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Winter 2000 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)


By Diane Barnes, Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialist Region 13 Education Service Center, Austin, Texas


As part of the Functional Vision Evaluation / Learning Media Assessment, VI teachers are required to determine if an evaluation by a Certified Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist is needed. Specific skill areas that may impact a child's present and/or future travel skills should be assessed. These skills relate to safe and efficient travel. Instruction in these areas may influence the child's developmental growth, which in turn may impact the level of travel skills he or she may develop. For example, will he develop skills that will allow him to travel only in familiar areas, with extensive orientation, or in very structured settings? Or can he be independent in both familiar and unfamiliar areas?

VI teachers focus on skills which impact the child's functioning in the home and school environment. These skill areas include, but are not limited to: visual efficiency, motor planning, concept development, environmental awareness, object identification and interest, and communication. They employ a variety of strategies to assess these vision skills with infants and young children such as presenting an object or toy at close range, from a specific side, or by moving it. They generally use toys or objects that are brightly colored, have auditory feedback and light sources, or which have been adapted with contrasts. This also helps to encourage optimum participation and interaction by the child during the assessment.

When considering the child's travel skills, the home environment is generally the most controllable environment. Once the child moves into the school environment, the environment can continue to be controlled to some extent. For instance a student might be given additional time to travel from place to place, curbs or steps can be painted brightly, highly contrasting colors used between walls and flooring, and so forth. However, beyond the home and school settings, the child's travel environment is less accommodating and more unpredictable. It is important to address travel skills in both familiar and unfamiliar environments or environments and situations that are less than ideal. On-going exposure to and guidance in handling these types of situations plays a significant role in helping the child acquire the skills needed for travel in both familiar and unfamiliar environments. In addition, instruction may also impact whether she will be able to travel without the use of a cane, needs to use a cane all the time or only in certain situations, knows when the cane is needed, and can interpret and properly respond to cane feedback.


Listed below are some O&M related activities that address these critical skill areas. These are also activities which can assist the VI teacher in determining the need for an O&M referral.

  • Place an item to the right of the child, and have her to reach for it with her left hand; reverse the process. Place item at midline and have child reach for it with alternating hands. This helps develop the ability to cross midline, extend the arm, reach for and contact an object; all of which are critical to success in using a cane.
  • Place pillows on the floor and have child sit and/or stand on them as she reaches for items placed on the couch. This works on coordination and balance necessary for negotiating steps, curbs, wheelchair ramps, or broken sidewalks.
  • Occasionally change the location of an object from where the child expects an item to be located. For example, a favorite toy changes from being stored on the left on the first shelf to being stored on the right or on the next shelf up. A toy basket moves from a spot by the bedroom door to the closet. These types of situations teach such skills as problem solving, route planning, visual searching, tolerance/patience, and soliciting aid. Learning these kinds of skills may allow a child to develop the ability to progress beyond being a "route traveler."
  • Start with completely covering/concealing a familiar item, and have the child to try to identify it as you reveal it little by little. This builds the ability to interpret part, whole, and "clutter." She will need this ability for example, so she can identify a newspaper stand partially obscured by a trash can from a distance. It also helps develop patience and tolerance, problem solving, vision efficiency, and the ability to identify landmarks.
  • Align floor mats, crumbled blankets and towels, and small rugs turned up on one corner in a path on the floor and have the child negotiate these items as she comes to you. This helps to develop a tolerance of terrain changes and works on motor planning and control.
  • Provide instructions to your child with music in the background, the window open, or the washing machine or vacuum cleaner going. This helps teach him not be startled by a trash can knocked over by a dog as he is preparing to cross the street or become distracted by kids opening and closing lockers as he walks down the hall.


If the child demonstrates difficulty at any point with any of these activities, it is probably an indication that the VI teacher needs to make a referral for an O&M assessment. In most instances the VI teacher can ask herself a simple question: Is the child visually impaired and moving (scooting, crawling, pulling up on furniture, walking, reaching)? If the answer to this question is "yes", then the VI teacher should give her O&M Instructor a call to discuss the need for a referral. Determining the O&M needs of children with visual impairments has to be an on-going assessment process. This requires a strong collaborative relationship between the vision teacher and a certified O&M Instructor. Through this collaborative process, the vision teacher should be able to determine when it is necessary for the O&M Instructor to provide direct intervention with the child.