Orientation and Mobility
University and College Personnel Preparation Programs
Click here for the list of university O&M programs
What is a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS)?
Orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists teach people who are blind or visually impaired the skills and concepts they need in order to travel independently and safely, be it in the home and classroom, or in the community and city. Some O&M specialists teach visually impaired children in school programs, others teach adults in rehabilitation settings.
For a glimpse into the O&M profession, you can listen to a podcast featuring O&M Specialist Katt Jones and her client Marco, hosted by Casey Miner as a project of San Francisco's KALW public radio.
This page lists university programs that offer the coursework and internships required to be eligible to sit for the exam to become certified by the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP) as Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists (COMS).
Programs that are approved by the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) are indicated with an asterick.
What can a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS) do?
Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists (COMS) are all qualified to teach independent orientation and travel skills to any person who has a visual impairment, including both children and adults; visually impaired people with multiple disabilities; and those who have a lot of remaining functional vision as well as those who are totally blind. However in many school systems, in order to teach visually impaired children, the orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist may be required to also have the teaching credentials that are required of all school teachers in that state. For a paper outlining the roles and responsibilities of O&M specialists, click here.
How can I become a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS)?
Information about becoming a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist is on the website of ACVREP.
Requirements include passing an exam, which can be taken only after completing coursework which covers the required competencies and completing an internship, all of which are offered by the AER-approved programs listed below.
There are a number of ways that students can get the required preparation. Most Certified O&M Specialists are prepared through a graduate program which leads to a Master's Degree.
Some are prepared through undergraduate programs which lead to a Bachelor's Degree.
There are now also many "Certification Programs" which qualify people to sit for the ACVREP exam and become certified without leading to a degree; these Certification Programs are offered to people who simply want to add O&M Certification to an existing degree.
All Certification Programs require a Bachelor's Degree, and some require a degree related to visual impairment.
Most Masters Degree programs prepare O&M specialists in about 12 months or three semesters, including the practicum and an internship.
Adding specialties or dual programs will take longer, and people who are seeking only to become eligible to be ACVREP certified through a Certification Program (without an additional degree) will take less time.
Some of these programs are taught throughout an entire calendar year, and some are taught throughout several consecutive summers ("summers only" programs) or other special schedules for people who are working or cannot attend a traditional program.
Some programs are provided entirely "on campus," and some are off-campus programs offered at distant sites in other cities (the extent and frequency of visits required at the home campus varies), or through a combination of program features including interactive media such as internet and satellite seminars. Online programs may be one or a combination of the following:
asychronous online classes where you can go online any time and participate in discussions, view lectures, etc, and/or
synchronous ("real time") online classes
where you have to view and participate in the class live when it is happening, perhaps with a webcam or in a remote classroom, or take a test at a certain time or within a certain time interval.
Each program includes instruction in the techniques needed for independent travel while the students simulate blindness or low vision with blindfolds or vision simulators. This training takes place in natural environments including in communities outside of the campus, even for those programs that are provided "on campus."
The internship usually lasts several months at the end of the program. Internships are often done at facilities which provide O&M services to visually impaired people and which cooperate with the university or college program, but most programs can also arrange to have students do their internship at locations which are geographically convenient for the student and/or which offer experiences that the student wishes to acquire.
ACVREP, and the AER-approved university programs all have a policy of nondiscrimination. People with disabilities, including those who are blind or visually impaired, are accepted in the AER-approved O&M personnel preparation programs, and graduates who are blind, as well as those who are visually impaired or have other disabilities, have been granted unconditional certification by ACVREP as COMS.
Which program is best for me?
All the univerity/college O&M personnel preparation programs prepare qualified, competent O&M specialists who can serve any visually impaired person, including children and adults.
However many of them have optional programs or additional courses in topics which students may wish to add to their core curriculum to provide additional preparation to work in specific circumstances, such as geriatrics, multiple disabilities, deaf-blindness, low vision, or courses that lead to teachers' credentials.
In addition, some offer programs which graduate students with dual preparation.
For example students can become dually prepared to be both an O&M specialist and a Rehabilitation Teacher (teaching daily living skills to visually impaired adults and sometimes to children); or to be both an O&M specialist and a Teacher of Visually Impaired Children (teaching academic and communication skills to visually impaired children); or an O&M specialist and a Low Vision Therapist.
These programs generally require more time to complete.
Prospective students who have special interests might consider those programs which would best prepare them for that specialty.
For example they can specialize to work with people who are deaf-blind or elderly, and if they plan to teach children they will probably need preparation that qualifies them for state teachers' credentials.
If they want to be qualified in specialties in addition to O&M, such as being a Teacher of Visually Impaired Children, or a Rehabilitation Teacher, they can register for dual programs.
If they have special scheduling and geographical needs that can't be met with programs on campus, they can look at off-campus program options including those provided on line.
This publication is arranged to help readers find the programs that will suit their needs.
An outline of which universities and colleges offer each kind of program is below.
For more information, or for information about the AER Orientation and Mobility Division's annual scholarship, contact AER at: AER@aerbvi.org; 703-823-9690; Fax: 703-823-9695; P.O. Box 22397; Alexandria, Virginia 22304; www.aerbvi.org).