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Second Sense - Beyond Vision Loss

What is Orientation and Mobility?

Andrea uses her cane to find the bottom stair at the 'L' station.Orientation & 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.  Working with the vision you have, you learn 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. You will develop your sense of orientation – the ability to know where you are, where you want to go and how to get there.

To do this a person learns to create and maintain a “mental map.”  This map changes as they travel, using landmarks and environmental clues to supplement any visual clues.  Depending on the student’s goals, teaching can include skills in traveling through complex urban environments and the use of public transportation.

What Skills are Included in Orientation and Mobility Training?

Each individual’s goals will be specific for their environment and desired activities, but will fall into five broad categories:

  • Self-Protective: Avoid hurting yourself when moving around indoors without any mobility device.
  • Human Guide: Use verbal and non-verbal cues when depending on another person to escort safely and efficiently indoors or out.  Human guide can be used with or without a mobility device (white cane).
  • Cane Skills: Use your cane to detect information about the environment necessary for safe travel. This includes finding obstacles, like stairs or benches, and checking your walking surface for potholes or texture changes that can give you clues about where you are.
  • Non-Visual Skills: Focus on using information such as sound, textures, timing, orientation and mental maps to aid travel. You’ll use traffic sounds, information about the walking surface from your cane, and other clues to know where you are and how close you are to your destination!
  • Route Planning: Learn how to get information about your destination and how to get there, using your prior knowledge and adding different resources before and during your travel. This includes making sure you’re comfortable going to both familiar places you can’t see anymore and unfamiliar places you’ve never been to before.
  • Accessible GPS Technology: If you have a smart phone, chances are there is an app for that! Learn how to use different apps designed with you in mind when it comes to travel- how you can learn what road you’re on, what’s nearby, and how to get somewhere new. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can learn about other stand-alone devices with audio GPS information.

O&M training is an ongoing process.  Training prepares individuals to learn new routes independently.  However, even experienced cane travels often need more training when those new routes include complex intersections, busy urban areas or new train stations.  And, sometimes people who use canes start letting outside distractions affect their safety.  Just like people who don’t use canes!  A few refresher lessons can bring their skills back into focus.

Who Teaches Orientation & Mobility?

Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists (COMS) have either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in orientation and mobility training.  Their coursework includes understanding the functions of the eye and how various diseases or disorders affect vision.  They learn how these diseases can affect a person’s ability to accomplish daily living skills and travel independently.  A COMS has training in blindness, low vision and physical development.  COMS have spent many hours under blindfold, learning the cane techniques and orientation strategies they will teach.

In order to earn their certification, Orientation and Mobility Specialists must complete 350 hours of discipline-specific practice under the supervision of a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist.  They must also pass the certification exam.  It is only after all of these requirements have been met, that an individuals is certified to provide mobility training to someone with vision loss.

Contact Kathy Austin by email or at 312-236-8569 for information about Second Sense’s O&M training.