Major Services Provided by Mobility Specialists

Jump to services provided by mobility specialists

Search this site powered by FreeFind

Helpful Resources

The largest public foundation serving the blind and visually impaired population is the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). The AFB website is very comprehensive, and is an excellent place to find answers to all questions about blindness, including the agencies and professionals serving the blind, statistics about blindness, available publications, press releases, web radio, government policies, and much more.

If you are a parent of a blind or visually impaired child, or if you are blind yourself, be sure to contact the National Federation of the Blind, and The American Council of the Blind.

If you are a parent looking to connect with other parents, check out the comprehensive site at The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. For families with infants who are adjusting to having a blind child, contact the Institute for Families of Blind Children.

The Institute for Innovative Blind Navigation (you are on our website) is in Michigan in the United States. Therefore, we are good friends with the National Federation of the Blind in Michigan. The NFB of Michigan web site is a good resource for parents, consumers, and blind individuals overall, but it is especially valuable for you Michigan web surfers.

A few hard working individuals maintain personal websites that have a unique flavor. An example is the Sixfriends website which has a comprehensive section on mobility. Dona Sauerburger has a website rich in detail. Dona is well known in the mobility field for her expertise in deaf blind mobility, street crossing, and basic O&M skill knowledge (especially for adults). Guido Corona at IBM has a weblog that is primarily about accessibility issues. There is a very nice archive of daily logs. Mike May at Sendero Group has an adventure blog that tracks the travels of people using the GPS system on the BrailleNote computer. Mike travels all over the globe, often on his own.

If you are looking for information about deafblindness see the comprehensive site called A Deafblindness Web Resource. Also, the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind is considered one of the world's most comprehensive education and rehabilitation centers serving children and adults who are deaf, blind and multidisabled

For a comprehensive listing of websites addressing blindness and vision impairment be sure to explore The New York Institute for Special Education site, and the Special Education Exchange.

If you are looking for information about a particular disorder or medical condition try using specialized search engines.

To subscribe to a web-magazine about blindness and vision impairment see TravelVision. In Braille only is an excellent publication from the Mathilda Ziegler Foundation called The Matilda Ziegler Magazine.

If you are looking for product information try The American Printing House for the Blind, (APH) a Federally (United States) funded agency providing products and services to blind individuals in the public schools. APH is a large, complex organization with many resources for blind people. For another comprehensive listing of product suppliers try Vendors Specializing in Technology for the Blind." Also, there is a Yahoo group called ""Bought and sold by the blind." IIBN maintains a small product list on this website (product suppliers may list their products here if they wish).

The professional organization for teachers, mobility specialists and rehabilitation specialists is called AER (Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired). The AER website contains valuable information for both professionals and laymen.

For information relating to recreation for people who are blind try the United States Association of Blind Athletes. To join a ski listserv, please send a message to: To subscribe to a tandem cycling list, send a message to: To subscribe to a horse back riding list, send a message to: For Blind Boaters, check out talking boat instruments at Realtime Control.

Employment issues can be addressed through any of the large consumer or foundation web contacts (see the links above for: NFC, ACB, AFB, AER, etc.). An excellent comprehensive site entirely about employment for blind individuals is eSight. This web source is "A bridge connecting business leaders to talent in the disability community." So if you are a business leader or part of the talent pool, check this out.

For another comprehensive overview of blindness and vision impairment, take a look at Blindnet, an excellent and comprehensive overview of services and issues relevant to blind individuals.

If you are thinking about a career as an orientation and mobility specialist, contact one of the universities specializing in blind rehabilitation or education. To see a comprehensive list of university programs connect to the Special Education Exchange

For a listing of Christian blindness organizations contact Resources for Blind Ministries.


If you have any questions, please send me a message.


Services provided by Mobility Specialists

Blind individuals can learn to navigate through space with amazing accuracy and safety. There is no guarantee, however, that a blind child will automatically become an excellent traveler. Without training, many blind children would be afraid to move, or would do so haphazardly and dangerously. Over-protective adults can retard a blind childs ability to navigate (and many have).

Orientation and mobility specialists (including blind and visually impaired mobility specialists) can guide a blind child through the early developmental years, and can help the child evolve good travel skills. Teaching blind children to navigate in space, to orient their bodies to landmarks, to formulate mental maps (and much more) is challenging, yet greatly rewarding. Orientation and mobility is a wonderfully complex and satisfying profession.

Many children in special education have damage to navigational centers in the brain. The curriculum, tools, and strategies used to teach blind students may also be used to teach students who are not blind, but who have navigational disabilities. The notion that orientation and mobility specialists work solely with blind individuals is outdated. Although the main focus and priority is blindness, the profession of orientation and mobility has broadened in scope and complexity, particularly within the last 30 years.

It should not be concluded however that every mobility specialist is equipped to work with children, to work with vision impairments, or to work with non-categorical populations. There is controversy about the role of the typical orientation and mobility specialist. In many cases, school based mobility specialists do not feel competent, nor do they feel that they have the time to serve children other than blind or severely visually impaired students. There is a new profession evolving called "Travel Trainers" which will specialize in the travel needs of children with impairments other than blindness. Mobility specialists may eventually have to get further certification to work with "non-categorical" kids.

Teaching children involves an understanding of child development. The degree of knowledge and experience that mobility specialists gained during professional training varies with universities, so some may have received more background in child development than others.

Vision problems come in a bewildering collection of degrees of severity and varieties of impairment. Some mobility specialists have a better background to interpret and prescribe for these vision problems.

In my own practice, I serve children on a priority basis. Primarily, I serve totally blind, cognitively normal children first. These kids need all my expertise and a great deal of my time. If I have additional time in a week after all the totally blind children are served, I also teach multiply impaired blind children and students with severe vision problems. If I still have time on my caseload, I serve children with lesser degrees of vision problems, and I offer travel training for handicapped students (deaf, physically impaired, TMI, etc.). Each new school year presents with a different collection of students. Typically, in my own practice, over twenty years of teaching, and because I come from a primarily non-urban county, I have been able to offer services to all these levels of kids every year.

In my own practice, I also emphasize the newest navigational technologies, several of which are still in prototype. The profession of orientation and mobility has a certification program in these"electronic travel aids." However, technologies are evolving so fast, and so many new approaches are coming out yearly, that it has become impossible (in my opinion) to train and certify for each one. I work through the Institute for Innovative Blind Navigation to purchase these technologies, and I use them often experimentally (my students are employed by the Institute to test them). This service is rare and is not found in many (if any) other mobility programs. In most cases, mobility specialists are still concentrating on the very valuable task of cane training, and offer very little in the way of training with advanced navigational electronics.

In my experience, mobility specialists, like all good teachers, are involved in life long learning, and are open to explore options like navigational electronics, teaching non-categorical children, and addressing the needs of visually impaired children (if they have the time and support).

A review of the services of a typical orientation and mobility specialist will serve as a good introduction to the profession.


one Teaching orientation

The greatest challenge for a mobility specialist working with blind children is the teaching of orientation. Blind children can learn to navigate through space without using vision if they receive training, and are allowed the opportunity to practice and develop their skills. Good orientation skills begin with awareness of body image, and build as sensory skills develop. Blind children must lay down a neural "movement" map in their brains to replace undeveloped visual pathways. The brains of blind children must contain topographical and kinesthetic images. These can only develop if the blind child moves through space. The more movement (the more training and practice), the richer the neuronal pathways laid down in the brain.

twoTeaching environmental concepts

Intelligent blind children can become as articulate as any other child, but sometimes this verbal ability can mask a lack of real understanding about the world of objects and the concept classes that the objects fit into. A sighted child can visually examine a huge number of objects called "chairs", even though a dental chair looks nothing at all like a plastic lawn chair. A blind child might be able to define a chair as something to sit in, but would have very little depth of understanding about the world of "chairs" without experiencing them. The same is true of spaces. Without exploring malls, grocery stores, sidewalks, intersections with traffic lights, airport terminals, the world of places and spaces, a blind child will lack conceptual and environmental awareness. We build our perceptual skills and our cognitive skills on a foundation of sensory and conceptual knowledge. Another way to say this is that movement and exploration are necessary for the development of intelligence (and sophistication), especially at an early developmental age. Teaching environmental concepts to blind children is no small matter; it is a huge responsibility on the shoulders of orientation and mobility specialists (parents and teachers as well).

threeEarly assessment and intervention

From the time a blind child is born and especially through the infant, toddler and preschool ages, there must be vigorous support from a team of professionals. A key member of this team is the orientation and mobility specialist. At these early ages, the team is concerned with gross and fine motor development, with gait patterns, with sensory stimulation, with concept development, and with parental (family) support and education.

four Cane skills training

Special long canes are designed for blind individuals. These canes are used in a variety of ways to keep travelers safe while moving. The long cane is a remarkable tool with a wide variety of uses. Mobility specialists work long and hard to help students develop good cane technique.

five Sensory awareness training

This involves stimulating the non-visual senses (also residual vision), as well as teaching auditory, tactual and kinesthetic discrimination and localization. This training is both clinical (indoors, simulated) and practical. For example, in actual settings, such as at a street crossing, students are taught proper use of residual vision (what to focus in on and what to ignore), listening skills, and strategies for making safe and efficient decisions based on careful sensory monitoring of the real world.

sixTeaching the use of advanced technologies

Technological innovations will completely change the way mobility specialists teach blind children. The future will bring exciting and positive change for blind travelers. Sophisticated navigational tools (using sonar and laser light) are available now for blind students to use for travel. Satellite navigation is on the horizon. Smart computers built into your clothing will recognize faces and emotions ("Soon," says the creator of Dilbert cartoons, Scott Adams "our clothes will be smarter than us"). Mobility specialists will teach the use of these various instruments. Technology is developing so fast that new devices are created every few years (or older ones updated). Developments in biotechnology and genetics also hold tremendous promise in the prevention and treatment for vision impairments. These developments will impact heavily on the profession of Orientation and Mobility.

seven Low vision aids training

Technological innovation is also happening in the field of optics. Sophisticated optical telescopes and microscopes are available now for visually impaired persons. These will merge or be replaced by electronic computer systems that digitally enhance and verbally describe scenes. Success with these aids depends on the amount of training a person receives in the uses and adaptations of the devices (and on personal motivation). Mobility specialists train students to use optical aids. Like navigational travel aids, these devices are evolving technologically at a rapid pace.

eight Teaching environmental manipulation (learning to control personal space)

Vision is enhanced where there is adjusted illumination, and where contrast is high. Visually impaired persons can be taught to wisely manipulate lighting, and to design their surroundings (rooms, desks, outdoor areas, work areas, etc.) to deliberately produce high contrast. Mobility instructors can be environmental consultants for students and families.

nine Teaching about the vision system (and systemic problems)

Another role of the mobility specialist is to assess a student's vision system, and then interpret functional problems that can occur (and for which adaptations must be made). This interpretation of a student's damaged vision system must be presented in layman's language to the student, parents, care givers, and teachers. The effects of systemic problems (genetic syndromes, for example) and drug therapies, on vision processing is also a role that can be assumed by the O&M specialist.

Often during elementary school, blind children come to the realization that they are different from their sighted peers. Some children have difficulty accepting this. A referral is usually made to appropriate psychological professionals. The mobility specialist, as a positive role model, can assist with the transition and acceptance process, as can older blind students and blind adults.

ten Visual therapy

Various forms of visual therapy can be administered by mobility instructors. Since this often involves complex theory, the therapy is carried out under the direction of an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Some forms of visual stimulation, and certain training exercises are simple, and can be done without direct monitoring by a health care professional.

elevenTeaching daily living skills

Children with severe impairments often do not get sufficient opportunity to experience the community independently. They are led or directed through the world, and consequently do not develop the skills needed to survive on their own when they reach maturity. Mobility specialists place students in the real world and give them practical problems to solve. Students are required to shop, use the telephone, arrange transportation (use public buses, subways, and trains). They are required to locate restaurants: find a table, order food, eat it, leave a tip, pay the bill and handle all money transactions. They are required to use the post office, banks, airports, libraries, hospitals, recreational centers, theaters, grocery stores, malls, and so on. They are required to find their way around residential neighborhoods, business areas, suburbs, rural areas, and massive downtowns. In short, the overall goal of the mobility specialist is to help students become as independent as sighted peers.

Daily living skills are those routines that most sighted people take for granted. Making eye contact, using gestures and body language, asking for help, eating food without spilling, looking in a mirror to see if hair is in place or if mustard is on the cheek, managing time and money, using public bathrooms appropriately, all these and more can be a major challenge if you cannot use vision. Mobility specialists are part of the educational team that teaches daily living skills.

twelve Teaching advanced mobility skills

For students who are capable, advanced skills are addressed. The goal of the mobility specialist is to teach blind students to self-familiarize themselves with the world. The advanced blind traveler is able to travel to a novel location and successfully envision and navigate through an unfamiliar location. The competent blind traveler also can keep good computerized (or well organized) notes (data bases) about his or her community. 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. The competent blind traveler belongs to one or more consumer groups and has strategies for staying abreast of social, legislative and technological issues. These strategies include the ability to access data bases over the information super highway and to communicate with others electronically. The advanced visually impaired student may take drivers training and be skilled at using spectacle mounted telescopes.

Orientation and Mobility lessons generally are for one half to five hours a week, depending on the needs of individual students. Lessons are carefully planned to insure success, so that confidence and ability slowly grow together. Mobility philosophy calls for a continually gentle and supportive approach. Much of the training that mobility specialists receive is geared toward developing this empathy.


Return to the top of this page

Below: Ebooks
IIBN Site Index - Teaching O&M to Blind Children - Teaching Students with Travel Disabilities - Wayfinding Technologies