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 safely through familiar and unfamiliar environments with dignity, determination, and confidence. Through O&M instruction, people who are B/LV learn how 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. Individuals who are B/LV often use mobility tools and techniques such as human guides, dog guides, and white canes.
Who teaches O&M skills?
O&M skills are taught by certified O&M specialists or O&M instructors. O&M specialists go through a rigorous educational program and are usually university-trained (click here to view a list of universities and colleges that offer O&M training programs). All O&M specialists must be certified in order to be covered by liability insurance. (If you are interested in a career as an O&M specialist, you can learn more here.)
How can I learn O&M skills?
O&M specialists provide one-on-one instruction to people of all ages. O&M instruction usually starts with an assessment of a person’s needs. The O&M specialist then works with the individual to create a plan for instruction, including the estimated number of days or weeks of instruction and where the instruction will take place. Instruction almost always occurs in real environments; for example, if a person needs to learn how to cross a particular intersection, instruction takes place at the intersection. Some initial instruction may happen at schools or rehabilitation centers, but most instruction happens in indoor and outdoor community settings in all types of weather conditions.
For information about O&M services in your area, contact your state vocational rehabilitation agency or use this directory to search for O&M service providers in your state.
How can I obtain a dog guide?
A dog guide can be an excellent aid, but a person must have good O&M skills before they will be accepted at a dog guide school. Dog guides respond to commands of directionality, 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 more 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 directly to their preferred dog guide school. Most schools require the person to be at least 16 years of age and have references indicating that they can care for the dog.
Cost varies between dog guide schools. Some are free, others require the B/LV person to pay a minimal fee for the dog, and others are sponsored by civic clubs. Some schools retain ownership of the dog, while others release ownership to the person with B/LV.
Dog guide training takes place at the school’s facility and usually lasts a month. The person is matched with a dog of suitable temperament and ability. The person can request a specific breed, but that request may not be accommodated. Persons with additional disabilities or unusual travel demands may need to wait for a suitable dog to become available. If necessary, follow-up by the school can be conducted in the home, but usually an O&M specialist provides any necessary follow-up.