Orientation and Mobility

A student walks with his white cane

Orientation and Mobility Defined

Orientation & Mobility is an area of instruction that describes the ability of a person who is blind or severely visually impaired to move safely through the environment with dignity, determination, and confidence.

Orientation describes a person's understanding of where they are in space and how they will find their way through an environment to a destination. Orientation includes the understanding of directionality (north, south, east, west) and comprehension of the magnitude and intricacies of the environment.

Orientation & Mobility is most frequently referred to as O & M and answers the questions: Where am I? Where am I going? How am I going to get there?

Mobility in the context of vision-related concerns describes the ability of a person to move safely and comfortably. Traditionally, persons who are blind have used either human guides, guide dogs, or white canes to assist them in mobility travel.

How does a person who is blind learn Orientation and Mobility skills?

Orientation and Mobility (O & M) skills are taught by a certified Orientation and Mobility instructor or an Orientation and Mobility specialist. O & M instructors go through a rigorous educational and training program and are usually university trained. Universities and Colleges providing training are listed in another section of this website. Some instructors receive training at centers, but all must be certified in order to be covered by liability insurance. If a person is interested in a career as an O & M instructor, information on this profession is available on the Careers in Blindness Related Professions areas of this site.

A person who is blind usually starts O & M instruction with an assessment of the particular needs that will be covered in an individualized program of instruction. The O & M instructor conducts this assessment. A plan is then written to include the estimated number of days or weeks of instruction, and the environment where the instruction will take place. Instruction almost always occurs in the real environment, so if a person needs to learn how to cross a particular intersection, that instruction takes place at the intersection. Some initial instruction may take place at a rehabilitation center, but most instruction is outside in all types of weather conditions, as needed.

There are two distinct schools of thought about how O & M is approached. One is the traditional Hoover method which was developed after World War II at the Hines Rehabilitation Center for the Blind run by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. The Hoover method uses a white cane that comes up to about the middle of the breast bone and when used properly will touch the ground where the foot will come to rest on the next step. Instruction includes the integration of strategies to maximize the use of residual vision. The other method known as the long cane method was developed by the National Federation of the Blind and uses a longer, more flexible cane that sweeps across the area where one is walking. Learning this method is done almost entirely under blindfold to encourage the development of skills related to integration of other sensory data. Both methods have very precise processes for learning mobility and the problem solving strategies to assist with orientation to the environment. Both methods rely on the cane developed for their method. More information about each method can be obtained from the organizations that certify practitioners.

Traditional/Hoover Method – Association for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals www.acvrep.org

Long Cane Method - National Blindness Professional Certification Board www.nbpcb.org

How can I walk more comfortably with a friend who is blind?

When a person who is blind travels with a friend or companion, a method called sighted guide technique allows them to travel together comfortably. The person who is blind simply grasps the guide with one hand slightly above the guide's elbow and walks about 1/2 pace back to the side. The guide walks at a comfortable pace and, with experience, it is very easy to move without concern through very complex narrow spaces, doors, escalators, uneven terrain, and even some hiking challenges like stepping stones to cross creeks. O & M instructors teach these specific methods as well as variations for persons who need physical support or for children.

How does a person get a guide dog?

A guide dog is an excellent aid for some people, but a person must have good Orientation and Mobility skills before they will be accepted at a guide dog school. Dogs respond to commands of directionality so the person needs to know exactly how to get to their destination. Basic commands include "left", "right", "forward", and "stop". Some dogs also will respond to more advanced commands like "find the door" or "home".

To get a guide dog, a person needs a recommendation from an Orientation and Mobility Instructor and has to apply directly to the guide dog school of their choice. Most schools require the person to be at least 16 years of age and have references indicating that they are capable of caring for the dog.

The cost varies depending upon the guide dog school. There are some that are no cost, others require the blind person themselves to pay a minimal fee for the dog, and still others are sponsored by civic clubs. Some schools retain ownership of the dog, while others release it to the ownership of the person.

Once a person is accepted to a school, the actual training is done at the facility and usually lasts for a full month. The person is matched with a dog of suitable temperament and ability for the specific guiding demands necessary. The person can make requests for specific breeds, but they may not always be accommodated. Persons with special needs, such as 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 area, but usually an O & M Instructor can provide the necessary follow-up.


Wayfinding is the organization and communication of the environment to travels in such a way as to assist them in navigating the environment successfully to reach a desired goal. It addresses the same basic questions we discussed earlier – “Where am I? Where am I going? How am I going to get there?” Wayfinding includes signage that communicates to all persons . It is a concept related to Universal Design. More information on the basic concept of Wayfinding can be found at https://segd.org/what-wayfinding. There has been increased interest in recent years in the concept of accessible Wayfinding for persons who are blind or visually impaired. The goal is to provide equal access for persons who cannot rely on sight to successfully interpret and navigate the environment. However, since the environment is not currently fully accessible, other tools, such as electronic travel aids and pedestrian based Global Positioning Systems (GPS), are being developed to assist travelers who are blind to travel independently in unfamiliar environments. For more information http://www.senderogroup.com/wayfinding/.

Related Websites

California Association of Orientation & Mobility Specialists
URL: http://www.CAOMS.org

Careers at the Guide Dog Association of New Wales
URL: https://www.guidedogs.com.au/

Sendero Group
URL: http://www.senderogroup.com/wayfinding/

Job Openings in Orientation and Mobility (Children)
URL: http://www.spedex.com/job-exchange.html