September 1999 newsletter
Metropolitan Washington Orientation and Mobility Association


Techniques Used by Blind Cane Travel Instructors: A practical approach: Learning, Teaching, Believing
The Importance of Orientation and Mobility Skills for Students Who are Deaf-Blind
A Pedestrian Safety Guide for Parents and Teachers with Children Who Have Impairments
Foundations of O&M, Second Edition

Book review by Dona Sauerburger, COMS

Techniques Used by Blind Cane Travel Instructors: A practical approach: Learning, Teaching, Believing
by Maria Morais, Paul Lorensen, Roland Allen, Edward C. Bell, Arlene Hills, and Eric Woods

This book, published in 1997, explains some of the techniques used by O&M instructors of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), as well as their philosophy. It also describes advantages and disadvantages of blind and sighted instructors, and personal attributes which the authors consider necessary to provide quality O&M services by all instructors, such as experience with and confidence in traveling with a cane, the ability to communicate concepts and techniques, motivation to teach, and a belief in the effectiveness of alternative techniques.

The techniques which blind NFB instructors use to teach O&M which are explained in the book include how to teach and assess proper cane technique, posture, gait, and street crossings (including monitoring the student's position and progress), and using public transportation. These explanations include general tips for teaching which blind and sighted NFB instructors both use, as well as many specific references to how blind instructors teach and monitor. For example, for teaching in noisy public transit stations, it suggests that the blind instructor and student may stay in physical contact to avoid getting separated, but it emphasizes that the student is still responsible for using the cane and maintaining orientation. It also describes in some detail how the blind instructor teaches and monitors street crossings. However it is not inclusive of such strategies; I was disappointed to see that the book did not include some of the strategies that I observed one of the authors using to effectively monitor students who were approaching and preparing to cross streets.

Philosophical issues which are discussed by the authors include their opinion of the effect on the students' acceptance of blindness by the length and type of cane used, as well as the use of blindfolds in training; assessing the level of supervision needed; and use of the solo travel lesson and drop-off lessons (these "drop-off" lessons are different from those provided by COMS, in that the student is sometimes dropped off in an unfamiliar area and permitted to ask a certain number of questions from passersby).

The book also discusses their philosophy of how much prompting, modeling, and intervention is advisable in various situations. This important issue is covered in several sections including "Teaching in Familiar Areas," "Teaching in Unfamiliar Areas," and "Unexpected and Temporary Chaos."

Several places in the book describe a teaching technique in which the instructor and student work together to problem-solve, allowing students who are not yet ready to do it themselves to use the instructor as a role model while participating in the problem-solving to the degree that they are capable. This is used in situations such as traveling in adverse weather, through unexpected construction, and in unfamiliar areas.

The book also includes some general O&M strategies to teach students to use, such as using directional information, going through buffet lines and carrying trays, using elevators and escalators, and negotiating complex public areas such as parking lots, malls, and airports.

One drawback to the book is that in the section "A Question of Certification," it explains that AER does not certify blind O&M specialists. AER does certify blind O&M specialists, and had been doing so for several years before this book was published. Another difficulty is that there is no index nor any table of contents, which makes it difficult to find information, but the task is not formidable as there are only 39 pages in which to search.

The book costs $3.00, including shipping. To order a copy, contact the NFB at 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230 (410-659-9314;

Booklet review by Dona Sauerburger, COMS

The Importance of Orientation and Mobility Skills for Students Who are Deaf-Blind
by D. Jay Gense, Ed.S., COMS and Marilyn Gense, M.A., COMS

This 8-page booklet, developed by Jay and Marilyn Gense, is the latest publication of DB-LINK, the national information clearinghouse on children who are deaf-blind. It provides good information to help parents and teachers understand that for children who are deaf-blind, movement is an opportunity to gather sensory information, to communicate, and to make choices. It explains O&M programs, including the importance of the team approach, and how O&M can provide deaf-blind children with foundational skills to broaden their awareness of the environment and increase motivation, independence, and safety. It also describes basic O&M skills including human guide and protective techniques, each illustrated with wonderful drawings.

Sections of the booklet also have good, useful information for O&M specialists, including tips on mobility for deaf-blind students in wheelchairs; using an interpreter; and guide dogs for deaf-blind people.

Jay and Marilyn Gense are both Certified O&M Specialists and Education Specialists with the Oregon Department of Education, as well as adjunct faculty with the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, coordinating the Oregon O&M Certification graduate teacher-training program. Jay is also the Project Coordinator of the Oregon Deafblind Project, and Marilyn is an Autism/Vision Specialist. They have given workshops and presentations nationally and internationally on O&M instruction with children who are deaf-blind, and on working with students who are blind and have autism.

To receive a free copy of the booklet, contact DB-LINK at 800-438-9376 or download a copy from the website

Book review by Dona Sauerburger, COMS

A Pedestrian Safety Guide for Parents and Teachers with Children Who Have Impairments
by Al Vopata, M.A., Ph.D., COMS

This is the latest of several books by Al Vopata, an O&M specialist with three decades of experience in special education in New York, Iowa, Wisconsin, California and Kansas, where he is now an O&M specialist for the Kansas State School for the Blind as well as for educational cooperatives in Sedgwick County and elsewhere in Kansas. He has a Ph.D. in education and holds masters degrees in O&M and educational administration.

The Pedestrian Safety Guide contains valuable information that can be used to help pedestrians travel more safely. This information includes suggestions for how pedestrians can be visible to drivers at night, explanations of how child pedestrians differ in their street-crossing potential and skills from adults, a list of the most common causes of pedestrian injuries and fatalities, and descriptions of some of the successful programs that teach pedestrian safety to children and what it is that makes these programs successful.

The reader's task would have been eased if the table of contents had included page numbers, or if there were an index or a "readers' guide" to the publication. In absence of such "finding aids," or an inherently obvious system of locating information within chapters, those who would like to be able to retrieve information after reading the book would be well advised to mark where it can be found. For example, I was unable to relocate the information about how pedestrians can be visible at night until I went through the book page by page (it is 336 pages, double-spaced) and found it again in the chapter "How do most pedestrian collisions occur?"

The first chapter lists pedestrian safety needs of what the author calls "impaired people." Each item on the list is needed by all pedestrians, such as the need to "be alert and ready to adjust to turning vehicles" and to "safely consider the effects of traffic signs and signals." The book contains no strategies to meet those needs (for example strategies to cope with turning vehicles and consider traffic signals and signs).

The book lists features of street designs that affect pedestrians, including pedestrian signals and traffic signal actuation. I was unable to find any information about how those features affect pedestrians, nor how the features work.

The book has a nice summary of research on the need of blind pedestrians for detectable warnings at street edges. The information about accessible pedestrian signals is almost 10 years old and does not mention features such as locator tones for pedestrian buttons, or responsiveness to ambient sounds.

The book includes the ADA specifications for curb ramps for people in wheelchairs. It does not include information about the needs of people in wheelchairs, such as minimum turn-around space at corners and maximum cross-slopes. A statement in the book that a single, diagonal ramp at street corners probably adequately serves people in wheelchairs does not address the fact that these ramps often require them to go into moving traffic to cross the street.

The chapters about successful programs for teaching pedestrian safety to children give helpful descriptions of what instructional strategies made the programs successful. For example it suggests using videotapes, and explains that hands-on teaching in real situations is more effective than classroom lectures. It does not describe any of the street-crossing strategies that were taught in these programs, nor any strategies for teaching safe pedestrian skills which are specific to children or adults with disabilities. It gives general suggestions for parents to keep their children safe, such as staying next to them whenever traffic is near, and holding their hand when crossing.

The book can be ordered for $20 plus $3 shipping from: Al Vopata, 409 N Bay Country, Wichita, Kansas 67235-1314.

Review by Linda Starner, COMS and Dona Sauerburger, COMS

Foundations of O&M, Second Edition
edited by Bruce Blasch, William Wiener, and Richard Welsh

This new edition of "Big Red," published by the American Foundation for the Blind in 1997, is undoubtedly the most comprehensive book on O&M ever written. It provides information on just about every topic related to O&M. It was apparently not the intent of the book to provide specific O&M techniques; rather, its focus is information that O&M specialists need to understand in order to teach O&M effectively.

The editors have thoughtfully and carefully arranged the chapters under the following broad topics: Human Systems, Mobility Systems, The Learner, and Progression of the Profession. At the end of each chapter is a thorough and well thought-out list of "Suggestions/Implications for O&M Specialists" that concisely summarizes the information presented in the chapter.

The chapters in the first two sections cover such topics as audition, low vision; orientation; kinesiology and sensorimotor functioning; psychosocial dimensions of O&M; mobility systems such as ETAs and other adaptive technology; dog guides; orientation aids; and environmental accessibility.

The third section discusses learning theories and teaching methodolog

ies, and the learners themselves: preschoolers and children; older people; visually impaired people who also have hearing, cognitive, or health impairments; and those who have disabilities other than blindness.

The last section discusses the O&M profession from its inception at Hines 50 years ago through its development in more recent years and throughout the world, as well as a chapter on research and one on the administration of O&M programs.

The book also has an extensive glossary, resources, and an appendix with AER's University O&M Competency Form, Code of Ethics, and certification requirements.

We have reviewed some of the chapters, which follow. Most of these chapters impressed us as being very thorough, useful, easy to understand, up to date, and we look forward to reading the rest of them. We invite you to submit your reflections of other chapters for the next newsletter, as well as anything you wish to add to or disagree with in the chapters we reviewed. Send your reviews and comments to the editor by the deadline (see box on page 2).

The book (ISBN 089128-946-1) costs $68.95 plus $8 shipping in the U.S. ($76.95 total). To order call 800-232-3044 (Fax 412-741-0609) or write their processing center at AFB Press, P.O. 1020, Sewickley PA 15143. Chapter Number:

4 - Audition for the Traveler Who is Visually Impaired (William Wiener and Gary Lawson)

The details of the ear and how it works that are explained in the beginning of this chapter are much more than any O&M instructor would ever need! The rest of the chapter provides extensive, very practical information, including suggestions for optimizing hearing and its use. Topics include interpreting audiometric evaluations, localization, echolocation, traffic sounds, hearing loss, hearing aids and sound amplifications (including recommendations to optimize the use of sounds for O&M tasks for blind travelers with hearing impairments), and the development of hearing in children. This information is often applied specifically to O&M issues and includes updated research and new findings in many of the topics.

6 - The Psychosocial Dimensions of O&M (Richard Welsh)

This chapter provides useful, clear explanations of various psychological and social theories and how they can apply to motivation and teaching O&M. Insights are found throughout the chapter, such as effective ways to provide feedback during lessons, establish goals, deal with anxiety, establish an appropriate level of difficulty in the lessons, disclose risks, involve the family, deal with the public and address the student's self-concept.

10 - Environmental Accessibility (Billie Louise Bentzen)
The information in this chapter is extensive, practical, and easy to understand. Topics include universal design, accessibility of buildings and the hazards and solutions therein, sign legibility and audible signage, accessibility of intersections (including solutions for difficulties in alignment, detecting streets, and accessing traffic signal information), and use of transit and public transportation. A summary of the history of accessibility and advocacy issues for most of these topics helps put them into perspective, makes them more understandable, and is helpful to know when considering advocacy.

11 - Learning Theory and Teaching Methodologies (William Jacobson and Robert Bradley)

This chapter presents a detailed overview of major learning theories. The material is helpful for not only those new to the field of education, but also for those who are a few years away from classes in learning theory. A distinction is made between behavioral and cognitive models, with the emphasis on integration of aspects of the two models for effective O&M instruction.

13 - The Preschool Learner (Annette Skellenger and Everett Hill)
Information in this chapter would be very helpful for teachers of infants and toddlers as well as O&M specialists whose caseloads include young children. The authors make a clear distinction between the process and content of O&M instruction for very young children compared to that of general O&M instruction. Topics include working with families, assessment, structuring of lessons, materials used to facilitate instruction, and the use of senses and motoric systems of the child in lesson content. An appendix gives excellent suggestions for including more advanced O&M skills in the instruction of infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

15 - Learners with Visual and Physical Impairments (Sandra Rosen)
This chapter is probably the most comprehensive source available that provides practical information about the use of wheelchairs, scooters, walkers and other ambulatory aids by people who are blind and have physical impairments. Several O&M specialists who referred to this chapter for information found that it was very helpful and practical.

16- Learners with Visual and Cognitive Impairments (Elga Joffee and Paul Ehresman)
The chapter presents very general information on the instruction of individuals with visual and cognitive impairments, with an emphasis on mental retardation and traumatic brain injury. Also included in the chapter is demographic information and a history of O&M instruction for these learners.

19 - Other Learners with Mobility Limitations (Bruce Blasch, Steven LaGrow, and Lydia Peterson)
This chapter provides useful information for teaching people who have disabilities other than blindness. It has a good explanation of the features of O&M instruction which are effective for teaching people with other disabilities, as well as information about advocacy and public education, and several paragraphs about environmental modification. It also offers suggestions specific for people who have intellectual or learning disabilities, hearing impairments, physical impairments, or traumatic brain injury. Readers would have benefited from also having information about the growing profession of Travel Instructors who have been teaching this population to travel independently for decades. Because it was written before two of the authors participated in a Project Action steering committee, it also does not include information about the competencies which the steering committee considered necessary for instructors to teach people with disabilities other than blindness to travel independently. The section about teaching people who have hearing impairments to travel independently provides good suggestions for teaching them to interact with the public. It states that to teach students who are deaf or hard of hearing, it is important to either learn sign language or use an interpreter. It does not explain any of the issues of using an interpreter to effectively and safely teach independent travel. It also does not give any information about American Sign Language (ASL) which many deaf people use, nor explain that for some of these people, English is a second language which they don't understand well. Readers should know that learning ASL is not simply learning signs, but learning a language that is distinct from English in its grammar and structure, and just as difficult to become fluent in as any other language.

20 - The Development of the Profession of O&M (William Wiener and Eileen Siffermann)
This is probably the most comprehensive coverage that has ever been published of the development of our profession in the U.S. from the 1950's until present time. The authors meticulously gathered information from sources that include organizational and AER Division 9 newsletters to cover the development of certification and its standards, O&M assistant programs, recruitment, salary levels, and more.

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