I’m becoming an O & M Specialist – What is that?

Posted November 17, 2010 by Mandy Smith in

This blog was written by Mandy Smith, an RCIL Staff member, who recently became an O&M Specialist.  She has been working with RCIL since June 2009.

In August of this year, I applied for a new position at RCIL.  When I found out I had the position, I was so excited I went and told my whole family,  “Guess what guys, I’m becoming an Orientation and Mobility (O & M) Specialist and will be taking classes through Texas Tech!”  My family was very supportive and thought it was great.  Then they asked, “What is an Orientation and Mobility Specialist?”

Great question!  An Orientation and Mobility Specialist is a person who is certified to teach people who are blind or visually impaired how to travel safely, effectively and independently.  This includes how to use a sighted guide, white cane, trail walls and much more.

I am attending Texas Tech because they have an O & M program under their special education master’s degree. Once I’ve finished the classes and the certification test, I will be a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS).  The COMS program is a two-year graduate program so I should be finished in 2012.

The O & M profession started in 1944 during World War II at Valley Forge Army Hospital.  Many soldiers were coming back from service blinded in battle.  A lot of people thought they should just learn their way around but not Richard Hoover.  He saw that the soldiers could benefit from the use of a longer cane to travel, and this is where “Foot Travel” began. (The term O & M did not catch on until later.)

It took some time and fighting by many people to advance O & M into a profession, but it happened. In 1960 Boston College started the first university program for O & M instructors , and Western Michigan University followed suit in 1961.  Today 20 colleges and universities offer the O & M program.

I am looking forward to becoming certified and being able to assist our consumers.  I also am appreciative of the grant we received with Prairie Independent Living Resource Center (PILR) from Kansas Rehabilitation Services.  This grant will allow RCIL to provide services for the blind and visually impaired.

RCIL, PILR and the other Centers for Independent Living will be holding focus groups in the near future for input on our blind and visually impaired services.  More information on these focus groups will be out very soon but, if you are interested in more information, please email me at mandy.smith@rcilinc.org.

Mandy Smith

Mandy has worked at RCIL since June of 2009. She is a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist and provides services in 32 counties to individuals who are blind or have low vision and are 55 years and older.

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