Travel Skills (Orientation & Mobility)
The ultimate goal of the Travel Skills Class is to help each individual student attain the highest level of travel independence that he or she is capable of reaching. In the Travel Skills Class, sometimes called Orientation and Mobility or O&M, blind and visually impaired people learn how to move about safely and independently in environments of their choosing. By employing a variety of systematic techniques in conjunction with their other senses, long lightweight canes with specialized tips, and sometimes other people or dog guides, our students learn to travel independently and confidently wherever they please.
Travel Skills training begins with an evaluation of current functional skill levels. We then initiate a systematic, progressive training program appropriate to each student's abilities, needs and aspirations. Students learn to use the long white cane for protection, identification and information gathering. Students are also taught techniques and strategies for maintaining their orientation as they move about. Such techniques and strategies include use of hearing and other senses, memory, compass directions and patterns, clues and landmarks, traffic patterns, sun location and wind direction, and solicitation of information and/or assistance.
Training generally begins in our building where students learn how to move about safely and independently in their rooms and throughout our facility. We then usually move to a building on the campus of Western Michigan University where the environment is less controlled and where students gain experience with and confidence in their new techniques. At Western, students have the opportunity to plan and execute simple routes and to become initiated into the process of problem solving. Next, training begins outside, usually in a quiet residential neighborhood. Students learn how to travel down a residential sidewalk, how to avoid driveways and what to do when they don't avoid them, how to cross quiet streets, and how to plan and execute routes in this type of area.
From there we move on to busier neighborhoods, ones with more traffic, wider driveways and parking lots, and a variety of small businesses and restaurants. Here, students learn to align with traffic and to cross busier intersections, including those with traffic lights. They also learn how to gather information via the phone in order to plan and execute routes to and from unfamiliar locations. After plenty of practice planning and executing routes and problem solving in this environment, our students transition into the downtown or Heavy Business section. Here students continue to use, refine, and expand upon all the skills, techniques, and strategies they have learned up to this point until they are able to travel comfortably in any kind of environment they might choose. Bus travel and Dial-A-Ride systems are introduced and utilized, shopping and dining out is taught and encouraged, and who doesn't like to go to the mall?
The BSBP Training Center (a part of Michigan's Bureau of Services for Blind Persons) also employs an experienced dog-guide trainer as a member of its staff. Several trained dog guides, available for test walks, provide students at the Training Center the opportunity to have an introduction to travel with a dog guide, including hands-on experiences, without any pressure or obligation to obtain one. This assures our students the ability to see first hand what using a dog-guide is all about and permits them to make truly informed decisions regarding this special mobility option. People already using dog guides are welcome at the Training Center, although we always recommend, and many guide-dog schools require, that people thinking of getting a dog-guide complete the other areas of training, such as Braille, cooking, communications, and especially cane travel prior to obtaining a dog.
Not all people are capable of totally independent travel. At the Training Center, we try to design travel techniques and strategies that make full use of each individual's unique strengths and abilities while accommodating personal challenges and difficulties. Our Deaf/Blind Travel program has been very well received, as have our Semi-independent Travel program and our special Self-directed/Dependent Travel program designed for individuals with additional physical and/or mental challenges. We also make use of a variety of mobility devices in addition to the long cane such as support canes, four wheeled walkers, and wheelchairs.
At the BSBP Training Center, the Travel Skills Class is always challenging. It is also uniquely liberating and rewarding.