By: Carmen Willings
Orientation and Mobility (O&M) skills are essential for students who are blind and visually impaired to develop in order to move safely, independently, and efficiently through their environment. The Orientation & Mobility Specialist will evaluate the student's concepts including body image, positions, and environmental concepts.
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The O&M Specialist will also assess a students familiarity with the classroom, school and home setting. The O&M Specialist will additionally determine the need for precane skills, cane skills, use of specialized devices, and general independent travel skills. Collaboration between the O&M Specialist and the Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) is essential. The O&M Specialist may also collaborate with the physical therapist (if the student is receiving services in this area) and the physical education teacher in the assessment of gross motor skills. They will need to determine if there are implications for movement, coordination, and balance.
Orientation & Mobility assessments are conducted for students of all ages and ability levels, including students who are not yet walking, those in wheelchairs, and those who may never travel unassisted. The O&M Specialist will customize the evaluation to the student's age, ability level, and amount of remaining/usable vision. Prior to conducting the evaluation, the O&M Specialist will want to review the students medical information, vision report as well as the Functional Vision Evaluation and Clinical Low Vision Evaluation is one is available. These reports will provide necessary information about the students vision, vision skills and low vision devices that have been prescribed. They will also need any audiology information that is available.
Most Orientation & Mobility evaluations will begin with an interview with the caregivers, the TVI as well as the general or special education teachers. The O&M Specialist will also talk with the student about their perception of their skills related to travel and about concerns.
The O&M Specialist will also want to observe the student in both familiar and unfamiliar environments both indoors and outdoors. This will provide information about how the student moves through a variety of environments, how they use their vision and how they use their other senses.
Guide Techniques/Modified Guide Techniques
The O&M Specialist will observe how staff are currently assisting students to walk. They will determine the best use of Guide Techniques (formerly referred to as "sighted guide") or Modified Guide Techniques that meets the students unique needs.
The O&M Specialist will observe if the student uses spontaneous trailing along a flat wall surface, along handrails, and along other trailing vertical surfaces.
The O&M Specialist will comment on spontaneous use of standard or modified upper and lower protective techniques.
The O&M Specialist will also assess if instruction in cane skills would be appropriate or a precane device.
The O&M Specialist will also comment on the students independent or partial orientation ability in familiar settings, including home, school, community. Identify sources/strengths of orientation such as physical, auditory or other landmarks, time-distance skills, problem solving skills (including if they can find their belongings). They will list routes student uses functionally and describe level of independence. If the student is completely independent for travel along a route but requires supervision because he/she cannot problem solve then include that information. It will be noted if the person is totally dependent on staff or peers for orientation.
The O&M Specialist will assess the ease or safety concerns for students when getting in and out of vehicles, opening and closing doors and avoiding side mirrors and stepping down from high steps. The Specialist will also want to evaluate the students ability to use money to pay for transportation or to make a purchase, how they interact with others, how they respond to offers of assistance, their ability to plan a route (within the classroom, school, neighborhood, etc.), and their literacy skills used during travel.
The O&M Specialist will assess if the student is able to identify most of his/her major body parts as well as other more difficult parts such as forearm, upper arm, waist, thigh, calf, ankle, and forehead.
Laterality, Directionality, Quantitative, Colors, and Shape Concepts
The O&M Specialist will indicate if the student is able to demonstrate simple rights and lefts, turn their body correctly and point to their body parts and if they are able to identify laterality in others or have difficulties in terms such as shallow, narrow, or wide. It will also be indicated if the student is able to label primary and secondary colors, primary shapes, and correctly demonstrate most positional concepts including parallel and perpendicular.
The O&M Specialist will indicate areas of safety concerns which may include stairs, steps, drop-offs, ramps. There may be recommendations for visual or tactile warnings. It may also identify potential hazardous areas and recommend solutions. This could include potential surface problems, lighting needs, furniture placement for safety and ease of travel, and depth perception cues.
The O&M Specialist may recommend the use of sunglasses as well as a hat with a brim to reduce glare and maximize functional vision when outside at school and in the community.
The O&M Specialist may have recommendations for transportation.
Fire Evacuation Planning
The O&M Specialist may recommend the student practice exiting via all available exits from the classroom and all rooms of common use to ensure identification of obstacles and depth changes, familiarity with route, familiarity with meeting place. It also may be recommended that the student may practice these routes at home.
Pogrund, Rona, et al. An Orientation & Mobility Curriculum for Students with Visual Impairments, 3rd Edition. TSBVI, 2012. For orientation and mobility specialists who serve students ages 3 to 21 who may also have other impairments. This curriculum includes goals, objectives, and teaching strategies as well as functional mobility tasks, for the following environments: home/living, campus, residential, commercial and public transportation, as well as an ambulatory devices section. The four-part set also includes extensive appendices containing a wide range of O&M related topics and a supplement that details street crossing strategies.