Orientation and Mobility for Teens with Recent Blindness or Low Vision

If your teenager has just been diagnosed with blindness or low vision—whether from a condition such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP), Stargardt’s disease, or because of an accident or other trauma—or if their vision has deteriorated, they have much to cope with. Like you and the rest of the family, they may have a number of concerns and emotions.

Among the most immediate challenges are dealing with the sudden loss of physical independence and learning how to regain the ability to know where they are and how to get from one place to another. To accomplish that, they will need the help of an orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor.

The focus of O&M instruction will vary depending on your teenager’s usable vision, medical and physical condition, and motivation to travel independently. Because your child has probably traveled on their own until recently, using their vision and other senses to help them get where they want to go, they have the advantage of understanding concepts such as:

  • What a block of buildings looks like
  • The layout of various intersections
  • How streets and avenues intersect
  • The way stores are arranged in shopping malls
  • Familiar “landmarks” that help her know where she is in her neighborhood

Your child has probably visited friends in other neighborhoods, used the big regional library on the other side of town when they had a research assignment to complete, and went from one place to another confidently, without guidance from you or anyone else. Now, with instruction from an O&M specialist, your child can learn skills to regain the ability to travel independently.

O&M Instruction

Evaluate how they use their vision (if any) and other senses when moving in familiar and unfamiliar environments.

Evaluate their knowledge of the community, such as different types of intersections and how to use public transportation.

Teach techniques such as a sighted guide or cane techniques to travel safely.

Determine whether using a long cane will provide the information and protection needed to travel safely, and if so, teach your child how to use this tool.

Determine whether optical devices, such as a monocular, might enable your child to use their vision more efficiently. If the O&M specialist feels that optical aids could be beneficial, a referral for a clinical low vision evaluation should be made so that appropriate aids may be prescribed.

Conduct a sun lens evaluation to determine if non-prescription sun lenses (eyeglasses with colored-filter lenses) will help your child to use their vision more efficiently during daytime travel.

Motivation Is Important

Your teenager may be hesitant or perhaps anxious about traveling by themselves. They may feel self-conscious using a long cane or wearing sun lenses—reactions that aren’t unusual. Your teen needs time and reassurance to adapt to life’s big changes, requiring the O&M specialist’s sensitivity. Motivation to learn travel skills may rise if lessons open up access to their interests.

Back to School

Your child needs O&M lessons to safely navigate school, inside and out, switch classes, move through crowds, and use stairs. While classmates may help guide them, strong O&M skills are essential for safe, independent travel.

Depending on your child’s interests and future plans, the O&M specialist will also design lessons specific to their needs. For example:

  • Take your child to new places like a big town or city to learn advanced O&M skills.
  • Teach using public transport: finding schedules, stops, paying fares, asking for help, where to exit, and reaching the destination.
  • Show how to use taxis: calling one, talking to the driver and dispatcher about special needs, and handling payment and tips.
  • Numbering systems both within blocks and within buildings;
  • Maintaining safety while traveling and what to do if their safety is threatened;
  • Using optical devices, such as a telescope, while traveling to increase access to visual information;
  • Using maps, the Internet, and the telephone to gather information and prepare for traveling—whether going a few blocks or across the country; or
  • Planning for managing in a new place if your child expects to go away to college or move to another town to work after graduating high school.