An orientation and mobility (O&M) assessment examines a child’s ability to travel safely both indoors and outdoors and with or without assistance. An O&M instructor, a professional who has specialized training in how to teach travel skills and concepts such as spatial awareness, will conduct the assessment.

While some teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs) are dually certified in O&M, others will have some basic knowledge of orientation and mobility, yet are not qualified to assess your child’s skills and needs for O&M instruction.

If you have concerns about your child’s ability to move safely and independently in her environment and she is not receiving O&M services, discuss your concerns and ask other members of her educational team for a referral for an O&M assessment.

The assessment itself usually involves a combination of interviews and observation to see if your child would benefit from formal O&M instruction. O&M assessments are conducted for children of all ages and ability levels, including children who are not yet walking, those in wheelchairs, and those who may never travel unassisted. If your child is receiving O&M services as part of her educational program, as included on her Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) or Individualized Education Program (IEP), then at minimum, she ought to receive an O&M assessment every three years. Most O&M instructors conduct an assessment annually to assist them in making recommendations for appropriate IFSP or IEP goals.

What Happens During the Assessment?

Depending on your child’s age, ability level, and amount of usable vision, the O&M instructor will evaluate her understanding of basic concepts that underlie orientation and travel, such as those relating to one’s position in space and location in the environment—for example, left and right, inside and outside, and up and down—and her awareness of aspects of the environment, such as sidewalks and streets. Your child’s understanding of the parts of her own body and how they relate to these concepts is also explored. In most instances, you can expect the O&M instructor to:

  • Interview you, the TVI, the general or special education classroom teacher, and your child about her skills related to travel and about any concerns you might have. The places where you and others would like to see your child learn to travel to and from and where she herself might wish to go are also discussed. The interview may be conducted in-person or via phone or may be a checklist people are asked to complete.
  • Observe your child in familiar and unfamiliar indoor and outdoor environments to gather information about how she moves through the environment using her vision, if present, and other senses.
  • Evaluate any O&M skills she has previously learned such as protective techniques, the sighted (human) guide technique, trailing, and use of the long cane.

O&M Assessments Go Beyond Movement

The O&M instructor will look at other skills besides your child’s ability to move in the environment if these skills have an impact on her independent movement and travel. Here are just a few examples:

  • Activities of daily living: Can your child store her belongings such as her cane, her coat, and her money independently? Can she use money to pay the bus fare or make a purchase at a store?
  • Social skills: How does your child interact with others? Does she know how to ask for assistance? When assistance is offered and she does not need it, does she know how to decline it appropriately?
  • Planning: What skills does your child have when it comes to planning a route, whether it is from her classroom to music class, from your home to the neighbor’s, or across town to the public library?
  • Literacy skills: How does your child make a note of information she needs during travel? Does she print, braille, or audio record a list of items she wants to purchase, information about the bus schedule, or emergency telephone numbers she can call if she were to become lost?
  • Use of optical aids and assistive technology: When traveling, does your child use low vision devices to gather information, such as a monocular to see a building number or a street sign, or a magnifier to read a print bus schedule?

After the Assessment

The O&M instructor will share the assessment results with you and other members of the educational team. You may want to ask for a copy of the O&M instructor’s report for your files. It’s important to keep this documentation and other assessment reports. Based on the information the O&M instructor shares, it may be determined that your child should receive, or continue to receive, O&M instruction. In cases in which it is determined that at this time your child is not in need of O&M instruction, it does not automatically mean that your child will never need this kind of instruction. For this reason, it is important to have your child’s O&M needs assessed periodically.