ORIENTATION & MOBILITY SPECIALIST
By: Carmen Willings
Updated November 12, 2015
If the student is mobile and has a significant visual impairment or is blind, they may require special instruction from an Orientation and Mobility Specialist to assist them in independent travel. Independent travel helps build self-esteem and self-confidence as the student learns to move freely about.
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Independent travel gives the student more control over their environments, enabling them to travel when and wherever they wish (within their capabilities), without having to always rely on others to take them where they want to go. If the student learns good orientation & mobility skills as a child, they are more likely to develop into a responsible, confident, and independent adult traveler. Orientation is knowing about where one is, where one is going, and how to get there.
The Orientation & Mobility Specialist is a certified instructor who has received specialized training in teaching people who are blind or visually impaired to travel safely, gracefully and efficiently throughout their environments including indoor and outdoor, familiar and unfamiliar. An Orientation and Mobility Specialist teaches people who are blind and visually impaired specific skills they need in order to know where they are and how to move independently, safely, efficiently to where they want to be. Usually the O&M Specialist works with students individually.
Part of O&M instruction involves working with younger students on concept development as it relates to body image, spatial awareness, and knowledge of the environment. If appropriate, they will instruct the student to use his hand to protect himself using protective techniques. They will also help the student learn routes throughout the classroom and school. Orientation refers to knowing where you are by using clues from your environment. Mobility means moving safely from place to place in a graceful and efficient manner. The Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments can support and follow through on techniques that have been taught to the student, but may not write O&M goals or directly teach skills.
The O&M Specialist will typically work directly with the student, but might also work in collaboration with the student’s primary teacher, showing the teacher how to incorporate O&M techniques into the daily classroom routine and monitoring the correct use of O&M techniques. The O&M Specialist will begin by assessing the students current abilities and needs and then determine how to incorporate Orientation and mobility techniques into the student’s educational program.
Orientation and Mobility training focuses on alternatives to using sight for safe and independent travel. Students will need to learn about themselves and the environment in which they move, from basic body image to independent travel in rural areas and busy cities. For those that need it, students are taught the use of the long cane and techniques for using any remaining vision that they may have such as the use of optical devices including telescopes or a monocular.
Students in preschool and elementary school may be instructed in how to travel around their school building, playground, and neighborhood by themselves. Elementary school students may learn about more complex environmental concepts, including topography (slope, hilly) and textures (concrete, bumpy), and about positional concepts (in front of, in back of). Middle and high school students generally learn how to cross streets at busy intersections, ride city buses, use distance visual devices that can help them see street signs, or addresses, use compass directions, plan a route of travel, shop in malls, and travel in unfamiliar areas independently. The O&M Specialist will teach the student when it is appropriate to use a guide, when to use a cane, and when the student is older, when and if a dog guide might be useful.
"You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose!"