Orientation and Mobility Assessment
An orientation and mobility (O&M) assessment examines a child’s ability to travel safely indoors and outdoors, with or without assistance. An O&M instructor, a professional with specialized training in teaching travel skills and concepts such as spatial awareness, will conduct the assessment.
While some teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs) are dually certified in O&M, others will have some basic knowledge of orientation and mobility yet are not qualified to assess your child’s skills and needs for O&M instruction.
If you have concerns about your child’s ability to move safely and independently in the environment and your child is not receiving O&M services, discuss your concerns and ask other educational team members for a referral for an O&M assessment.
The assessment usually involves interviews and observation to see if your child would benefit from formal O&M instruction. O&M assessments are conducted for children of all ages and ability levels. Including children who are not yet walking, those in wheelchairs, and those who may never travel unassisted. If your child is receiving O&M services as part of their educational program, as included on the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) or Individualized Education Program (IEP), then at minimum, an O&M assessment should be completed every three years. Most O&M instructors conduct an assessment annually to assist them in making recommendations for appropriate IFSP or IEP goals.
What Happens During the Assessment?
Depending on your child’s age, ability level, and amount of usable vision, the O&M instructor will evaluate their understanding of basic concepts that underlie orientation and travel. Including those relating to one’s position in space and location in the environment—for example, left and right, inside and outside, and up and down—and awareness of aspects of the environment, such as sidewalks and streets. Your child’s understanding of the parts of their body and how they relate to these concepts is also explored. In most instances, you can expect the O&M instructor to:
- Interview you, the TVI, the general or special education classroom teacher, and your child about travel skills and any concerns you might have. The places you and others would like to see your child learn to travel to and from and where they might wish to go are also discussed. The interview may be conducted in person or via phone or maybe a checklist people are asked to complete.
- Observe your child in familiar and unfamiliar indoor and outdoor environments to gather information about how they move through the environment using their vision, if present, and other senses.
- Evaluate any O&M skills previously learned such as protective techniques, the sighted (human) guide technique, trailing, and use of the long cane.
O&M Assessments Go Beyond Movement
The O&M instructor will look at other skills besides your child’s ability to move in the environment if these skills have an impact on independent movement and travel. Here are just a few examples:
- Activities of daily living: Can your child store their belongings such as their cane, coat, and money independently? Can your child use money to pay the bus fare or make a purchase at a store?
- Social skills: How does your child interact with others? Do they know how to ask for assistance? When assistance is offered and it is not needed, does your child know how to decline it appropriately?
- Planning: What skills does your child have when it comes to planning a route
- Literacy skills: How does your child make a note of information needed during travel? Does your child print, braille, or audio record a list of items they want to purchase, information about the bus schedule, or emergency telephone numbers to call if they were to become lost?
- Use of optical aids and assistive technology: When traveling, does your child use low vision devices to gather information, such as a monocular to see a building number or a street sign, or a magnifier to read a print bus schedule?
After the Assessment
The O&M instructor will share the assessment results with you and other members of the educational team. You may want to ask for a copy of the O&M instructor’s report for your files. It’s important to keep this documentation and other assessment reports. Based on the information the O&M instructor shares, it may be determined that your child should receive, or continue to receive, O&M instruction. In cases in which it is determined that at this time your child is not in need of O&M instruction, it does not automatically mean that your child will never need this kind of instruction. For this reason, it is important to have your child’s O&M needs assessed periodically.