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Summer 2004 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Family Section Editor's Introduction: Continuing in our series of highlighting ways families work on expanded core curriculum skills, this edition focuses on orientation and mobility (O&M). O&M is generally described as specific training to help a child who is blind or visually impaired know where he is in his environment and where he wants to go (orientation). It also helps him be able to carry out a plan to get there (mobility). The daily routines families have—whether it be doing chorus at home, playing at the neighborhood park or shopping at the mall—provide the ideal opportunity for kids with visual impairments to practice their O&M skills, and in turn, develop confidence in their ability to be safe and independent travelers. Probably the greatest challenge of parents is maintaining the important balance between keeping their children safe while allowing for some minor bumps and bruises. As the old saying goes, sometimes the best lessons learned are the ones you've learned the hard way.

Watching My Girls Navigate Their World Together

By Vicki Goodnight, Parent, Spring, TX

Abstract: The author shares the lessons she's learned about orientation and mobility and how she felt recently when her daughters ventured beyond her expectations.

Key Words: blind, family, expanded core curriculum, orientation and mobility

It's amazing to me the issues that each new year brings being the parent of a visually/physically impaired child. How many things we each take for granted every day, even knowing that as parents of our "special" kids we pay extra close attention to these kiddos and what they do daily. This past school year has been an incredible learning experience, not just for my children, but for my husband and me as well.

We have three glorious daughters, our sweet, inquisitive and very active five-year-old Elizabeth, the very lovely, kindhearted and extremely shy Brittany and our tell-it-like-it-is, fun loving Dani. Both Dani and Brittany are thirteen. They are very involved in school and, of course, boys and are as close as twins even if they are stepsisters. There is one major difference though, Dani is visually and physically impaired and is in a wheelchair. That doesn't stop them from doing everything together and they are probably even more creative than most kids their age because of it. But as they have gotten older, watching them spread their wings together has taught me a lesson this year. This was one lesson that scared me to death.

Dani has a power wheelchair (a freedom for which I am eternally grateful) that she got at the end of second grade, four years ago. Though she is visually impaired, she has enough sight to maneuver a chair (another of those eternally grateful things). It took about a month from the time we received the chair to realize that even though she could now go wherever she wanted, whenever she wanted (almost), she didn't. She stayed in one spot until someone directed her to "go...turn right...backup," you get the idea. At that time Dani was already receiving VI services through school and I mentioned this problem to her VI teacher. She suggested that Dani might need an O&M Evaluation. Well, after explaining to me what yet another acronym meant"_ O&M stood for Orientation & Mobility—I thought it sounded great! You mean that there is a specialist that can work with our daughter to make sure she understands directionality, the space in which she moves and the movement itself? Wow! Yes! Sign us up! So, of course we had an ARD on this and determined that Dani did need such a program, even if only an evaluation to begin with, because as we all know, you can't get a service without first having an evaluation.

They came and did this evaluation and then suggested Dani needed brightly colored cue cards to lead her around the school. These cards showed her where to stop for class, where the nurse was, the door to outside, etc. These signs were neon colored and placed where Dani's field of vision would be. That was it. That was what Dani's O&M evaluation provided. Such a simple little change that no one thought to try before and guess what? It worked, for a while that is.

Blessedly, I discovered TSVBI this year and our family has benefited in so many ways throughout the year because of them. Going in to all the ways would be a book so I'll talk about what is relevant for us now. Through TSVBI, I have found the ability to keep searching until I find what Dani needs, the ability to actually say "my daughter is visually impaired" and most importantly putting those two things together and realizing that there is help out there from those who have done this before. We aren't as alone as we thought.

Well, I started this story talking about Dani and Brittany growing up. You see, I have realized this year how Dani has compensated to deal with her vision impairment and the mobility issue. At school Dani traverses mainly empty hallways and has those visual cues especially for her. At home she has a lifetime of knowledge of how to get around. Outside those front doors however, is a whole world of places with no brightly colored signs designed to lead her around, no well worn wheelchair path in the carpet and millions of corners without the telltale gouges in the drywall from close encounters with a 350 pound power chair. Dani has let her sister be her guide-her eyes to the world if you will. Brittany will stand between her and the curb or hold her hand over Dani's to guide her through crowded spaces making sure to keep Dani and others safe.

Just last weekend the two, joined by a friend, decided to go to the Eckerd's at the front of our subdivision by themselves. When I told them they could walk up there, you would have thought they had won the lottery they were so excited. Into their room they went to collect money, and of course, fix hair and makeup because we all know how important it is to look your best when going for a thirty-minute walk in the 93-degree heat. They packed up a bag with water, a cell phone and snacks (taking snacks when you are headed to the store is also a must). Well, my husband and I had errands to run as well and left before they were ready to go. Halfway between our second and third stop I chickened out. I couldn't help thinking that it's too hot for Dani and she won't know to tell Brittany, they'll need something and I won't be there… yada, yada, yada. I finally begged my husband to go home so we could at least drop the girls off at Eckerd's. Surely, it would be just as fun if they just walked home after being at Eckerd's alone, right?? I was wrong, but close.

After dropping them off at the store, we continued our errands. Two hours later, I still had not heard from them that they had made it safely home. As I once again am making my husband speed across town towards home, I called them on my cell phone and Brittany answers the phone, obviously out of breath but otherwise fine saying they were almost home. "What! You were at Eckerd's for two hours??" The reply I received scared the daylights out of me. Brittany said that they finished at Eckerd's a long time ago and crossed the road to go to the pharmacy on the other side. At first I thought that this was no big deal because I knew that they would be crossing roads while heading either to or from the store. Then it struck me that the road they had to cross was a major four lane road with a turning lane and no crosswalks. My heart did not quit pounding for days (as a matter of fact I am doing deep breathing exercises with a paper sack right now). Upon my arrival home, I discovered that not only did they enjoy the pleasures of shopping, and cross a major road they had no business being near, but they also added to their adventure by stopping at a pizza parlor on the opposite corner on the way home. (Yes, that meant they crossed the same busy intersection again.) Other than being grounded for the next century for doing things that were so obviously against the rules that they did not need to be verbalized, they survived. Despite the terrible fear that I experienced after the fact, I did realize they are growing up and remembered what it was like to find freedom at that age.

Though it warms my heart to see these girls so close, another thought recently struck home: Brittany is not always going to walk beside her sister! The time is fast approaching that their wings are going to spread in different directions, they will fly to different ends of the earth and Dani needs to be able to face those curbs alone.

As my husband and I contemplate the monumental task of teaching Dani how to navigate through a sea of blur in a world dominated by cues for the non-visually-impaired people, I remember that long-ago experience when I first heard the VI teacher explaining O&M to me. Empowered by the memory and armed with new knowledge gained from the oodles of information shared by TSVBI, I decide that its time to request more services from the O&M specialist. It's time for our daughter to learn how to make her way in the world.

She needs to learn to navigate this world so she can do what all girls her age do: go to the mall; go to the movies; hang out at the skating rink; or even just take a walk down the street to check out the cute new boy who just moved in. These are skills that our other children learned by watching (OK, not checking out the new boy) but Dani needs to be taught. Though I know we are ultimately responsible for her knowledge, I also know that some tasks are more than we can handle alone and that there are people out there trained to do this who want to help us.

It took us thirteen years to realize (and accept) this need and we have a lot of catching up to do to prepare Dani for her future. I'm just appreciative of all the lessons we learned this year and look forward to facing the new ones we've yet to discover!

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Last Revision: September 1, 2010