What is Orientation and Mobility?
Orientation and Mobility (O&M) is a crucial part of the Expanded Core Curriculum. It encompasses teaching students with visual impairments how to travel safely and efficiently in their homes, school, neighborhood and other community settings.
Orientation refers to the understanding of where an individual is currently located and where that person is going. When the sense of sight is impaired it is vital that students use their remaining senses to develop an understanding of their relationship to themselves and the surrounding environment.
Mobility refers to the act of traveling from one point to another. Without full use of a person’s sight, safety is a major factor when traversing any environment. People with visual impairments typically need to employ a number of techniques and utilize tools when traveling.
Orientation and Mobility Services
Orientation and Mobility is a related service, which works towards increasing independence when traveling to provide access to a student’s environment and surrounding community. A student’s visual impairment could adversely impact their ability to travel safely and independently within the school. O&M lessons are tailored based on what is most age/developmentally appropriate.
Some areas of O&M lessons include:
- Cane Use and Techniques
- Sensory and Concept Development
- Spatial Awareness/Updating
- Environment Cues
- Familiarization Techniques
- Residential and Community Travel Skills
- Small Business Area Travel
- Use of Maps/GPS Devices
- Route Planning
- Public Transportation
Using Human Guide Technique
Often, people with vision loss need some assistance with walking safely outside their familiar environment. Perhaps a friend or family member may try to help by holding your hand or having you rest your hand on his or her shoulder. While well intended, these methods are NOT safe and can lead to accidents. The following skills are designed to help you and your guide maximize safety and efficiency when walking together.
Hold your guide's arm just above the elbow with your thumb on the outside of the guide's arm and your fingers wrapped over the arm to the other side (as if you are holding a soda can). The grip should be firm enough so that you don't lose contact with the guide, but not so firm that the guide is uncomfortable.
A person with vision loss grips the sighted guide's arm just above the elbow.
Your guide should walk a half step in front of you and to the side. Your left foot should be in line with the guide's right, or vice versa depending on where you are comfortable. As you begin to walk, your guide should always remain in front, explaining the terrain ahead. Maintain verbal contact throughout.
Tip Sheet for Human Guide
If your spouse or other family member functions as your primary guide when you travel, it's very important that he or she be trained by a licensed O&M specialist. In the meantime, here are some tips every sighted guide should know:
1. When approaching someone with vision loss who appears to need help, ask, "Do you need assistance?" Do not assume the person needs help. Typically, people with vision loss know where they are going and do not need assistance.
2. If the person does need assistance, touch the back of your hand to the back of the person's hand. (Announce that you are going to do this first.) This gives the person an idea of where your arm is located.
3. Ask, "Where do you need to go?"
4. Do not leave the person you're guiding in the middle of an open area. Guide him or her to the final destination before letting go, and tell the person you are leaving.
5. Act as the person's eyes. Remember, he or she is counting on you to provide accurate information about the environment. Announce obstacles, such as a curb, stairs, or other danger points, before getting to them.
6. Remember to frequently check over your shoulder on the side that the person is walking on for potential obstructions and other danger points.
These tips have been adapted from the American Foundation for the Blind. Click here to view more from the American Foundation for the Blind.