024-12 Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Services
Is there a common definition of O&M services that IEP teams can follow in determining what services a student with a disability may need to benefit educationally?
Virginia Regulations mirror the federal IDEA definition of O&M services as meaning:
Services provided to blind or visually impaired children by qualified personnel to enable those children to attain systematic orientation to and safe movement within their environments in school, home, and community; and includes travel training instruction and teaching children the following, as appropriate:
- Spatial and environmental concepts and use of information received by the senses (e.g., sound, temperature, and vibrations) to establish, maintain, or regain orientation and line of travel (e.g., using sound at a traffic light to cross the street);
- To use the long cane or service animal to supplement visual travel skills or as a tool for safely negotiating the environment for students with no available travel vision;
- To understand and use remaining vision and distance low vision aids; and
- Other concepts, techniques, and tools.
[8 VAC 20-81-10; federal regulation at 34 CFR § 300.34(c)(7)]
How can an IEP team determine if O&M services are needed by a student with a disability in order to benefit educationally?
The definition referenced above includes that O&M services are for students who are blind or visually impaired. Therefore, documentation of the student’s visual impairment or blindness must be included in the IEP to be considered for O&M instruction as a related service. An evaluation by an O&M specialist to assess needs in orientation and/or mobility will assist the IEP team in determining what services would be appropriate for the child. The IEP team must consider any resulting recommendations for direct instruction or consultation in O&M. Key times when further O&M assessment may be indicated include whenever visual function or travel needs change or at transition periods (i.e., kindergarten, middle school, and high school).
The definition states that O&M services are provided by “qualified personnel.” Who is “qualified” to provide O&M services?
In Virginia, there is no licensure requirement for O&M specialists, or definition of “qualified.” Best practice suggests that such specialists have a degree in O&M from a recognized program. To further guide school divisions, there are currently two organizations that certify O&M specialists:
While the O&M specialist manages the O&M program for a student and teaches O&M skills to a student, other school personnel may be involved in reinforcing certain O&M skills under the direction of the specialist. General and special education teachers, teachers of the blind and vision impaired (TBVI), paraprofessionals, and even student peers may help to reinforce the skills the student has acquired through O&M instruction.
What are the school division’s obligations for providing O&M services in settings outside of school?
As we see in the above cited regulatory definition of Orientation and Mobility services, Virginia Regulations and federal IDEA regulations clearly anticipate the need for O&M services to be considered in environments outside of the immediate school building:
- systematic orientation to and safe movement within their [students’] environments in school, home, and community.
- to establish, maintain, or regain orientation and line of travel (e.g., using sound at a traffic light to cross the street).
Therefore, IEP teams must consider environments exterior to the school building as potential sites for instruction if the student needs such assistance to benefit educationally. While the regulations contemplate these exterior environments, each situation must be reviewed on an individual basis in accordance with the description of the child’s present level of performance that defines the student’s educational needs.
Is there are a list of duties that would help IEP team members understand the role of the O&M specialist?
Questions are often raised as to the specific role of the O&M specialist. The following provides a summary of the many roles O&M specialists maintain:
Assessment and evaluation
- Assisting in conducting the Functional Vision Assessment (FVA) when appropriate;
- Conducting the O&M assessment; and
- Evaluating student progress and providing progress notes as per LEA policy.
- Encouraging purposeful movement, exploration of immediate surroundings, and motor development for young children with visual impairments;
- Teaching spatial and environmental concepts and use of information received by the sense (e.g. sound, temperature and vibrations) to establish, maintain, or regain orientation and line of travel (e.g., using traffic sounds at an intersection to cross the street).
- Providing support to the student to facilitate development of self-esteem, self-determination, and social acceptance.
- Teaching students to orient themselves to unfamiliar environments.
- Instructing in efficient use of low vision for movement.
- Teaching efficient use of low vision devices.
- Teaching use of mobility tools, including the long cane and adaptive mobility devices, for safely negotiating the environment.
- Providing travel experiences in the community, including residential and business environments and public transportation systems.
Supporting educational teams
- Supporting families of young children in encouraging gross and fine motor skills, sensory skills, basic concepts, and other developmental milestones.
- Ensuring continuity from early childhood intervention services to school-age programs.
- Ensuring that appropriate vision-specific supports are in place and the necessary skills are attained for transitioning from school to adult life.
- Modifying the environment to accommodate specific mobility needs.
- Modeling appropriate O&M techniques for other team members.
- Providing, creating, and acquiring adapted materials, such as tactile maps and mobility devices.
- Providing in-service training and consultation to other team members in home, school, and community settings.
- Recommending O&M strategies for access to the general curriculum, such as physical education class and participation in school and community extra-curricular activities.
- Maintaining records on all evaluations, IEPs, and progress reports.
- Attending IEP meetings.