Orientation & Mobility

  • If you have ever played a game of blind man's bluff, or any game requiring a blindfold, then you should instantly recognize one of the primary challenges facing people who are blind or visually impaired. Moving through space without knowing what pitfalls are in front of you, beside you or behind you is a daunting task.

    Teaching people who are blind how to get around is the purpose of orientation and mobility training. People who are blind must learn alternate methods of crossing a street safely, and how to stay oriented so they can travel alone to the store, or a friend's home, without having to wait for someone to escort them.

    People with low vision need to learn how to cross streets even when they can't see the traffic signals, how to travel using whatever vision they have, and how to remain oriented in every environment, indoors and out.

    The most familiar mobility tool is the long white cane. Used properly, it can help people detect objects in their path, or find steps, curbs and other drop-offs. Learning how to use it well takes many months of work, but the rewards are enormous. It is a low-tech tool with a variety of uses.

    Orientation and mobility specialists may also work with people who are blind in sensory awareness training. It involves stimulating residual vision and non-visual senses, and teaching students how to locate and discriminate between sounds and other stimuli which might help them navigate safely. For example, at a street crossing, students might be taught how to use their residual senses, what to focus on, how to listen for oncoming traffic, and how to make safe and efficient decisions based on this sensory input.

    There is a growing number of advanced technologies to help make navigating in the community even easier for people who are blind and visually impaired. Sophisticated navigational tools using sonar and laser light are available now, according to the Institute for Innovative Blind Navigation. Satellite navigation is a very real possibility in the near future. Even smart computers are being developed that can recognize faces and emotions, so small they can be built right into our clothing to unobtrusively tell us who we're talking to and how they're responding nonverbally.

    Orientation and mobility training may also include learning how to control the space around you to enhance the potential for vision. People with vision loss can learn to manipulate lighting and their surroundings to produce high contrast and better illumination.

    Advanced mobility skills can be taught to some students. This would include learning the skills to travel to a totally unfamiliar location successfully. The advanced student can question others to gain knowledge that is relevant to his or her mobility needs. Advanced students are also proficient at reading braille maps, able to handle complex transportation depots, and savvy about the violence in the world today. They have strategies for dealing with intrusion.