Orientation and Mobility in Texas

The Constant Contact Newsletter

 taer logo      The Division 9 O&M Interest of TAER

Message from the Chair…

First, I want to thank you for your vote of confidence in me as your chair.  I look forward to serving you for the next two years.  As I sit down to write you I am in many forms of transition in my life.  My two youngest guys just graduated high school and headed off to college this fall, so this next year I will transition to an empty nest. This means that I will have three in college, so I am also transitioning into no expendable income!  I have aging parents that need more and more attention, so I am also transitioning into a new phase of caregiver.

In my career, I have witnessed many transitions in our field.  I sat in the AAWB Division 9 business meeting in 1978 where it was discussed that individuals with a bachelor’s degree in O&M were not qualified for certification/to teach. I watched the merger of AAWB and AEVH into AER.  I have witnessed the ever-changing designs in intersections and traffic control devices.  I remember how easy it was to teach at two or four lane plus-shaped intersections with pre-timed lights.  You could hear the mechanism clicking as additional information to determine when the light was about to change. I have to admit I sometimes wish we still had those square, predictable intersections again.  I have witnessed the transition when adult services only wanted to offer a few hours of instruction for a client to the current full emersion center-based program.  I have watched services transition from complete freedom in instruction to highly structured lessons with accountability.  I sometimes ache for those days when my creative juices were truly allowed to flow.  I have witnessed report writing go from handwritten reports that were then typed on a typewriter (without correction tape, mind you) to highly sophisticated computer technology through the “air” on Dropbox.  I remembered when I traveled over an eight county area without a cell phone, and today you’d have to pry my iPhone from my hands.  This required a stash of many quarters to use the payphone when you could find a working one.  I remember when I could transport students in my car which allowed for many teachable moments like putting gas in my car, and the flexibility of changing a lesson at the last minute because of an interest the student got into the car with.  I remember spending 98% of my time teaching/traveling and 2% completing paperwork and now the paperwork requirements take up some of that instructional time and/or my evenings and weekends.  All of this is to say that we have had many changes in our field over my career, some good, some bad, some repeating, and some evolving.  Overall, I think it is beneficial that our field is in transition all the time. It makes us more accountable and that we must look at ways to make life more accessible to our students.  I think changes can make our creative juices flow so that we don’t become complacent in our jobs.

In talking with the new board for the Division 9 interest group, we feel committed to address the issues in the field.  Last fall at SWOMA, we asked the field to speak out and discuss the issues they are dealing with on a day to day basis, and how those issues impact their job.  This board will be taking a look at these issues and gradually addressing them in the conferences we plan, the newsletters we write, and the committees we form.  What do you have a passion about?  That might be an area you could help address over the next two years.  I’ve ask our board to tell you a little about themselves and their number one “passion” related to our field. Come join us!

Meet your board…

melanie white     Chair:   Melanie White

I have worked for the Bluebonnet Co-op for Students with Visual Impairments (western Tarrant County, Parker County, Palo Pinto County, Wise County, and nine districts) for 18 years.  This is my 35th year as a COMS.  I graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University in 1977.  My first job was at the Fort Worth Lighthouse for the Blind working with adults.  I also have worked at Fort Worth ISD, Dallas Services for Visually Impaired Children (a private preschool for blind and visually impaired children), and Arlington ISD.  I owned my own company, Have Cane Will Travel, Inc. and served both adults and students in the Region 11 area.  Each of these experiences has greatly influenced me and my approach to O&M. I have been married for 37 years as of August. I have three great young men: Kevin at A&M Galveston, Andrew at Tarleton, and Chris at Blinn/A&M College Station. The greatest influence on my teaching was working with adults because it placed me in the trenches of reality and helped me hone in on the priorities of skills that I needed to teach. I also learned so much from the adults I worked with. I feel strongly about the dignity of the individuals I work with and feel it is my duty to offer the best services I can.  As many of you know I feel passionate about accessibility in all areas, especially environmental access.

     Vice Chair:  Vance Lankford

My name is Vance Lankford and I work at ESC Region 15 in San Angelo, Texas.  I have been an Orientation and Mobility Specialist for over 25 years all in the San Angelo area being at the ESC for 22 of those years.  Along with the O/M at the ESC, I also work with some Adaptive PE and in the past worked with the Ropes training course.  I graduated from Stephen F. Austin (SFA) in 1985 with Orientation and Mobility and received a Masters in Visual Impairment again from SFA in 2007.  I married Jessica the same year that I started at Region 15 now having five children, Emily, Katie, Ethan, Kaleb and Joshua. I love to play sports especially basketball and softball, yes even at my advanced age.   There are so many people I have met that influence me from that special teacher or principal that treats our VI students just like every other student or the many TVI professionals that I have worked in our region.  Bob and Bill have continued to be influences on me because they gave me my start and taught me the basics from cane travel to low vision.  I am certain there are many others that I could name.  I continue to feel good about receiving the 1999 Best Practices Award at TAER, mainly owing that to my colleagues and especially the students that I was working with at the time.  Sometimes when I think that O&M is just a small part of our students’ lives but then look at the other side of that.  O&M can have so much influence on a person’s life.  O&M can help show people how they can be independent, even helpful to others, productive and have confidence in all areas of their life.  I like to think that a visually impaired person can reach their greatest potential having some support to get there, and then live in society just like everyone else being independent.

kassy heil       Secretary:  Kassy Heil

As a native Floridian, I am a proud Seminole and alumni of The Florida State University. There, I earned both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Visual Disabilities. My graduate work also included an emphasis on Early Intervention and Orientation and Mobility. It was during those formative years that I met the person who has continued to make the most influential impact on my career, Dr. Sandra Lewis. Her words of wisdom and encouragement continue to guide my teachings.

I am fascinated by developmental patterns of movement in a variety of settings and hosts. My life includes not only looking at movement from an O&M perspective, but as a certified yoga instructor and avid rock climber as well. Luckily, I have been fortunate enough to pursue these passions for the past five years as a part of the great Orientation and Mobility team here at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. I cherish the fact that my life allows me to make a difference in the lives of others and am excited to work with our other Division 9 board members as we further that mission.

teryl boland     Teryl Boland – Newsletter Editor

I recently completed my first year as an Orientation and Mobility Specialist serving Killeen ISD in Region 12.  This fall I began a new adventure as a Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments at TSBVI while completing the coursework for my TVI certification as well as an additional certificate in Autism and Sensory Impairments through Texas Tech University. I received my M.Ed. in Special Education from Texas Tech in August of 2011 when I also completed my O&M certification coursework.  I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge into working in the classroom, but will be pursuing O&M contract work to continue to fulfill my passion for O&M.  My desire to work with individuals with visual impairments stems from my elderly Granddad who is legally blind due to age related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts but maintains his independence through modifications to his environment and quite a lot of determination.  The area I feel most strongly about in our field is the need for advocacy.  It is our responsibility to empower our students or consumers toward a life of self-advocacy in order to be successful members of our community.

  scott addison     Member-at-Large:  Scott Addison

I am an Orientation and Mobility Consultant doing direct delivery at Region 14 Education Service Center in Abilene.  I will complete my eighth year working as an orientation and mobility specialist this summer.  Prior to becoming “certified” I worked as a residential instructor, teaching assistant and substitute at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.  I have also coordinated and worked many summer camps for youth with visual impairment.  I completed my O&M coursework and M.Ed. at Texas Tech. I enjoy travel, should be no surprise coming from a COMS!  I walk, hike, bicycle, go to the gym and drive really cool fast cars!  No spouse, kids or dogs!! My influential event would have to be my initial hiring at TSBVI.  I hired on as a “house parent” at then Texas School for the Blind in 1985.  I was seeking state employment after completing an undergrad in psychology when I landed on the TSB campus.  I was immediately interested in mobility, just took me a few years to get around to it!  I believe strongly in self-sufficiency and independence.  Everyone has the right to the areas of learning that will enable the individual to rise to their own highest level of independence.  I truly enjoy teaching in one of those areas, orientation and mobility!

 lori graham      Member-at-Large:  Lori Graham

My name is Lori Graham and I am from Chandler, Tx.  I am a proud SFA Lumberjack and received my Orientation and Mobility certification in July of 2011.  I am also a Registered Nurse since 1995 after graduating from the University of Texas in Tyler. I currently work at Brownsboro ISD, where I serve as a COMS and School Health Services Coordinator. I have 2 wonderful sons that are my pride and joy.  Logan is 19 and attends the University of Texas at San Antonio where he is a member of the Air Force ROTC. Landon is 21 and just graduated from SFA in August with a degree in Orientation and Mobility and will take his certification exam soon.  My inspiration in this field comes from the accomplishments, big or small, that my students make each day and the joy it brings to them and their families.  I have loved this new journey in my life and look forward to serving in this field for many years to come.

Issues Facing COMS in the Workplace – SWOMA Nov. 2011

Last November at SWOMA one session was planned to discuss the issues facing COMS in the workplace.  There were so many that there was not time to address solutions in the one hour session.  The Division 9 board will begin to gradually address some of the issues. Below is a list of issues brought up at SWOMA last fall.  Which of these concerns is your passion and what are you willing to do to solve it?

  • Caseloads
  • Service Times
  • Supervisor Support
  • Limited travel money for University personnel to observe interns
  • Too many hats – multiple non O&M tasks cutting into time to teach O&M
  • IEP goals driven by trying to avoid lawsuits (what is best for child-district influence)
  • District policy that does not allow outdoor lesson in rain, above 90 degrees, below 40 degrees
  • TEA requiring changes in how frequency and duration is stated in ARD minutes – must be written per week
  • Requiring that all learning past public school be auditory
  • Lack of equipment once student leave public school
  • Not enough time to have regular team meetings with other educators and support staff
  • Cuts in transportation for taking students off campus
  • Cut backs in staff
  • Districts still requiring that O&M IEP goals be aligned with TEKS
  • Support personnel that do not want to evaluate students for FIE for disabilities beyond VI/O&M
  • Retirement of COMS/TVIs and not enough new one to replace them
  • Proliferation of paperwork vs. providing services to kids
  • Needing to learn non-O&M skills in order to fulfill multiple roles
  • Students do not have enough time in their schedule for O&M instruction
  • Current graduates not finding jobs
  • Having TVIs responsible for referring O&M evaluations
  • Transition of students from TSBVI back to their school districts is often rough for students due to lack of follow-through
  • O&M certification courses no longer requiring Braille
  • Availability of after school lesson and summer lessons

Participants in session:

20% adults

20% both

80% children

Over 90% now use district vehicles to take kids off campus

Upcoming Events:

SWOMA – November 1-3 – Theme: “Get a Move On: A Smorgasbord of O&M Topics”  -  Austin, TX at TSBVI

SWOMA has a strong agenda planned with sessions on: driving with bioptics, echolocation with Dan Kish, how to teach light rail, O&M for babies, O&M for nursing home residents, O&M for MIVI, O&M for individuals with orthopedic issues, using interpreters, electronic paperwork programs, contracting with DARS, and developing listening skills for O&M.  As you can see there is a great deal of relevant information being presented. Check out the TSBVI website and plan to attend.

14th Annual Sowell Center lecture series – November 17, 2012 – Travel with Students with Visual Impairments in a Complex Environment – Lubbock, TX at Texas Tech University

The Virginia Murray Sowell Center for Research and Education in Sensory Disabilities invites you to its 14th annual lecture series on Saturday, November 17, 2012. The theme of the lecture is Travel with Students with Visual Impairments in a Complex Environment by Lucas Franck and Janet, M. Barlow. ACVREP credit is available for Orientation and Mobility Specialists.

The lecture is intended to help participants gain useful information on:

  • Effective strategies that persons with visual impairments can use to travel safely in their environments.
  • Knowledge and teaching strategies that orientation and mobility specialists can use to assist students and travelers who have visual impairments.
  • Ways to engage in effective consultative collaboration with traffic personnel, city planners and other professionals to advocate for changes in the infrastructure, so as to ensure safety during travel for persons with visual impairments.
  • Research based evidence and practical experiences on techniques that can provide effective solutions to travel barriers.

Please see the link below for details about registration and participation.


TAER – March 21-23 – Theme: “All for One and One for All” Dallas, TX

AER O&M Survey Opportunity:

During the AER International Conference in Bellevue, WA this past July, the 2010-2012 AER Board of Directors unanimously passed the proposal to hold an AER O&M Conference in 2013. Those who attended the O&M business meeting were informally polled in which the majority raised their hands for New Orleans in December, similar to the 2003 O&M conference.

Our conference committee is hard at work planning the 2013 conference but before we go any further WE NEED TO HEAR FROM YOU!  Please take this quick 10 second survey to help us plan accordingly.  Thank you!!


Useful Weblinks:

  • If you haven’t been to VisionAware before, you really need to check it out.  The site offers a tremendous amount of great resources for persons dealing with vision loss.  Find great advice and resources from Maureen Duffy on the VisionAware Blog — there is a lot more to it.  VisionAware is part of AFB’s family of websites.  Pris Rogers and Maureen Duffy are working to bring you the resources needed for adjustment to vision loss.  They offer up-to-date information on eye conditions, research, and treatments.Check it out today at:
  • “Telling Your Story” is a free tool that persons with disabilities, family members, and other advocates can use to compose and practice the personal story they’ll present to elected public officials or other policymakers at all levels of government when seeking policy changes or increasing awareness about disability issues.To access this app click on the following link: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/telling-your-story/id541403749
  • Order an y apparel from the website below or send them items you own and want embroidered with an O&M logo.  Call Mary at Incredible Engravings with any questions. http://www.companycasuals.com/om/start.jsp

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Category: O&M, SWOMA

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