Orientation and Mobility

What is orientation and mobility? 

Orientation and mobility (O&M) is the knowledge and skills that people who are blind or have low vision (B/LV) use to move through familiar and unfamiliar environments with dignity, safety, and confidence. O&M instruction teaches people to answer the questions:  

  • Where am I?  
  • Where am I going?  
  • How am I going to get there? 

Orientation is a person's understanding of where they are in space and how to find their way to a destination. Orientation includes understanding directionality (north, south, east, west) and being aware of the features of an environment. 

Mobility is how people move through environments safely and efficiently. B/LV people often use tools like human guides, dog guides, and white canes to help with mobility. 

Who teaches O&M skills? 

O&M skills are taught by certified O&M specialists or instructors. O&M specialists go through a rigorous educational program and are usually university-trained. All O&M specialists must be certified to be covered by liability insurance. (If you are interested in a career as an O&M specialist, learn more.) 

How can I learn O&M skills? 

O&M specialists work one-on-one with people of all ages. O&M instruction usually starts by figuring out the B/LV person’s needs. The O&M specialist then works with the person to make an instruction plan, including how long instruction will last and where it will happen.  

Instruction usually happens in real environments. For example, if a person needs to learn to cross a certain intersection, instruction will happen at the intersection. Some early instruction may happen at schools or rehabilitation centers, but most instruction is in indoor and outdoor settings in all types of weather. 

For information about O&M services in your area, contact your state vocational rehabilitation agency. You can also use this directory to search for O&M service providers in your state. 

How can I get a dog guide? 

A dog guide can be a great aid, but a person needs good O&M skills before being accepted at a dog guide school. Dog guides respond to directionality commands, so a dog guide user needs to know exactly how to get to a destination. Basic commands include "left," "right," "forward," and "stop." Some dogs also respond to advanced commands like "find the door" or "home." 

To get a dog guide, a person needs a recommendation from an O&M specialist and must apply to a dog guide school. Most schools require the person to be at least 16 years old and have references indicating they can take care of a dog. 

Cost varies between dog guide schools. Some are free, others charge a small fee for the dog, and others are sponsored by civic clubs. Some schools retain ownership of the dog, while others give ownership to the B/LV person. 

Dog guide training takes place at a school and usually lasts a month. The person is matched with a dog (requests for a specific dog breed cannot always be met). People with additional disabilities or unusual travel needs may have to wait for a suitable dog to become available. If needed, schools can do follow-up training in a person’s home, but usually an O&M specialist does the follow-up.