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Second Sense - Beyond Vision Loss

The Language of Mobility

October 15, 2014 | 1 Comment

by Alex Jones, Guest Blogger

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Kathy demonstrates the "Baby Bird" grip Alex taught her

I am drawn to O&M, or orientation and mobility, because I think it is an interesting and multifaceted field of work that draws on proven methods, progressive thought and creative instincts.

Vision and Gait

Lately, I find myself incredibly invested in how blindness and visual impairments affect one’s gait. I have become increasingly aware of the gait of sighted and non-sighted people and through observation have been able to gather insights about how this factors into one’s ability to project and travel, independently. I think it is important to note how blindness can actually proffer the ability to bring us closer to our bodies and gait either through the acceptance, or the willingness to integrate our other senses. There is an incredible turning inward that can take place as one learns to incorporate one’s other senses, and that process or journey has the potential to empower an individual with any degree of blindness.

Role of Language

I am also curious about the role of language during O&M training and with O&M in general.

It is true that the visual world, in all of its visual cues, is in some ways, a quiet world of countless things and images.  It differs at an optical level, obviously, but not with regard to language. That is not to say that nothing tangible ‘speaks’, or produces noise (that is not my point)… but, it is to say that the world of language for the individual with blindness has to be wrought anew.

Language is a meaningful tool capable of developing meaningful bridges for the individual with blindness and the environment, at foot. Language is instrumental and should become more vivid and concrete for the individual with blindness, but also more playful as a remedy for having to step further into its technical usages. Individuals experiencing blindness later in life have to be able to harness visual memories, and merely visualize despite their eye pathology. Congenitally blind individuals need to develop concepts from the ground up. It is bold to say that these individuals, whether they are congenitally or adventitiously blind need to develop visions, but that is the truth of the matter. Language helps harness all of this.

The Use of Metaphor

I use a lot of metaphor and analogous thinking when I work with my clients. Importantly, I think the use of metaphor is an effective way of toning down, or easing clientele into some of the more technical aspects and pursuits of O&M training. With the concept of orientation comes a great deal of ritual language, and the use of metaphor is a playful way of going at these technicalities inherent to it.

Examples of these technical aspects common to language with regard to orientation include the intermingling effects of: cardinal directions, issues of laterality, directional corners, counter-clockwise and clockwise crossings, and the language of engineering as it relates to the environment, public transportation, reversing routes, issues of accessibility, etc., ad naseum.

Additionally, the language of mobility, or physical movement, has more to do with our proprioceptive awareness. What is our body telling us about where we are? How do we create spatial information through our haptic sense? Our auditory capabilities? How can our physical body, in all of its senses work for us in our getting ‘there’? It is easy to feel overwhelmed by all of this technicality, as it relates to the procedural language of O&M… And for this reason, metaphor and analogous thinking serve as effective devices that produce new ways of getting to the point of the lesson at hand so that one can literally get going, and remember what they need to do more easily in their pursuit for autonomy.

Playfully, in the spirit of what I’ve just said, let me end with this: It is time to pull out the ‘whiskers’ (long canes), time to take hold of the ‘baby bird’ (proper grip technique), time to set the ‘rudder’ (hand at center position) and remember where we are and where we want to go. It is time to set sail, despite it all!

Alex is a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS).  He had been working within the field of multiple disabilities for five years before starting on the O&M program at Western Michigan University.  Alex interned at the VA before running a seniors’ program at Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education in Chicago and then joined Second Sense as a COMS.

Alex has been working as a Certified O&M Specialist for almost a year and considers himself “a bit of a new kid on the block.” Prior to all this, Alex was an English major with a focus on literary criticism and poetry at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

1 comment on “The Language of Mobility”

  1. Faith Reitman says:


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