Passports to Freedom
Everyone wants to get where they’re going without being afraid of falling or getting lost, but for people who are blind or visually impaired it’s a lot more challenging. Under the skillful guidance of a Braille Institute Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instructor, students learn how to get around independently, safely and with confidence.
Three of our instructors, Yvette Araujo, Karen Mayes, and Tamar Tashjian recently met to talk about their work and its impact on their students. They all are nationally certified and have Master’s Degrees in Special Education with an emphasis on visual impairment and O&M.
Briefly tell us what O&M training is all about.
Braille Institute’s O&M specialists teach our adult students who are legally blind, how to safely navigate familiar and unfamiliar places using a white cane, guide dog, other tools, and their remaining senses. With this training, students regain their independence and can be more active and engage more fully in their communities. Our services are provided at no cost to our students.
How many students do you work with?
We are in high demand! We each have between15-20 students we are actively working with plus many others who wait up to 4-6 months before we can help them. Our students’ needs are diverse so we work with them one-on-one.
What’s the most important skill you teach?
We teach our students to “see” their world in a new way by using their other senses. For example, the tip of the cane helps them navigate safely around upcoming obstacles and locate landmarks. Sounds inform them when and where to go. Feeling changes in texture underfoot or the warm sun on their face helps them know where they are.
How do you start with a new student?
First, we do an assessment of their needs, abilities, and goals. For example, they may want to learn how to get to their college classes, navigate from their house to a local store or how to use public transportation.
What other skills do students need to learn to get around safely?
We start with teaching human guide and basic white cane techniques and etiquette—how to hold and how to walk with the cane correctly. Once the student can get around independently indoors, we offer to teach them more complex skills like walking outdoors, street crossings, and using public transportation. This involves developing their sensory acuity so that they can track cars and people. We place our students in a variety of situations so they can build confidence and learn to problem solve on the go—what to do if you are lost and strategies to help find your way.
What’s your favorite part of the work that you do?
We love seeing the positive change in our students’ life and outlook when they regain their independence and get around on their own. It’s very rewarding to see their lives expand as their confidence grows.