Learning to travel safely is an essential skill for people living with vision loss. This is especially true when traveling outdoors, even in a well-known environment such as one’s own neighborhood. And those skills are even more important when navigating unfamiliar territory. If you just received your first mobility cane, proper training is critical to your success. If you are an experienced cane user, a quick refresher course can sharpen your skills.
An Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist is a certified instructor who has received specialized training in teaching people who are blind or visually impaired to travel safely and to navigate their environments independently.
Canes are available in different styles and even colors, many offered by our Sharper Vision Store. However, a cane that is white – often tipped in red – signifies that a pedestrian has a visual impairment. In Wisconsin, state law mandates that pedestrians carrying white canes have absolute privilege to cross the street in safety, and that cars must stop at least 10 feet from them.
The thought of using a white cane can be intimidating. But with proper training from an O&M Specialist, along with practice by the user, the white cane is a tool that can increase safety and confidence when traveling. Learning to use the cane can change your life for the better by enabling you to move through your environment independently without relying on someone who has sight to guide you.
An O&M Specialist will teach protective techniques when moving around without a cane, as well as how to best instruct people in your life to provide sighted assistance as needed. They will teach you when it is appropriate to use a cane, when to use a sighted guide, and whether a guide dog might be useful. They will help prepare you for guide dog training and support you as your needs change.
O&M instruction includes planning routes, bus travel, appropriate technology assessment, safety techniques, and supplemental training for guide dog users. O&M Specialists work with people across the life span, teaching children in pre-school and school programs as well as adults of all ages. They work with people in their homes, neighborhoods, school/college environments, worksites and other public settings. You may benefit from a refresher course of O&M training if your health or vision has changed, if you’ve changed jobs, or if you’ve moved to a new neighborhood or city.
The Wisconsin State Office for the Blind and Visually Impaired (OBVI) has regional rehabilitation specialists throughout the state who can assist with access to O&M training. You can find contacts for every Wisconsin county on the OBVI website.
The Council can also help. We are excited to announce that we are adding O&M training to our list of vision services starting in the fall. Watch for more information in the coming weeks on our website and in our newsletters and social media.