One of the subjects that Bethel’s kids are taught is Orientation & Mobility (O&M). The purpose of O&M is for people with visual impairments to learn to travel as safely and independently at possible. ‘Mobility’ refers to specific methods to help move around safely, such as using a white cane. Here Miao Miao (Lisa) is using her cane in a shopping mall in Beijing. The cane gives her information about what is in front of her, such as objects, steps, and different surfaces such as carpet or tile. This information helps her move safely and find her way.
Orientation & Mobility begins at a young age in the home. As a child is learns to crawl and walk they become mobile. Some kids are afraid to move out, so we encourage them by providing a safe space for them to move in, and motivating them with toys that make interesting sounds. So, first they learn how to move around inside their home, using their hands to provide some protection. Here, Qiu Ye (Luke) gets familiar with his environment as he moves around on the floor.
Young children with blindness may use a push toy such as this toy shopping cart, to act as a bumper and give information about what is in front of them. A push toy helps them move around freely and safely. It gives them some information that a white cane does, but is much easier to use. Here Le Le (Asher) is exploring outside. If his shopping cart contacts an object, he feels the cart stop…then he can touch the object to find out what it is, and move the cart around the object and go on.
Some kids with blindness use an adaptive mobility device (AMD). An AMD is custom-made from plastic pipe. A child can push an AMD in front of his/her body to detect obstacles, steps and surface changes. It is similar to a push toy but is less cumbersome. The bottom bar has a roller on it, so it can be used outside on rough surfaces. Here is a photo of Gui Gui (Gabe) when he used an AMD for the first time when he was 3 years old. He seemed SO HAPPY to receive the AMD that he walked with is for 45 minutes straight. When his teacher said he had to stop and go back to class, he cried because he didn’t want to stop using it. The AMD gives children a lot of freedom to move out without fear. Gui Gui now uses a cane and he is so confident finding his way around in both new and familiar places.
A child can start using a cane when his/her arm and hand have enough strength and skill. A child slides the cane tip from side to side on the ground in front of their body. The cane feels different surfaces such as concrete, carpet, and grass so the child knows where they are. The child also gets information through their sense of hearing. For example, a cane makes a higher-pitched sound when it contacts metal, compared with a lower–pitched sound when contacting wood. This can tell the child about their surroundings and help them find their way.
Bethel’s kids start using their canes in the community from a young age. Here Ya Fen (Tracy) is walking in a subway station on a trip to the China Braille Library. She and her friends and nannies took one bus and two subway lines to get there. The kids memorize the names of the subway lines and stations, and learn many concepts that will help them later when they become more independent. They find the subway fascinating and are always asking to go on more trips underground.
An important part of Orientation & Mobility is learning how to travel in inclement weather. We tell the kids that when they become adults and have a job they can’t stay home just because it rains or snows. So they need to know how to move in different kinds of weather. This includes wearing appropriate shoes and clothing, and being extra cautious. Here Xiao Hua (Christina) is about to walk in the rain.
Older students learn how to ride public transportation on their own. Here Li Ying (Bridget), a Bethel graduate, is waiting for her bus. She may ask other people for information to verify that she is getting on the correct bus or ask for assistance to cross a busy street. The point is to get where she wants to go safely and efficiently. For a person with blindness, having good O&M skills is essential for being able to make choices about what kind of life they want to have.
by Christy Allen