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Orientation & Mobility

Get Moving: LightHouse Offers Six-Week Online Orientation & Mobility Course

Get Moving: LightHouse Offers Six-Week Online Orientation & Mobility Course

Are you new to cane travel? Want to learn more about tactile maps and GPS? We’re offering a comprehensive six-week online course in Orientation & Mobility (O&M) to help you travel independently. Courses are taught by Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialists.

There will be two sessions:

Session I: For those working with their state’s vocational rehabilitation department or commission for the blind (available in all 50 states).

When: July 28 through September 3, Tuesdays and Thursdays 10:00 a.m. to noon Pacific.

Instructors: Robert Alminana and Jennifer Huey

Session II: For those who are 55 and over, who aren’t in a vocational rehabilitation plan and living in Northern California.

When: Date:  August 17 through September 28, Mondays and Wednesdays 10:00 a.m. to noon Pacific. No class on Labor Day, September 7.

Instructors: Danette Davis and Chris Williams

Who qualifies for this course?

Session I

  • State Department of Rehabilitation or Commission for the Blind Consumers in all 50 states.

Session II

  • Department of Veteran Affairs consumers
  • People 55 and over

What do you need to take this course?

Solid internet access and be able to access Zoom via phone and/or video and have computer skills to receive and read articles, watch videos and/or listen to podcasts.

What is this course about?

This is a comprehensive six-week, twelve-class course using the Zoom conferencing platform to introduce students to foundational O&M concepts, skills, and current technologies for safe, independent travel. Participants will meet twice a week for a total instruction time of 24 hours.

The course covers O&M fundamentals including the benefits of O&M skills for travel and employment; sensory, spatial and environmental awareness; orientation strategies and skills; tactile graphics and TMAP; human guide; protective techniques; long cane basics; street crossing sequence; intersection analysis, public transit and trip planning, introduction to electronic travel devices and GPS and wayfinding techniques.

Who would benefit from the course?

  • People who are blind or have low vision who are new to O&M.
  • People who have had a recent change in vision.
  • People who haven’t used their O&M skills in a while.
  • People looking for an O&M refresher.

How will participants benefit?

  • Participants will acquire strong foundational skills that are critical for safe, independent travel that will help them gain and retain employment.
  • Participants will receive structured, organized instruction that will prepare them for subsequent individualized training with a certified O&M specialist.

How does the course fit in with consumer’s overall O&M training program?

  • This will be the first of two parts in a combined O&M training curriculum.
  • The second part will be an individualized, face-to-face, hands-on learning and practice instruction program when public safety mandates allow. (Available to consumers in the LightHouse training area only.)

What is the cost of this course?

Session I: $1,165.00 (990.00 for the course + $175.00 for materials

Session II: Course is provided at no charge to people living in San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, Marin, Humboldt, Del Norte and Trinity counties.  If you live outside those areas, the cost is $990.00. Scholarships are available. Course materials for the 6 week-course are $50 and may be waived based on scholarship availability.

What materials will be used during the course?  

  • Bump dots, mixed
  • Tactile Maps (TMAP)
  • Intersection map set
  • Wikki Stix
  • Additional materials supplied by LightHouse for The Blind: tactile activity sheets; rubber bands; signature guide; Kanga-Pak; sleep shade.

How to register for one of these courses?

Session I:  Robert Alminana at ralminana@lighthouse-sf.org or Jennifer Huey at jhuey@lighthouse-sf.org.

Session II:  Danette Davis at ddavis@lighthouse-sf.org or Chris Williams at cwilliams@lighthouse-sf.org.

Putting the mobile in mobility: LightHouse O&M Instructors serve virtual lessons

Putting the mobile in mobility: LightHouse O&M Instructors serve virtual lessons

Since mid-March, all LightHouse programs have been online, in accordance with shelter in place orders and to keep our students safe. Our program staff had to adapt quickly to ensure there wasn’t a long gap in training for students. Through online classes and phone appointments, we’ve continued to teach accessible technology, braille and independent living skills

But how do you adapt Orientation & Mobility (O&M), something that relies heavily on in-person training with limited social distancing, for a virtual class? LightHouse O&M instructors share how they’ve found ways to continue working with their students.

A tactile diagram of a typical four-way intersection with two lanes of traffic in each direction on each street; four city blocks are connected by crosswalks.

Sarah McIntyre acknowledges that it’s been an adjustment. She’s meeting the challenge by teaching herself new skills so she can better work with her students.

“I have a student who’s just started a new job and although she doesn’t know when she’s going to start work [in person], she’s nervous about teaching herself a new route. I am not able to get there to teach her in person, so what do I do? I send her a TMAP.”

TMAP (Tactile Maps Automated Production), designed by LightHouse’s Media and Accessible Design Lab, cover an area of several blocks surrounding a given address, TMAP uses both braille and large print to identify streets, represented by crisp, raised lines that can be easily followed with the fingertips. Sarah also realized that she could create a different type of tactile representation for her students as well.

“I have downloaded a free program called Inkscape and in a week, taught myself how to draw street intersections. Fortunately, I’ve just bought a swell paper printer and can print tactile graphics of the intersections at home. I mail these out to students, and we talk about concepts such as intersection analysis and street crossing timings.”

Tactile graphics are just one way LightHouse O&M instructors have continued working with students. Katt Jones incorporates technology into her students’ online trainings.

“It’s about maps and apps. I’m helping them apply the tech skills they’ve learned with their Access Technology instructors. We’re working on route planning with Apple and Google Maps and exploring surroundings with BlindSquare and Microsoft Soundscape. Sometimes I have my students share the screen on their smart phone through Zoom [the videoconferencing app] so I can monitor what they’re doing. It can be challenging when they are using [the iPhone screen reader] VoiceOver, because I can’t hear what their VoiceOver is saying. One student called me using her Amazon Echo so that I was able to hear her use VoiceOver on her iPhone.”

When students use Zoom on their iPhone, the person on the other end of the call cannot clearly hear VoiceOver, which makes it challenging for an instructor to monitor how the student is using their screen reader. Because Katt’s student called her using the Amazon Echo smart speaker, Katt was able to clearly hear the student’s VoiceOver on their iPhone through the Amazon Echo call.

But while technology and TMAP certainly have their place, now more than ever, one of the most basic and vital tools is the trusty white cane as Danette Davis observes.

“I have my students stand up with their canes at home and we talk about the cane mechanics of intersection crossing. One time, a student put their phone case on a lanyard and walked down their hallway in their apartment building so I could watch how their cane moved.”

Other O&M instructors have also found creative ways to work with their students remotely. When a student didn’t yet have tactile maps, Chris Williams had the student create intersections with pencils. Dawn Leeflang has students problem-solve the scenario of a bus never showing up. Jennifer Huey has gone outside to record the surge of oncoming parallel traffic so her students can hear what that sounds like. Marie Trudelle has students use a GPS app to practice making turns and tracking cardinal directions.

Robert Alminana, who works with many students who don’t have smart phones or internet access, talks about how he’s shifted the focus of his training.

“I’m doing a lot of assessments, asking students questions [about their mobility skills]. I’m helping students with Paratransit and DMV [Disabled Person] Placard applications. We are planning transit routes.”

Several of the instructors expressed that one of the things they miss most is not getting the “mileage” with students, that is, the in-person walking that is the heart of most O&M lessons. Gina Di Grazia found a workaround for one of her students, Jim. One time, she observed Jim using his white cane to walk a pedestrian pathway that runs through grass, thanks to a real time video his wife took through a cell phone. Gina comments that Jim seemed primed for the unorthodox approach to cane skills training.

“He is brand new to cane use and running with it.”

LightHouse continues to accept new students for O&M training by appointment, including Department of Rehabilitation and Veterans Affairs students. For more information, please contact Debbie Bacon at dbacon@lighthouse-sf.org or 415-694-7357.

Jennifer Huey – “When Life Gives You a White Cane, Blaze a Trail!”

Jennifer HueyThe following is one in a monthly series featuring the extraordinary people who make up the LightHouse staff.

“My first goal is to make my students feel comfortable by demystifying Orientation and Mobility. People ask, ‘What’s that?’ I tell them that Orientation and Mobility is a fancy phrase to describe the set of skills people who are blind or have low vision use to safely navigate the world around them,” Jennifer Huey, one of LightHouse’s Certified Orientation and Mobility Instructors, tells us. She continues, “For example, I teach students how to properly use a white cane. In addition to cane travel, I teach people how to use all their senses to move about independently. People wonder how a blind person can cross a busy intersection, walk with a white cane and an umbrella or find an exit. I teach students those critical skills, which we call Orientation and Mobility or O&M.”

Jennifer comes to the LightHouse after being in the court reporting industry for over 20 years. “It was time for a career change. I wanted to make a tangible difference in the lives of others. My job in the court reporting field was just that – a job. Jennifer reflected on her history when considering a second career. “My mom developed eye cancer several years ago, which was a wakeup call to my family. Life is short; do what you love. On a more literal level, my mother’s diagnosis, coupled with my twin sister’s congenital monocular (‘single eye’) vision, led me to the field of blind services. I went back to San Francisco State (she got her Bachelor’s degree in Communicative Disorders, with a minor in Special Education there as well) to earn my Master’s in Special Education, with a special emphasis in O&M.”

Kathy Abrahamson, LightHouse’s Director of Rehabilitation, was one of Jennifer’s instructors at SF State. “Kathy was infectious, with her bubbly personality and passion for helping people. She talked so highly of the LightHouse, and the satisfaction she felt in her career. Like my classmate Robert Alminana (who is also an O&M instructor at the LightHouse), I knew I wanted to work here.”

Students who meet Jennifer are quickly put at ease by her warmth and great cheer. “We laugh a lot. I’m empowering people to live their lives, why not start living during our training? I learn about students’ concerns, many of which are similar to all students, but I also dig deeper to learn more about the individual I’m working alongside. That’s a key point: I’m working with—beside—my students, not teaching at them. One of my major goals for every student is that they understand that their white cane (if they need a cane) is a tool and not something stigmatizing. We reach that point together by setting personal goals that have an immediate impact, like learning how to deftly use a white cane and navigate a busy sidewalk.”

Born and raised in San Francisco, Jennifer certainly hasn’t let city lines keep her boxed in. “I love traveling. My last big trip was last August, when I went on a mission to bring assistive equipment like wheelchairs, crutches, canes and training to the Ugandan disability community. I set up a website to fundraise for adult and child-sized canes, various cane tips and cane accessories, to be distributed free of charge to Ugandans in need. It was an incredible journey – I can’t wait for my next trip.” Jennifer is also a thrill seeker, having skydived twice, and she loves drama, from movies to musicals. She emphatically states: “Go to Shakespeare in the Park. Do it! You’ll love it!”

If you’re wondering if you should sign up for Orientation and Mobility training at the LightHouse, Jennifer has this to say: “Pick up the phone, shoot us an email, stop by…you have to be the one to make the first step. I assure you, you’re in control of your training, but we’re here to help you figure out what you need to thrive.”

To get started, call us at 415.431.1481 or write us at info@lighthouse-sf.org.