Orientation and Mobility

About Orientation and Mobility

A visual impairment usually affects how the individual learns about and functions within various environments. The individual with a visual impairment, therefore, will need special skills to understand and become oriented to these environments and to move, travel, and live independently and safely within them.

Developing a conceptual understanding of:

  • Body image; e.g., planes, parts, laterality, and directionality in relation to objects and environmental feature
  • Concrete environmental concepts; e.g., grass, lawn, cement, wood, carpet, tile, tree, bush, and street
  • Spatial concepts; e.g., far, near, close, high, low, above, below, facing, in front of, behind, beside, away from, next to, forward, backward, sideways, and 90-, 180-, and 360-degree turns
  • Compass direction concepts; e.g., north, south, east, west relationships, sides of streets, names of corners, and relationships among changes in direction
  • Traffic and traffic control concepts; e.g., fast, slow, parallel, perpendicular, same direction, opposite direction, near side, and far side 
  • Learning to travel independently at home and at various settings throughout one’s school  career
  • Learning appropriate trailing and protective techniques and techniques for locating objects to facilitate independent orientation and mobility at home and school
  • Learning to use appropriate sighted guide skills in all travel situations when needed, such as traveling in normal situations; going through narrow passages; ascending and descending stairways; using escalators and elevators; switching sides; seating oneself in chairs, in sofas, and at tables; and establishing and maintaining control of the sighted guide situation with familiar and unfamiliar guides
  • Learning to use remaining vision and distance low vision aids, as appropriate, to the maximum extent possible for independent, safe orientation and mobility
  • Developing an understanding of the importance, dangers, responsibilities, and behavior appropriate for independent travel in increasingly sophisticated settings
  • Developing an understanding of the services various business establishments provide; e.g., grocery stores, department stores, banks, post offices, and shopping malls
  • Learning to carry out increasingly complex personal business transactions independently
  • Understanding and being able to use public transit systems
  • Developing, if nonverbal, a feasible communication system for acquiring information and communicating needs
  • Learning to use adaptive mobility skills as necessary for use with ambulatory aids, such as wheelchairs, walkers, braces and orthopedic canes, to provide for maximum independent mobility; e.g., bus lifts or rail ramps
  • Use of alternative mobility devices when appropriate
  • Being able to develop and travel alternative routes and, if necessary, travel specific routes in limited areas to care for basic needs

Hazekamp, J., & Lundin, J. (Eds.) (1997). Program guidelines for students who are visually impaired. Sacramento: California Department of Education.

Roles and Responsibilities of the Orientation and Mobility Specialist

Instructs students with visual impairments in the development of skills and knowledge that enable them to travel independently, to the highest degree possible, in accord with the students’ assessed needs and the students’ IFSP/IEP/ITP

Teaches students to travel with proficiency, safety, and confidence in familiar and unfamiliar environments

Possesses the skills and abilities necessary to provide and coordinate this instruction

Provides consultation and support services to families, regular and special education teachers, other school personnel, and sighted peers

Confers regularly with parents, classroom teachers, physical education teachers, and/or other special education personnel  to assist in home and classroom environmental modifications, adaptations, and considerations and to ensure reinforcement of appropriate orientation and mobility skills that will encourage the student with a visual impairment to travel independently in these settings

Works with the teacher of the visually impaired to conduct the functional vision assessment as it relates to independent travel

Conducts assessments which focus on both long-term and short-term needs of the student

Includes in the assessment report the needs and strengths of the student and an estimate of the length and frequency of service necessary to meet identified needs

Prepares sequential and meaningful instruction geared to the student’s assessed needs, IEP goals and objectives, functioning level, and motivational level

Prepares and uses equipment and materials for the development of orientation and mobility skills; e.g., tactual maps, models, distance low vision aids, and long canes

Transports students to various community locations as necessary to provide meaningful instruction in realistic learning environments

Is responsible for teaching safe techniques to use at all times and in all environments while fostering maximum independence

Provides orientation and mobility instruction, where appropriate, in the following areas:

  • Body imagery
  • Laterality
  • Environmental concepts
  • Gross and fine motor skills related to independent travel
  • Sensory awareness, stimulation and training
  • Spatial concepts
  • Compass direction concepts
  • Sighted guide procedures
  • Basic protective and information gathering techniques
  • Orientation skills
  • Map skills
  • Cane skills
  • Use of residual vision
  • Low vision aids related to travel skills
  • Residential travel
  • Travel in business districts and malls
  • Procedures for crossing streets, including traffic control signals
  • Use of public transportation systems
  • Procedures for use of the telephone for information gathering and for emergencies
  • Procedures for interacting with the public
  • Knowledge and application of community address systems
  • Procedures for travel and independent functioning in places of public accommodation
  • Skills of daily living
  • Sensory/motor skills in coordination with the physical or occupational therapist and teacher of the visually impaired

Evaluates students’ progress on an ongoing basis

Keeps progress notes on each student

Participates in necessary parents’ conferences and meetings

Provides in-service training to regular and special education personnel, sighted peers, and family members concerning the orientation and mobility needs of the student with a visual impairment and appropriate methods and procedures for interacting with the individual who is visually impaired that will foster maximum independence and safety

Hazekamp, J., & Lundin, J. (Eds.) (1997). Program guidelines for students who are visually impaired. Sacramento: California Department of Education.