Mobility: Independent Travel

Orientation & Mobility

Orientation and Mobility (O&M) is the art and science of teaching a person with vision loss to travel efficiently, safely and independently – according to the individual’s goals and ability.

O&M training usually, but not always, involves the use of the long cane.  There are a variety of skills and techniques that facilitate safe travel.  An O&M instructor teaches the student to focus on and accurately interpret sensory information available in the environment.

Orientation is the ability to know where one is, where one wants to go and how to get there.  To do this a person learns to create and maintain a “mental map” that changes as he or she moves through space, using landmarks and environmental clues to supplement whatever vision the person has.  Depending on the student’s goals, teaching can include:

  • human guide techniques,
  • walking up and down stairs,
  • finding dropped objects,
  • moving safely through an indoor environment,
  • planning a travel route,
  • using traffic patterns to cross streets, and
  • traveling on public transportation

Who teaches Orientation & Mobility?

Orientation and Mobility Specialists have either a bachelor’s or master’s degree.  Training includes an understanding of the functions of the eye and how various diseases or disorders affect a person’s ability to accomplish daily living skills and travel independently.  An O&M instructor has training in blindness, low vision and physical development.  O&M instructors have spent many hours under blindfold, learning the cane techniques and orientation strategies they will teach.

How is an O&M Instructor different from a Physical Therapist or Occupational Therapist?

An O&M instructor does not teach exercises or physically rehabilitate a person.  An O&M instructor assesses the current physical and cognitive ability of the student and teaches safe travel skills accordingly.

When should someone consider O&M training?

When a person first experiences vision loss, there may be feelings of fear associated with going out alone.   Instances of falling or tripping over unseen objects may be another sign of unsafe travel ability.  Being unable to see the stop lights change to determine when it is safe to cross a street can be another factor that indicates training would be  appropriate.

The reality of using a white cane

You many find that many of your group members are resistant to using a white cane, fearing it will make them a target for thieves and other unwanted advances from others. In reality, the opposite can be true. By learning the proper way to use a white cane, it can empower them and demonstrate to observers they are a confident and safe traveler.

Using a white cane is not as easy as picking one up and putting it out in front of you.  Training from an orientation and mobility specialist shows a person how to hold and move the cane to detect environmental cues.  Cane technique also helps a person safely locate drop offs such as stairs, curbs and other changes in elevation.  Training can take 30 hours or more of individual instruction before a person is considered a safe, independent traveler.

Contact Polly Abbott by email or at 312-236-8569 for information about Second Sense’s O&M training or for referrals to other area instructors.

The American Foundation for the Blind offers an online directory of organizations nationwide that provide orientation and mobility training.

ACVREP has a detailed description of the scope of practice.