how much I really wanted to try out a backpack!

It is important that the parent try several styles and toy with adjustments. Some of the packs have waist belts and frames like a true hiking backpack which helps distribute the weight more evenly, and adjusting the height of the child's seat can also effect where the weight rests on the person carrying it. For instance, at first, the packs tortured me by putting to much pressure on my neck and shoulders and made me feel like my head was going to explode. We found that by raising the child's seat, this resolved the problem.

Packs can range in price from around $50 to $250. They also vary in terms of how much weight they can hold. Some hold children up to 60 pounds. Some are equipped with sun and rain shades while others aren't. Certain packs have a "kickstand" which allows the child to be sat down on the floor securely while you are loading or unloading him or her. Other features may include loops to assist in putting the pack on or attaching toys, pouches for storing travel items, and netted bottle holders for beverages. Each pack may in itself range in weight from just a few pounds up to the hiking packs which may weigh as much as six or seven pounds. The packs with an adjustable length of torso allow more than one person to use the backpack to carry the child.

There are a few advantages that I have found in using a pack verses a stroller. I enjoy having both hands free to use for my choice of travel aid while carrying items or doing such things as opening doors, etc. I can use the stairs and escalators and not spend precious time looking for elevators, as I must do with a stroller. I also like for my child to be up where people won't accidentally trip over him or drop something on him, and he likes being up at my level or higher in order to survey his environment. While he is riding up close to me and near my head, I can tell which direction he is looking and interact with him more (however this is not fun if child has a cold!)

Along with the positives come the negatives. The pack may be cumbersome to put on or take off. Quite often you must be creative to do so and it may take practice. If I use the backpack, I don't have a car seat for hopping in and out of taxis and other vehicles. However, a few brands do make stroller/backpack combinations which might be convenient if you didn't want to carry the pack for the entire time. The packs can get awfully heavy, so they may not be ideal for super long trips unless one has worked up to it. Unfortunately, my son has reached a weight that is one fourth of my weight, so I have about reached the maximum amount of weight that I want to carry.

Someone interested in trying to use a backpack for transporting a child may want to plan for a decent amount of time to research and try out various packs. It may be helpful to have someone who already uses a backpack accompany you while shopping for yours because, speaking from personal experience, store sales representatives may not have the time and may not know how to make the proper adjustments. I have received more helpful info about making adjustments from actual backpack users. Your success may also depend on how cooperative the child is in regards to trying various packs and making numerous adjustments. However, once you have found that perfect fit for both child and adult, off you will go, wondering why you hadn't done this before!

Stroller / car seat combinations
It is not uncommon for me to travel by car, bus, airplane, and taxi all in one day, and when I am out and about with the stroller, my plans might change and we need a car seat, or vice versa. When one travels using public transportation, paratransit, and rides from friends and family, you just never know who is picking you up and whether or not they have a car seat. The big challenge of doing this is finding safe and convenient ways to transport my baby in all of these modes of transportation. I need something that can be safely collapsed and stowed on the bus and can also be used as a car seat that is easily installed and removed from cars, fits with ease in the airline seat or can be checked, converts to a stroller for the hustle across the airport, and then switches back to a car seat for the taxi ride from the airport.

The Sit & Stroll offers this flexibility, as it serves as both a stroller and a car seat. As a stroller, the handle and wheels retract and voila, you have a carseat. When you reach your destination, you take the carseat out, and put down the wheels and pull up the handle and away you go. It has a short wheelbase and takes up very little room, and I've also been told that because it is so slim, it is easier to use as a carseat when there is a limited amount of space in a car, such as when traveling with more than one child who requires a carseat.. The combination does not come with a sun-shade, but attachable sun-shades can be purchased separately. The rear wheels also have brakes to keep it from rolling. It is not the easiest item to find in the stores, but they can be purchased on line at places like www.babycenter.com.

One disadvantage of the Sit & Stroll is that it is fairly low to the ground so people don't always see it if they are in a hurry. But the more important disadvantage is that, unlike Peg Perego's Venezia stroller that I described in the Winter 2006 newsletter (www.perego.com), the handle does not reverse, so when you pull it, the child must face away from you. Thus I use the Venezia as my everyday stroller, but when I need the two-in-one feature in order to commute, monitor a toddler, and travel using a cane, I use the Sit & Stroll.