Orientation And Mobility (O&M) SpecialistApril 18, 2014
Orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists undergo extensive training to help people with visual impairments learn to function independently. These dedicated professionals help the visually impaired to adapt to and navigate through their environment using their other working senses. O&M specialists work with people of all ages, from infants who are born with visual impairments to children and adults who may have become visually impaired later.
O&M specialists help the visually impaired to “read” or feel their environment so that they can orient themselves and accordingly plan a viable route through that environment using their working sensory cues or any lingering vision they may have.
O&M specialists also train their students in the use of assistive devices, such as white canes, GPS systems, handheld telescopes or service animals such as seeing-eye dogs. They teach their clients basic concepts and skills that are necessary for establishing some degree of self-sufficiency in everyday function. Students learn directions such as up, down, over or underneath. They also learn how to map routes, navigate crowd and interpret sensory landmarks such as sounds, smells and textures and solicit aid when they need it.
The ultimate aim that an O&M specialist works towards is to enable individuals with visual impairment to move safely and confidently through unfamiliar areas and use public transit, thereby enabling them to travel and function as independently as possible.
O&M specialists work directly with individuals and they also work together with organizations and governments to help make environments more accommodating and safer for those with visual impairments. Towards this end, they may design more effective public transportation solutions, recommend ways make street crossings safer and help parents and teachers meet the environmental access needs of visually impaired children.
O&M specialists usually work in schools, veterans’ centers, rehabilitation centers, and other facilities that serve children and adults with visual impairments. They are also employed by and work as consultants to government agencies and educational institutions.
Working directly with individuals who have visual impairments can be challenging, but highly satisfying. The O&M specialist must be able to handle the individual’s expectations, and respond appropriately to emotional outbursts, setbacks, stress and frustrations. A combination of physical strength and patience is necessary as the job will involve long hours of assisting and steering the individual in the right direction as they go up and down stairs and navigate public transportation. Ensuring the student’s or client’s safety is another factor that needs to be taken into consideration.
O&M specialists were first trained by the military after the World War II to help veterans blinded during the war. Training and certification has evolved a lot since then.
If you are interested in pursuing a career in this specialty, you can study Orientation and Mobility at many universities at the baccalaureate or master’s level, although most programs require a master’s degree. While O&M training is also offered at some agencies as an extended learning program, you should know that this type of informal training is not recognized by the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP), which is the certifying organization in the US.
Orientation and mobility specialists in the US earn an average salary of about $49,455 to $61,100 a year.