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Help Students Find Their Way: Orientation and Mobility
By Beth Ramella, M.Ed., TVI/COMS

Beth Ramella, M.Ed.Orientation and Mobility Instruction, commonly referred to as "O&M," provides individuals who are blind or visually impaired with the skills to safely travel through their environment. O&M methods originated after World War II, to enhance the rehabilitation of blinded veterans. The successful efforts spurred interest in providing O&M to all individuals with visual impairments.

Following suit, the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children began offering O&M instruction to its high school aged students in 1951. By 1968, the parents and administrators at the School realized our students needed mobility lessons initiated much sooner, so an experimental program was begun, that introduced elementary students to the basics of independent travel. Today WPSBC students, who confront multiple challenges in addition to their visual impairment, are taught O&M skills in a variety of ways including using a white cane or power mobility wheelchairs and the School remains at the forefront of mobility training.

Regardless whether you travel using a white cane, powered mobility or a dog guide, children with visual impairments are taught protective techniques and human guide. When children are very young, we teach them to keep their hands out front of them as "bumpers". This is a protective technique that can be used to add protection to their body while traveling through new or unfamiliar areas.

O&M training is empowering for the young child with visual impairment. Movement encourages learning and independence. Often times, parents of an infant with visual impairments worry that he/she will be injured during exploration. Some children with visually impairments may be more afraid to move through space. Others are motivated to move around new space and may appear fearless. Orientation and mobility instruction will be essential for both the cautious and the fearless. Even before a Certified O&M Instructor is assigned to a young child, it is very important to teach basic body parts, body awareness and positional concepts (i.e. "on top/underneath", "in front/behind", "right/left", "in/out").

Beth Ramella is Director of Outreach, Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children. For more information about an orientation and mobility assessment or visual impairments, contact the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children at (412) 621-0100.

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