According to an article from the quarterly newsletter of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Orientation and Mobility Training is a specialized set of curricula design to assist a Blind or visually impaired person to identify where he or she is in space, determine where he / she wants to go, and formulate a plan to get there. Orientation and Mobility Training--also referred to as Travel Training--originally evolved after World War II to serve blinded veterans learning the skills they needed to gain their independence and reintegrate into civilian life. After universities began offering professional training for Orientation and Mobility instructors and professional standards evolved, Orientation and Mobility training became more widely available to children. Many Blind children, be it toddlers participating in early intervention programs or high school students learning to navigate their social environment or explore career options, receive Orientation and Mobility training from professional instructors--either through their local school districts or community or residential agencies serving people who are Blind or visually impaired.
Orientation and Mobility Training is all-encompassing. It can include everything from sensory and body awareness and spatial concepts to basic and advanced travel skills with the white cane and planning complex routes using mass transit and air travel. Orientation and Mobility Training can take place in an infinitely varied number of settings--from a child's home or school to busy downtown areas, worksites, and even airports and rural areas.
The ultimate goal of an advanced blind traveler is to plan and execute routes independently using the white cane or other supports independently--without specific training from a professional instructor. As a Blind traveler, I have traveled independently to many locations in the metropolitan area where I live as well as several places out-of-town. I have received professional instruction in a fairly wide variety of settings--including our mass transit system, several major college and university campuses, and some worksites and other venues in different communities.
However, as in everything in life, Orientation and Mobility instruction sometimes doesn't go according to plan, or mother nature or other conditions in the environment present some unique and colorful challenges during lessons. Talk to any competent Blind person, and you will usually hear a story about how Orientation and Mobility or travel training can sometimes go off course--with funny, profound, or downright wacky consequences. here are two of my most memorable personal stories of Orientation and Mobility gone off the rails.
The Day the Rains Came
When I was in second grade, Bill, my itinerant Orientation and Mobility teacher, and I went for a lesson in a residential neighborhood near my school. It was a fairly nice late September day with only a few clouds in the sky, from what I remember. I was just learning the cardinal directions and the basic concepts of street crossings, such as parallel and perpendicular and what a corner was. I would not begin using a white cane until several years later and was using my vision primarily. As we were walking down the street, I told Bill that I thought I saw my shadow, and this meant it could start raining soon. "What makes shadows?", Bill asked.
"Well...the sun", I remember saying. Nevertheless, I could see it was starting to get darker, and I could smell the scent of approaching showers. As we were finishing our route and making our way back to Bill's car for the ride back to my school, it began to rain. it began raining. Then it began pouring.
In a matter of what seemed like seconds, it was a torrential downpour. Bill and I began running towards his car and shelter, with Bill guiding me. Then, it began to hail.
By the time we reached Bill's car, the squall--for the thing was a lot worse than a typical rain shower--had completely passed, and the sun was coming out again.
When we reached my school, we were both soaked, and our clothes were drenched. My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Cook, took one look at me and exclaimed, "You look like a drowned rat!"
I ultimately had to change into second-hand clothes at the nurse’s office which were three sizes too big for me. This was long before I could dress myself independently, so the school nurse had to dress me in her office. I remember my mom saying I looked like a hobo when I got home from school that day.
This was the first of several more or less offbeat experiences I had learning Orientation and Mobility skills. There is another fairly significant story from my travel training in junior high that I believe illustrates the importance of competent Blind travelers to be prepared for a wide variety of factors impacting travel--from extreme weather to road construction and even differences in traffic patterns due to public events.
Travel in A Wind Storm
My most memorable travel experience was actually my second to last trip with Bill, my itinerant Orientation and Mobility instructor. I was in eighth grade and had learned basic cane travel techniques while in the summer youth program I attended. I was also able to travel independently around our downtown metropolitan area, plan some of my own routes and transfer to buses serving several different parts of our city. I was tremendously proud of my travel skills and loved lessons.
For this route, which was set to take place during school hours as part of my educational curriculum, I would board a downtown bus from a stop directly across the street from my junior high school. My objective was to obtain a reduced fair card from our local mass transit agency. Bill and I had gone over the route and secured permission from my parents and school administrators, and on a very blustery day about a week before the start of Christmas vacation, I was on my way.
I initially had the sense that this trip in particular would not exactly be routine when the power flickered in our neighborhood soon after I woke up that morning. I could hear the sound of howling wind outside. Weather reports were predicting high winds spurred by a cold front impacting much of our part of the country with a rapid drop in temperature throughout the day. There was also the possibility of some kind of precipitation, though whether it was snow, sleet or just freezing rain I can't exactly remember. Despite this--I went ahead.
When I reached the bus stop that morning to board the bus downtown, the wind almost blew me off my feet. I waited for about ten minutes for the bus to arrive, and somehow, I was able to hear the sound of it approaching and board. It must have been a sight to see a young kid in junior high carrying a white cane board the bus in the middle of the school day going downtown--especially in this weather.
I reached Downtown and obtained my reduced fair card, accomplishing my objective. Because of the confidence I had gained from my past experiences traveling downtown, the high winds did not really present me with any difficulties navigating. However, when I sat at the shelter, I had designated to board the bus to return to school, a huge gust literally blew my reduced fair card out of my pocket and into the middle of the street, and someone at the stop had to retrieve it for me. At the time, that was the only aspect of this trip I considered especially unusual, and I was embarrassed that a stranger had to pick up my fair deal card for me. It was that incident that prompted me to go out and obtain my first wallet later on in eighth grade, but that's a story for another post.
When I got home, however, my face was red and windburned, and my parents commented that it looked as if I had been sandblasted. I also found out weeks later that Bill, my itinerant Orientation and Mobility Instructor, was sitting in a building across the street from me--enjoying punch and cookies, watching a model train display set up each year for the Holidays, and monitoring my progress from the other side of the street. You can imagine how I felt about that afterward. I also found out that there were sustained winds of 56 MPH during my trip, which made traveling more challenging than I realized at the time.
I had some other fairly crazy experiences as a Blind traveler, but those two--which both occurred when I was receiving Orientation and Mobility instruction--both stand out. They underscore the importance of flexibility and planning and the mindset that anything can happen while traveling--Blind or sighted. I encourage any of you who would like to share their offbeat, strange, or downright crazy experiences during Orientation and Mobility Training to contact me through my web site or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ONH Consulting, LLC