O & M: Enforcing Skills for Independence

By Jessica Minneci

An example of a sighted guide assisting
someone who is visually impaired Visuallyimpaired individuals, such as myself, often have a difficult time orientingthemselves to a new setting. In these instances, people may ask for assistance.Unfortunately, most of the time, the help they receive is not “helpful.”

For example,could you imagine having trouble receiving proper guidance to a seat in arestaurant? Sadly, I have experienced this issue multiple times in the past.One afternoon, my legally blind friend and I decided to eat at a local pizzarestaurant. Upon entering the diner, my friend asked the hostess if she couldlead us to a table. The hostess, not seeing both of our canes, was confused.She proceeded to tell us that the table was “over there.” I thanked thehostess, but explained to her that we were both legally blind and couldn’t seewhere she was pointing. My friend asked for sighted guide to our table, meaningthat the hostess should offer my friend her elbow. My friend would hold on toher elbow and I would hold on to my friend’s other arm. If it was a narrow pathwayto our table, the hostess would have to put her arm behind her back to let myfriend know that she should walk behind the hostess and so should I. When sheturns, she should tell us, “turning right” or “turning left.”

After a bit ofhesitation, the hostess guided my friend and I through a narrow pathway ofclosely-spaced tables. Upon reaching our table, she was about to leave. Weasked her which table was ours, the one to our left or the one to our right.She said, “The one to your right.” I heard her turn again to leave andhurriedly asked, “Would you mind clarifying where the table is again? Please,put my hand on the back of my chair so that I know where it is.” Reluctantly,the hostess did as I asked and flounced off as my friend and I were finally seated.

Of course, thisinstance is just one of many encounters in which a sighted individual lacks theinformation needed to assist people with visual impairments. Other issueshappen when a blind person is pulled across a street or when someone grabs a guidedog’s harness handle in an attempt to direct the team onto a train. Suchproblems have taken place in my life and in the lives of my friends. In orderto stop these situations from taking shape in the future, everyone should havea basic understanding of orientation and mobility training, lessons that teachblind individuals how to become independent and people with full vision how tobest assist a visually impaired person.

In the originalscenario, if the hostess had known O & M, she may have looked closely at myfriend and I and noticed our white canes. After we asked for assistance to ourseats, she could have easily offered my friend her elbow and put her arm behindher back as we walked through the cluster of tables. She could have stopped atour desired seat, used left and right directions to orient us to where thetable was, and, without hesitation, could have put our hands on our chairs.Lastly, she could have asked us if we needed any further guidance before sheleft, and if not, bid us a polite goodbye.

A couple tidbitsof knowledge can go a long way. Understanding O & M practices allows thefully sighted and the visually impaired individuals to work together to makethe event meaningful to one another. The sighted person may be confident andelated that she knows how to help while visually impaired people feelaccommodated and not embarrassed that they had to ask and explain how theyneeded to be guided. On top of that, neither party will be embarrassed byhaving to go through so much trouble just to get a seat. Therefore, I encourageyou to learn more about O & M so that you can help yourself to betterassist others.

Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialists are experts who teach people who are blind or visually impaired the skills needed to travel safely and live independently. What happens when the specialist isn’t around? How do family and friends learn about O&M? Check out the new book Partners in O&M: Supporting Orientation and Mobility for Students Who are Visually Impaired. You can buy it now here:
Jess Minneci is a senior at Seton Hill University and an intern at APH. She is a three-time National Braille Challenge participant and has previously volunteered with ACB. She is a poet and aspiring novelist who enjoys filming youtube videos about young adult novels and spending time with her guide dog Joyce.

Stan Greenwood
A humble human, who is always found working on something or drinking coffee. A perfect introvert who talks barely anything but shares a lot through his blog posts at FredForum.

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