Orientation and Mobility Specialists

The following is a transcript for the Vision Rehab Podcast for October White Cane Awareness, Getting From Here to There with a Vision Loss.

Hello, and thank you for joining me today on the Vision Rehab Podcast.

The month of October is White Cane Awareness Month, so it’s the perfect time to bring up one of the most difficult topics related to vision loss—getting around with less vision. A vision loss can affect your ability to drive, walk to the store, a jog, finding your way around an airport, or even the office.

Chances are, if you acquire your vision loss later in life, you have very little exposure to people in the community who get around safely and successfully every day with reduced vision. It sounds silly to have to say this, but people with a vision impairment or blindness travel every day to work, on their vacations, jogging, walking the neighborhood, commuting to work…you name it. Let’s be clear, an acquired vision loss can certainly be a challenge, but it doesn’t need to prevent you from continuing with your daily routine or favorite activities.

Let me tell you about professional s called orientation and mobility specialists. They are often called O&M specialists for short. These professionals are trained with a Master’s Degree and often have a national certification. Like vision rehab therapists, these are not medical professionals and chances are you won’t get or need a referral from your eye doctor. They are most often found at a state or community agency that works with individuals who have a vision loss.

The O&M specialist provides training with outside travel after a vision loss. This can be as simple as helping someone choose glare filters or sun glasses that make it easier to see in the daylight, learning public transportation, using a handheld telescope to see signs or items on the grocery shelf, using a bioptic for driving, or learning to use a white cane for more independent travel.

You may be surprised to learn that most people who use a white cane are not totally blind. Most have low vision and use their cane to detect obstacles in their path and to let others know they have a vision impairment. A white cane can be a great ice-breaker if you need to ask directions or ask for some sighted assistance!

Both the orientation and mobility specialist and the vision rehab therapist can offer tips and training for using what’s called Human Guide, or Sighted Guide, a great technique you can use with a friend, family member or co-worker that enables you to take another person’s arm for guidance as you walk along, take the stairs, travel through an unfamiliar place, and all the while stay independent and in control.

The O&M specialist is also someone who can help you brainstorm about other favorite activities that might be impacted by a vision loss—going for a jog, skiing, paddling the kayak, a new commute to work, crossing the street to the mailbox, finding a tandem bicycling partner.

You might not hear about O&M specialists from your eye doctor. To find one, check out the VisionAware Directory of services. You’ll find a link on the home page at VisionAware.org. Select your state and you’ll find services and agencies listed with their phone numbers. You can also call the APH Connect Center toll Free at 800-232-5463. For more tips on using Human Guide, go to Hadley.edu, create a free login, and select the Daily Living category. You’ll find a whole series there devoted to “Guided Walking.”

I hope you find this information about orientation and mobility specialists helpful and look forward to you joining me on the next podcast. Stay safe and have a wonderful day!

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