Parents of Children and Teens with Visual Impairments: “Your Goals” in Orientation and Mobility for the New School Year

Mother with young daughter, who is wearing glasses and holding a white cane

While you can’t learn orientation and mobility (travel) skills for your child who is blind or visually impaired, you certainly can support your child’s acquisition of skills. In fact, I want to share a variety of ways you can get involved, encourage, and motivate your child toward mobility success this school year. I call these “your goals,” should you accept them:

  1. Before the school year begins, formally introduce your daughter to her new learning environments, which will likely involve working with your child’s Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist. The O&M Specialist will familiarize your child to her classroom(s), the cafeteria, the restrooms, and if she’s in elementary school, the playground. If age- and ability-appropriate, your child will learn routes to the bus stop, to classrooms, to the cafeteria, and to school restrooms.
  2. Consistently talk with your son about mobility information that will eventually be important to his safe and efficient travels: tell him you stopped your car because of a traffic light; explain that cars drive on the right side of the road; use compass directions in everyday conversations; talk about routes as you are driving and walking; tell him you see a bus stop or taxi cab, point our important landmarks he is contacting as you are on a walk, etc.
  3. Model self-advocacy skills such as kindly asking for directions, seeking assistance, and politely declining assistance.
  4. Find out what your child is learning in regard to orientation and mobility by talking with your child’s Orientation and Mobility Specialist. Ask how you can continue instruction at home.
  5. Encourage your child to practice the skills she’s learning with her O&M specialist. Whether it’s engaging in O&M activities at home with your young child who is blind or visually impaired, insisting your grade-schooler walks with her cane as she walks beside you in the community instead of solely using sighted guide, or tasking your adolescent with mapping the route to a family destination. (To understand the importance of mapping a route, read Alicia Wolfe’s reflection of a visually impaired adult who mapped Alicia’s route for lunch).
  6. Read or listen to Melanie White’s Advice on Orientation and Mobility Skills. You will learn how to collaborate with your child’s O&M specialist, as well as receive practical advice such as using a GPS in your family car so that your child will become familiar with its role in traveling.
  7. Read or listen to Jill Brown’s Advice on Orientation and Mobility Skills. You will learn what you can do at home to support your child’s success in mobility, including the development of high expectations for your child’s involvement and responsibilities within the family.
  8. Identify transportation options for non-drivers. You can begin to describe the options to your child and intentionally explore the options with him.
  9. Help your child understand the value of strong O&M skills. Find out your child’s dreams and desires, and help her see how mobility skills will enable or enhance her goals. She wants to make a friend on the playground? It helps to be familiar with the playground. He wants to go on a date or hold a summer job? It helps to be familiar with public transportation.

Your child will greatly benefit from your involvement in orientation and mobility training; in encouraging him to practice; in motivating him toward his goals; and in providing travel knowledge as you encounter it in the real world.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
—Helen Keller