Orientation and Mobility for Blind Teenagers

What Is Orientation and Mobility?

Orientation and Mobility (O&M) is the teaching of concepts, skills, and techniques needed to orient to surroundings and to move independently and safely in the environment. To learn and master these skills, a blind or visually impaired child or teen commonly works with an O&M specialist upon diagnosis of a visual impairment through late adolescence or early adulthood. He may choose to work with an O&M specialist again as an adult to learn complex routes around a college campus, unfamiliar town, or new workplace.

For blind teenagers, O&M entails learning to incorporate advanced cane skills, advanced route patterns, landmarks and clues, environment and sensory information, compass directions, names of streets, eliciting/declining help, all while traveling in the neighborhood, in the community, and on the school campus. Additionally, the teenager gradually increases responsibility in community travel, which includes constructing and using maps, utilizing public transportation, crossing streets, and solving travel problems.

Teenage girl walking with cane on sunny day

How Do O&M Specialists Approach Instruction?

O&M instruction for teenagers includes formal instruction in community O&M techniques and skills in addition to any orientation and mobility skill not yet mastered. Lessons should be assessment-based, motivating, relevant, individualized, and age-appropriate. Each lesson should begin with a description of what the child will learn and why the concept, skill, or technique is important.

The specialist will model community travel techniques including:

  • Walking along streets without sidewalks
  • Navigating parking lots
  • Using elevators and escalators
  • Using a revolving door
  • Traveling by city bus, taxi, train, and subway
  • Requesting assistance from the public; denying assistance from the public
  • Crossing a variety of intersections
  • Creation and use of tactile maps
  • Use of electronic travel aid
  • Use of GPS

Each technique will be broken down into small, achievable steps. The teen will practice a particular skill-routine repeatedly until it becomes effortless and automatic.

The teenager will be given opportunities to travel in unfamiliar indoor and outdoor environments such as government buildings and unknown parts of town as well as during less than ideal circumstances, such as when raining, hot, snowing, and at nighttime.

It is of great importance that a teenager rehearses solving his/her own travel problems. The O&M instructor will guide the teen through the problem-solving process and will role-play travel problems and gradually allow the teen to take responsibility.

How Can You Support O&M Instruction at Home?

Family members play an integral part in teens' mastery of orientation and mobility.

  • Continue to expose your child to a variety of environments, including indoor and outdoor malls, business districts, bustling downtown streets, and rural pathways.
  • Use public transportation with your teenager. Make sure your teen verifies the bus route or number with the driver before boarding.
  • Provide your teen with proper gear for adverse weather conditions such as rain boots, rain jacket, umbrella, and winter weather gear.
  • Coach your child through problem-solving and give your child time and space to work through challenges before "rescuing."
  • Give your child opportunities to request help and allow him/her to decline assistance from a well-meaning passerby.
  • Each mobility and cane technique will be taught by an orientation and mobility specialist, though family members should observe lessons and ask the specialist how the skills can be reinforced at home.
  • Ask your teen to plan a route for a family outing or vacation.
  • Expect your child to use any low vision devices to obtain information from new environments.
  • Ask your child to teach sighted guide to friends and relatives.
  • Maintain high expectations of your child's travel routines.
  • Use a GPS in the car, which gives your child feedback about the direction the car is traveling as well as street names.
  • Use cardinal directions as you discuss travel and plan routes.
  • Talk about the sun's position and how you can often use the sun to figure out the direction you are traveling.
  • Talk about how far you're traveling by foot and car as well as how long you anticipate each trip. Discuss feet, miles, and city blocks.

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