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Spring 2002 Table of Contents
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IDEA on O&M

By Grace V. Ambrose, Ed.D., Project Coordinator, RT/O&M & VRA
Hunter College & Lighthouse International
Reprinted with permission from the Division on Visual Impairments Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 3.

Recently, I had the good fortune to be sitting around the table with a group of well-respected O&M instructors and a nice bottle of wine. Conversation turned to a discussion of the difficulties associated with trying to provide O&M services to students within the confines of the school day. This discussion led to a disclosure by some of the new instructors in the group to the fact that they were unclear of what their rights were as O&M professionals.

What followed was an insightful discussion led by some of the more, shall we say, seasoned instructors. I took the opportunity to record this conversation and organize the information that came out of it, into the form of a true/false quiz. The good thing is that there are no losers in this exam.

1. True or False - Orientation and Mobility (O&M) is specifically named in the (1997) Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Reauthorization (IDEA Reauthorization).

True.

O&M services have been a bona fide related service since 1975 (when PL 94-142, Education of All Handicapped Children the precursor to IDEA, was enacted). O&M services are specifically named in the (1997) Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Reauthorization (IDEA Reauthorization).

O&M services are named as an example of a related service in the section of the Act that addresses the requirement under IDEA for schools to provide related services to students in special education programs.

Additionally, O&M as a related service is defined in the definitions section of the regulations issued on March 12, 1999 by the United States Department of Education to implement IDEA. The definition appears below.

Definition of O&M from the IDEA regulations.

It appears in the definition section of the regulations and is found in paragraph 6b of Related Services Definition, Section 300.24. 300.24 Related services.

(a) General.

As used in this part, the term related services means transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other support services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes speech-language pathology and audiology services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, including therapeutic recreation, early identification and assessment of disabilities in children, counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services, and medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes. The term also includes school health services, social work services in school, and parent counseling and training.

(b) Individual terms defined.

The terms used in this definition are defined as follows:

(6) Orientation and mobility services -

(i) means services provided to blind or visually impaired students by qualified personnel to enable those students to attain systematic orientation to and safe movement within their environments in school, home, and community; and

(ii) includes teaching students the following, as appropriate:

(A) Spatial and environmental concepts and use of information received by the senses (such as sound, temperature and vibrations) to establish, maintain, or regain orientation and line of travel (e.g., using sound at a traffic light to cross the street);

(B) To use the long cane to supplement visual travel skills or as a tool for safely negotiating the environment for students with no available travel vision;

(C) To understand and use remaining vision and distance low vision aids; and

(D) Other concepts, techniques, and tools.

300.14 Include

As used in this part, the term include means that the items named are not all of the possible items that are covered, whether like or unlike the ones named.

300.23 Qualified personnel

As used in this part, the term qualified personnel means personnel who have met SEA-approved or SEA-recognized (SEA = State Education Agency) certification, licensing, registration, or other comparable requirements that apply to the area in which the individuals are providing special education or related services.

2. True or False - The Academy for Certifying Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP) is specifically named in IDEA as the certifying body for O&M instructors.

False.

The ACVREP is not named in IDEA as the certifying body for O&M instructors.

Under the United States' governmental system known as Federalism, there are specific powers rendered to the Federal government, and specific powers reserved for states. The Federal government retains the right to require states to establish special education programs, and to establish the framework under which these programs function.

The operation and administration of public education within the context of this framework is a power rendered to states. This includes, among many things, the certification of teachers and other school personnel.

Since IDEA is a Federal statute, it does not address how states administer teacher certification programs. It does, however, reinforce the obligation of states to establish procedures for the preparation and retention of personnel in schools. In most states, and specifically in New York State, procedures have not been established subsequent to the passage of the 1997 IDEA amendments that specifically address the retention of teachers who provide O&M as a related service. In New York State, and in other states, personnel retained by schools to teach O&M only are required to hold valid teaching credentials.

Some local school systems in New York State have established their own teacher credentialing systems. These credentialing systems must be consistent with IDEA and with State Education Laws and regulations, and may not serve to weaken the implementation of Federal and State law. Within these restrictions, local school districts, therefore, are able to set teacher credentialing requirements that may differ from those required by the state.

This is where ACVREP comes in. By establishing a credible and rigorous structure for credentialing teachers of O&M, the Academy is benchmarking a certification standard and procedure for those who would provide O&M instruction --- in any setting --- but, in this case, specifically in schools. Modeled on longstanding professional certification standards and procedures, the Academy's protocol for certifying teachers of O&M is one that could be adopted, or adopted by reference, by state or local education teacher credentialing bodies.

3. True or False - The P.E. teacher could, in theory, be allowed to teach O&M to a student in New York State.

True.

In theory, this is true if school districts followed only the New York State certification requirements. School districts where additional requirements are established by the local education agency for related service providers who teach O&M prevents this from happening in those districts. (Editor's note: Grace adds that this is true in all states where the law does not define qualifications of an O&M instructor. Currently in Texas, an O&M instructor must be certified by the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals [ACVREP] or by the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired [AER].)

4. True or False - All O&M instruction must take place during the instructional hour (45 minutes).

False.

When O&M is provided as an IEP mandated related service, the frequency, duration, and location of the service must be specified on the student's IEP. Committees on Special Education are free to set the frequency, duration, and location of services as appropriate to meet student need, based on assessment.

When the O&M assessment demonstrates the need for age-appropriate O&M instruction such as learning concepts of travel in residential areas by age 6 (Ambrose & Corn, 1997) or concepts of travel in complex, unfamiliar areas by age 12 (Ambrose, 1999), O&M instructors have the responsibility to set the frequency, duration and location of services to meet this instructional mandate.

5. True or False - O&M instructors who are providing IEP mandated O&M services are prohibited legally from taking students off campus.

False.

O&M services, as defined in IDEA - "means services provided to blind or visually impaired students by qualified personnel to enable those students to attain systematic orientation to and safe movement within the environments in school, home, and community;."

It is important to remember that O&M services, when provided as a related service, must fulfill the IEP mandate. According to the IDEA definition of O&M as a related service, IEP mandates for O&M must be written to enable students to achieve skills for travel at school, at home, and in the community, as appropriate, based on assessment.

IEP mandates for O&M can specify the school campus, the home, and the community as the location of services.

When IEP mandates specify the location of service as "off campus," it is, therefore, not illegal to take the student "off campus" - in fact, it would be required.

On the other hand, it would not be appropriate to take a student "off-campus" for O&M instruction, if this is not consistent with the student's IEP O&M mandate and goals.

When IEP goals specify instructional settings, schools are out of compliance with the IEP if the student is not taught in those settings. This means it is necessary to complete assessments and determine whether students are functioning at age-appropriate levels off campus. If discrepancies are found, it is necessary to write age-appropriate instructional goals for O&M that are then taught in functional settings.

References

Ambrose, G.V. (2000). A study of sighted children's knowledge of environmental concepts and ability to orient to an unfamiliar, residential environment. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 94(8), 509-521.

Ambrose, G. V. & Corn, A. L. (1997). Impact of low vision on orientation: An exploratory study. RE:view. 29(2), 80-96.


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