New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped Adopts a New Orientation and Mobility Policy

by Dianna Jennings

Future Reflections

Spring/Summer, 2004

by Dianna Jennings, Superintendent, New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped Reprinted from volume 7, number 3, of How’s Now, a publication of the Council of Schools for the Blind, COSB.

Editor’s Note: When I visit the campus of a school for the blind for the first time, there are two things I always look for and that forms the foundation of my opinion of that school. Those two things are: will a child in that school encounter lots of Braille throughout the entire school environment—Braille on bulletin boards, coat cubbys, lockers, games, toys, lunch menus, Braille books in every classroom, etc.—and second, do a large percentage of the students use canes confidently and independently as they move about in the halls and on the grounds of the school. I guess you could say I give each school a “Braille grade” and a “cane grade.” Although I have never visited the New Mexico school (NMSVH), I’m tempted, on the basis of the following report alone, to give it a cane grade of A+. Two issues ago, I gave NMSVH kudos for a “forward-looking practice in the support of Braille literacy” (volume 22, number 3, p. 34), and suggested that other schools should emulate it. Well, “ditto” for the NMSVH new policy on cane use and orientation and mobility. Read on:

The 2002-2003 academic year brings some exiting changes for our students at the New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped (NMSVH). Our school recently adopted a policy addressing orientation and mobility that will directly impact all our students. This policy establishes benchmarks that are designed to ensure that students will be provided the necessary orientation and mobility tools to assist them to become independent.

Independent movement is critical for all children with visual impairments. Orientation and mobility skills should begin to be developed in infancy starting with basic body awareness and movement, and continuing into adulthood. This will allow an individual to master skills that will permit him/her to navigate the world efficiently, effectively, safely, and gracefully. Students and staff members who are visually impaired will be expected to travel with the greatest possible degree of independence and assume responsibility for their personal safety while on campus or while engaged in school-sponsored activities off-campus.

All students will undergo an orientation and mobility assessment upon arrival at NMSVH, and annually thereafter. Orientation and mobility goals will be determined during the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process. The IEP team will consider current and future orientation/mobility assessments as well as cognitive, psychological, orthopedic, neurological, and other assessments in determining which students need mobility devices (cane or adaptive mobility device—AMD) and which students do not need one. Mobility devices will be used to teach our students how to safely navigate around constantly changing obstacles, elevations, textures, and lighting conditions that will be encountered both on and off campus. Students determined to need a mobility device for independent travel will be required to use their canes on campus at all times with the exception of their dormitory room. They will also be required to use their canes while off campus; especially in places where they may have familiarity with the environment, but will never have control of the environment.

Sighted guide is not considered to be independent mobility and shall be used only in rare circumstances, such as during emergency medical situations, adverse weather conditions, around construction areas, and in high noise environments. In such circumstances, sighted guide will be used as a supplement to the mobility device, not as a substitute for the mobility device.

What does independence mean for our students? It all begins with a positive attitude about blindness, as well as promoting the abilities of people who are blind and visually impaired. Blindness is no reason for an individual to feel second-rate or to diminish one’s self-expectations. Students who are blind and visually impaired can and should demonstrate the same levels of competence as their peers who are sighted.

The ultimate goal of the NMSVH Orientation and Mobility Policy is to have our students achieve the highest degree of independence—to the point where they become fully independent, self-sufficient individuals capable of navigating any environment with safety, skill, confidence, and grace.

As a person who is sighted, please allow me to share what orientation and mobility means to me. I believe in independent mobility for people who are blind and visually impaired. I believe our role at the NMSVH is to provide our students with sound fundamental orientation and mobility training, allowing them to gain the skills necessary to navigate within any environment efficiently, effectively, safely, and gracefully. When students do not have to rely on others to make their way through any given situation and are in total control of their environment, they have greater confidence in themselves and a higher self-esteem.

For more information contact: Dianna Jennings, Superintendent, New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped, .