People with Disabilities Can Teach Orientation and Mobility: A Convert's Perspective
Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, January-February 1996
By Dona Sauerburger, COMS

The following essay was written as part of a "Point/Counter-point" column on the question "Can Persons Who Are Blind or Have Other Disabilities Safely and Effectively Teach Orientation and Mobility?" The column included two authors on each side of the debate. This essay responds to arguments in opposing essays that 1) blind O&M specialists would not be able to handle clients who, because of emotional problems, try to run away from the O&M instructor, and 2) the instructional program would require fundamental alteration because of the necessity of blind O&M specialists to teach only certain parts of the curriculum.

In 2002 the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) passed a resolution supporting blind Orientation and Mobility Specialists. Click here for the text of that resolution.

Until relatively recently, I thought that the only way by which students could learn to travel independently is to teach them the way I was taught 25 years ago. This includes a stage in which the instructor is at an intermediate distance (about 6-10 feet) from the student. At this distance, the sighted instructor can still monitor and intervene quickly if needed while the student experiences pseudo-independence. I also thought that O&M specialists must be able to teach all visually impaired students in all situations. Because I thought that a blind person could not monitor and provide for safety from an intermediate distance in all situations (for example where noises made it impossible to hear the student), I thought that blind people could not teach O&M.

I think that everyone, even those of us who teach blind people to use alternative techniques, has difficulty accepting that things can be accomplished effectively in ways other than those to which we are accustomed. During the last several years, however, I have slowly opened my mind, and most recently my thinking was rechanneled by working with a panel of three O&M specialists who have disabilities: Pam Matheson, who uses a wheelchair (see "Teaching O&M from a Wheelchair"), Harold Snider, who is blind, and Ray Van Zleer, who has a hearing disability.

We discovered that O&M specialists with various disabilities share certain strategies for teaching O&M. However, most of these strategies are really variations of what all effective O&M specialists do.

These strategies are that they:

We all have weaknesses, as well as strengths and specialized skills and knowledge. None of us can be effective instructors for all students in all situations. Competent O&M specialists know their limitations, and when the student or situation presents special needs beyond their capabilities or expertise, they get assistance or consultation, or they refer the student to another specialist. For example, if my responsibilities included preventing clients from running away during our lessons, I would require assistance because I'm not physically capable of catching and restraining them. I also need more expertise to be an effective instructor for children who have multiple disabilities, and some O&M specialists refer or consult with me about their deaf-blind clients.

I am now convinced that, even though their teaching strategies and techniques may differ from mine, people with disabilities can effectively teach their students to become independent travelers while providing for their safety.

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