The Value of Strong Orientation and Mobility Skills
Most teenagers who are visually impaired typically have basic orientation and mobility (O&M) skills by the time they’re in high school. They’re able to travel through the school building from one classroom to another and get around their school and its surrounding area independently. They may need to learn new routes each semester or be reminded of the proper technique to use with a long cane. But at this point, O&M instruction usually involves learning more advanced travel skills that enable teenagers to travel confidently beyond their home, immediate neighborhood, and school.
Depending on your teen’s usable vision, motivation, plans for the future, and interests, his O&M instructor will design lessons specifically for him. There’s a wide array of skills that he may need to learn at this age, including:
Traveling in new environments, such as larger towns or nearby cities, to learn how to get around in unfamiliar places—an especially common goal for teens who live in a rural area or small town.
Using public transportation, including:
- Getting information about schedules
- Locating a bus stop, train platform, or subway
- Paying the fare
- Letting the driver or other passengers know if he needs help because of his visual impairment
- Behaving appropriately when traveling
- Exiting the bus, train, or subway car at the right stop
- Finding the place he’s traveling to
- Using taxis, including how to call for a taxi; what, if anything to say to the driver and dispatcher about his visual impairment; paying the fare; and tipping
Other important O&M lessons include:
- Numbering systems of streets, avenues, and buildings
- How to use maps, the Internet, and the telephone to get additional information, if needed, while traveling
- How to travel safely and what to do if one’s safety is threatened
- How to use optical aids such as a monocular efficiently while traveling to increase access to visual information
- Planning for the next community in which your son plans to live or work
Knowing what specific skills your son’s O&M instructor is focusing on gives you a chance to reinforce those skills when you and your son are together. At the same time, it’s important to let the instructor know of any concerns you may have about your son’s O&M skills. Working as a team, you can maximize your son’s confidence in his ability to travel independently.