Best Practice Principles for Teaching Orientation and Mobility Skills to a Person who is Deafblind in Australia

Over the past 12 months, Independent Options for Mobility have been working on an O&M project in conjunction with Able Australia.  The project looked at the specific O&M needs for people who are deafblind, and was supported by a grant from the Fundable Future project.

One outcome of the project was the development of a DVD with some specific signs to use in O&M lessons with Auslan users.  The DVD is available to view here, and is also accompanied by a booklet explaining some of the common O&M terms and techniques.

Download: Best Practice Principles for Teaching Orientation and Mobility Skills to a Person who is Deafblind in Australia

General Principles

Allow more time:  Communication breakdowns can occur more frequently when working through an interpreter.  Unlike O&M sessions with a person with blindness or low vision where explanations can take place on the move, conversations with a person who is deafblind will mainly occur when stationary.  It’s important therefore to allow one and half hours for every hour you would normally plan to spend on training, and twice as long if you are working with an interpreter.  Decide whether longer sessions are beneficial, or if you want to schedule shorter but more frequent sessions.

Set very clear goals:  Be clear on the concepts and strategies that will be practice. For example, lesson may focus only on an O&M technique with little information about landmarks or orientation points. Once you are certain that the O&M technique has been learnt and understood, the lesson might then focus purely on landmarks.  It’s important not to introduce too many new concepts at once.

More practice and less talking:  Provide as many physical and practical examples of concepts as possible.

Don’t assume everything you’ve said has been understood:  Double check that new concepts and ideas have been understood. Ask the person you’re working with to recap and demonstrate use of new techniques and concepts.

If you’re interested in further information on O&M training, contact us here at Independent Options for Mobility.

O&M for People with Deafblindness Workshop

For the past 9 months, Able Australia and Independent Options for Mobility have been working together on an O&M project, looking at the specific O&M needs for people with deafblindness. For those in Melbourne, we are running a workshop – we hope to see you there!

Orientation and Mobility for People with Deafblindness Workshop

Specialist training in the unique communication and learning needs of people with deafblindness when learning orientation and mobility skills.

 Focussing on the communication needs of people with deafblindness, particularly those who use tactile Auslan, this workshop will cover:

•             Principles of teaching people with deafblindness orientation and mobility skills

•             Specific signs, language and social haptics to use when teaching orientation and mobility concepts and strategies

 This workshop is relevant to orientation and mobility specialists, Auslan interpreters, Deafblind Communication Guides and people with deafblindness.

What: Orientation and Mobility for People with Deafblindness Workshop

When: 11am – 2:30pm or 5:30 – 7:30pm on Wednesday, 25 May

Where: Ross House, Level 4 / 247 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Cost: Free of charge

 Interpreters and transport support available for people with deafblindness for the day time workshop.

Please RSVP by Wednesday 18 May by contacting Meredith Prain –

What is ‘family-centred practice’?

In February 2016, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) released its national approach to early childhood early intervention. Services in early childhood will be delivered through a family-centred approach. But what is family-centred practice and what does it mean for orientation and mobility (O&M) service delivery?

Family-centred practice is based on four principles:

  • Family members are the primary decision makers when it comes to setting goals for their children.
  • Support is provided within the context of a family’s daily routines.
  • Skills are developed in natural learning environments
  • The family and the service provider work in partnership.

Families are supported by an access partner who help them identify specialised early supports funded by the NDIA. For children who are blind or have low vision, O&M should be one of these supports.

If a young child is receiving O&M intervention, this means the O&M Specialist must recognise:

  • The foundation of all O&M skills are built during infancy and early childhood.
  • O&M concepts and skills are developed in the child’s home environment and community.
  • Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher.

The goal is providing children with beginning O&M skills so they can be confident as they explore, and to empower parents to support the development of these skills.  The goal is active movement, which will help children become independent travellers as they grow.

Do you have a question or comment on family-centred practice and O&M?  Let us know via Facebook or Twitter.

What is orientation and mobility anyway?

Orientation and mobility (O&M) is a foundational skill for people who are blind or have low vision. But what is O&M?

Orientation means knowing where you are in space, in relation to the things around you. It means you can answer the following questions:

  • Where am I now?
  • Where am I going?
  • How am I going to get there?

Mobility refers to how a person moves through their environment. This can involve the use of a mobility aid such as a long cane or a guide dog, learning strategies to use functional vision safely and effectively, or a combination of the two.

An Orientation & Mobility Specialist is a professional trained to teach people who are blind or have low vision how to move through the environment safely, efficiently and as independently as possible. This is done through the development of both orientation and mobility skills.

Within the education sector, orientation and mobility is a component of the “expanded core curriculum” – those concepts, skills and learning areas that sighted children learn incidentally and through vision. Children who are blind or have low vision need to be specifically taught some or all of these skills alongside the academic curriculum.

The expanded core curriculum consists of:

  • Compensatory or functional academic skills, including communication modes such as braille
  • Orientation and mobility
  • Social skills
  • Independent living skills
  • Recreation and leisure skills
  • Career education
  • Technology
  • Sensory efficiency skills
  • Self-determination

You can find out more about the expanded core curriculum on our website:

We’ll talk about how to develop specific orientation and mobility techniques in future posts!



Early intervention orientation and mobility – my research

The following is a copy of an article published in the latest Blind Citizen’s Australia parent newsletter – you can access the full newsletter and previous editions here.

Early intervention orientation and mobility research

Orientation and mobility (O&M) is recognized as one of the core domains of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) for children who are blind or have low vision. Despite this, O&M in the early childhood years is a relatively new area within the profession and O&M intervention, particularly early long cane mobility, is not routinely provided in Australia for this age group.

I am an Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist from Independent Options for Mobility who is completing research into Early Intervention O&M. I am in the final stages of completing a doctoral research project into O&M within the early childhood context, based upon work I did in Western Australia in the mid-2000s as a member of the Department of Education Vision Education Service Early Childhood Team. Within this service O&M skills and techniques, including the long cane, were introduced to children as young as 14 months of age. The successes I observed prompted me to undertake the research.

As an O&M specialist, I am very aware that much of the current research within the field comes from the perspective of sighted O&M professionals. It was therefore important to me to present the perspectives and experiences of parents and children involved in the O&M process, as well as those of early childhood visiting teachers involved in the program. I collected data through interviews, along with archival documents and video material, to explore the experiences of early O&M and long cane mobility within this group.

The results of the study strongly support the early introduction of O&M intervention, including long cane mobility. The children in this study all successfully learnt long cane techniques at a very young age, which then positively impacted on their learning in other areas of the curriculum as they entered formal education settings.

As a part of this process, I found that children developed a sense of ‘ownership’ toward their own long cane mobility. This was developed in part by allowing children a choice in cane colours (or decorating white canes), and by using cane ‘names’, which helped personalize them and make them a ‘part of the family’. For parents, seeing their very young child moving confidently and independently through different environments gave them a sense of pride and excitement around their child’s potential, and all parents became strong advocates for early O&M intervention.

Importantly, the introduction of early long cane mobility enabled children to have a high degree of personal control over their own learning and movement. This supports the views of Joseph Cutter and Daniel Kish, O&M specialists from the United States, who advocate for the long cane to be introduced as early as possible. I also found that the introduction of early O&M intervention helped teachers facilitate the outcomes of the Australian Early Years Learning Framework, which are: children have a strong sense of identity, children are connected with and contribute to their world, children have a strong sense of wellbeing, children are confident and involved learners, and children are effective communicators.

One of the most significant findings was that early O&M intervention can potentially change perspectives toward blindness by teaching the skills of independent movement at a developmentally appropriate age. For the individuals in this study, the long cane was seen to be a natural extension of the young child’s body, a tool allowing them to develop their other perceptual senses to safely and effectively move through the world. In doing so, children also developed the body, spatial and environmental concepts that are essential for independent travel. The early development of O&M techniques assists others to understand that children with vision loss can be as independent as their sighted peers, they just learn and perceive their world in different ways.

For many years, it has been argued that young children are not ‘ready’ to learn long cane mobility until they have achieved particular developmental milestones. This means the long cane is often not introduced until children are entering preschool or primary school. However my study, and other work within the United States, is indicating children can learn long cane skills at a very young age, and that this has benefits across all areas of development and learning. I would encourage all parents of young children to access O&M services at as young an age as possible.


Some of my published work relating to this research can be linked to from the Independent Options for Mobility (IOM) website. IOM is a Melbourne-based partnership providing training and education for independent travel. Independent Options for Mobility is a registered service provider under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

For further information about IOM please visit the website: or contact either myself or Dean Johnson at