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Everett Hill, Ed.D.
Peabody College for Teachers
Vanderbilt University

Orientation and mobility (O&M) is an important and integral part of the curriculum in the comprehensive delivery of services to children with visual impairments in the public school settings. The O&M teacher serves as a member of the multidisciplinary team in developing and implementing individualized education programs for children with visual impairments. This concept was reinforced with the enactment of Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975.

Orientation is the process of using sensory information to establish and maintain one's position in the environment; mobility is the process of moving safely, efficiently, and gracefully within one's environment. The ultimate goal of O&M instruction is for visually impaired persons to be able to travel in any environment as independently as possible. To reach this goal, O&M instruction must begin at the earliest possible age.

Position

Orientation and mobility in public school settings should be broadly conceived and involve a coordinated team approach in order to meet the needs of a diverse population of children with visual impairments. The delivery of O&M services should not be limited to totally blind children. Infants and preschool children, children with multiple impairments, and children with low vision can also profit from O&M instruction. Likewise, O&M instruction should not be taught in isolation, nor should it be limited to the teaching of only formal O&M skills and techniques. Sensory skills, concept development, motor development, and environmental and community awareness are all integral components of the orientation and mobility process. Orientation and mobility instruction should be related to and an integral part of cognitive, perceptual, social, self-help, personality, and language development.

Assessment

The O&M teacher is responsible for developing and conducting an orientation and mobility assessment for all children with visual impairments in order to determine the nature and extent of services needed. An initial assessment is conducted to determine each child's present level of functioning. The O&M teacher takes the lead role in assessing formal orientation and mobility skills and serves in a cooperative role with the teacher of visually impaired students in assessing the areas of concept, motor, and sensory skills development. Other professionals such as the regular class teacher, physical education teacher, occupational therapist, or physical therapist should be consulted and involved in the assessment process when appropriate. Short- and long-term goals are developed (with input from the parents and other members of the multidisciplinary team), and reasonable time limits are specified for completing the goals.

Direct Instruction

The role of the O&M teacher is to teach formal orientation and mobility skills to those children with visual impairments for whom they are appropriate. Formal mobility skills include such areas as

  1. skills in movement with a sighted guide,
  2. protective techniques,
  3. indoor cane skills,
  4. outdoor cane skills,
  5. street crossings, and
  6. use of public transportation systems.

Formal orientation instruction is highly dependent upon maximum development and use of the senses. It entails such skill areas as the following: (a) ability to identify and make use of landmarks and clues; (b) knowledge and use of compass directions; (c) knowledge and use of indoor and city numbering systems; (d) ability to align the body to objects and with sounds for the purpose of establishing and/or maintaining a straight line of travel; (e) use of systematic search patterns to explore novel objects and environments (self-familiarization); (f) recovery skills; and (g) knowledge and use of where, when, and how to solicit aid.

The O&M teacher provides direct instruction in concept development, environmental and community awareness, and motor development. The O&M instructor should also serve as a team member and consultant to the teacher of visually impaired pupils, the regular class teacher, other school personnel, and parents in the instruction and reinforcement of concept development, sensory skill development, and motor development. The development of good gross and fine motor abilities, spatial and environmental concepts, and maximum use of the senses are important prerequisites for formal orientation and mobility instruction.

Often because of time and liability concerns, it is common practice for the O&M teacher to be responsible for advanced orientation and mobility skills training, such as cane instruction and street crossings.

It is also the responsibility of the O&M teacher to provide students with visual impairments and their parents information about alternative systems (other than the cane) of independent travel such as dog guides and electronic travel aids (ETAs).

Inservice Education

The O&M teacher is responsible for designing and implementing ongoing inservice education activities in the areas of orientation and mobility for teachers, other professionals, paraprofessionals, and administrators. Inservice activities should serve to educate other school personnel about the role of the O&M teacher and the goals of the O&M program. Orientation and mobility inservice activities should also focus on the roles of all appropriate school personnel in the development and reinforcement of concept development, sensory skills training, motor development, and elementary formal orientation and mobility skills. To be maximally effective, O&M training should be integrated as much as possible into school curricula and activities.

Family Education

Orientation and mobility instruction will have very little impact on children with visual impairments if parents and family members are not involved in the process. In addition to working cooperatively with family members in developing realistic goals, the O&M teacher must develop specific activities that parents and family members can implement in the home setting in order for continuity of instruction to occur. Orientation and mobility activities should be designed so that parents and other family members can carry them out in the context of their daily routine through daily living activities, recreational activities, and so forth.

The O&M teacher must keep parents informed of their child's progress and to instruct them in how to integrate and reinforce orientation and mobility skills in their day-by-day routines. Parents should be encouraged to be actively involved in their child's program and encouraged to observe O&M lessons whenever possible.

Public Education

Because a great deal of O&M instruction takes place in the community, it is the one aspect of the total curriculum that is most visible to the general public. Frequently, the O&M teacher has the opportunity to educate the general public regarding the capabilities of visually impaired persons. Establishing community relationships through O&M instruction may dispel the many misconceptions that the general public often has about blindness and people with visual impairments.

Some Perspectives for the Delivery of O&M Services

School districts should employ qualified O&M teachers; they should not use teachers of visually impaired students or other school personnel in lieu of a qualified O&M teacher in the delivery of orientation and mobility services. Although the O&M profession has experienced rapid growth in children with visual impairments in public school settings, there is still a great need for these services throughout the country in all settings and geographical areas.