Happy Thursday! This week I thought I would write a blog post about orientation and mobility, often called O and M. Mobility, or O and M, is how a blind person becomes familiar with the environment they are in. The instructor walks with the student down hallways or across streets, helping them map out where they need to go. Each blind person is different, so not every lesson is going to be the same. What works well for me may not work as well for another person who can’t see.
In mobility the teacher may work on cane skills, sighted guide, or how to use your hearing to listen for cars. When a blind person crosses a street, they can listen and figure out if the car is crossing in front of them or turning down another road. When I travel to the city to visit friends, I’ll admit that traveling on busy roads makes me a little nervous. That’s not to say that I cannot do it, but I think listening to cars can help with your line of direction. Sighted guide is when a blind person will hold the sighted persons arm while they walk. The sighted person can move their arm slightly behind them when approaching doorways so the blind person can follow them. Children usually hold your wrist and older people hold the persons elbow. Mobility teachers work with the student to determine when it is appropriate to use their cane or when they should use a sighted guide. I was in college for six years and most of the time I went without a guide. While I am all for doing what you can on your own, sometimes for me personally it was easier for me to have a guide in certain situations, particularly when I dealt with fatigue. God always got me through. My last two years of college my mobility instructor told me to have the students working as readers (for information on these, please see my last blog) guide me to and from classes. This came about because in the English building at my university they have several different staircases. I often used one at the end of the hallway that was quiet and hardly had any traffic. Since the students frequently used the staircase that is always extremely crowded, the students helping me had difficulty finding me. This was because I use different landmarks so they couldn’t figure out how to get to where I was. The students working with me didn’t even know that quieter staircase existed until working with me.
These instructors will use objects or certain sounds as landmarks for the blind person to follow. When I was in college, my mobility teacher would walk to my classes and figure out the best way to show me how to get to them. I had her record how to get to my classes on my recorder until they were planted into my memory. I found having the recorder with me helpful if I got lost or on days I was struggling with exhaustion. An example of landmarks would be passing a trashcan on your right before finding the door to make your way outside. I spent a lot of time in the English building at my university since I was an English major. My teacher taught me that once I went up the final flight of stairs and walked down the hallway a ways, I would feel a floor plate under my feet. Once I walked over the plate, I knew I was halfway to my classroom. Other times I would listen for the sound of vents or vending machines. Once my cane came in contact with them, I knew to cross the hallway and move over towards the other wall, and make my way into class. I’ll share one final example here that sighted people might find interesting. I always could tell when I arrived at my audio classroom because the door felt different. The door for my audio classroom was flatter than the ones where I had most of my English classes. Mobility teachers help their students learn the orientation of a room, but your friends and family can learn how to do this too, if they really want to learn. You can walk around the room and tell the person who is blind what the room looks like and walk with them so they get a chance to explore their surroundings. My teacher would tell me how tables were set up and which doors to enter the room if more than one was available. I find this particularly helpful and wish I had more orientation as a child. The article I am linking below mentions that you should orient blind kids to the playground at school which I think is wonderful. Playing is a form of education, too. I feel like that would have been helpful for me, but I hope that people reading my blog learn a thing or two. =) Since I live in such a small state, there has only been one mobility teacher. Sometimes when I was a child, I had no mobility because there was nobody to teach me. I ended up teaching myself the floor of my eighth grade building. This happened by trial and error. I learned the hard way sometimes because the signs on doorways were not always Brailled correctly. When I heard male voices in a female labeled room, I knew quickly the sign was not Brailled correctly!
If you would like to read more about orienting a blind person, great! Here’s an informative article about orienting blind students to their environment.
Did you grow up blind or sighted with a friend who is blind? I’d love to hear your stories. Have any mobility stories to share? I’d love to hear them! Send them my way at Miranda Oakley on Facebook, mirandaloakley on Twitter or please leave a comment on my website.