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.  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.”  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: techniques to avoid hurting oneself when moving around indoors without any mobility device.
  • Human Guide: method of verbal and non-verbal cues to use 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: system of moving the cane and using it to detect information about the environment necessary for safe travel. Skills are taught sequentially. Individuals need time to practice the cane until its use becomes second nature.
  • Auditory Skills/Tactile Skills: method of using non-visual information to aid travel and orientation.
  • Maintaining Orientation: strategy for planning routes to travel, keeping one’s sense of direction while traveling and communicating with the public to gather information to travel successfully.  This can also include using technology, such as GPS, to reach the destination.

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 that 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 Eleni Gaves by email or at 312-236-8569 for information about Second Sense’s O&M training.