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Three Things Parents Should Know About Orientation and Mobility Skills - Melanie White's Advice

Melanie White Listen to Melanie White's advice on the three things parents need to know about orientation and mobility skills.


I'm Melanie White with the Bluebonnet Vision Co-op (in Weatherford, Texas), and I'm a certified orientation and mobility specialist.

Three things that I would like parents to know are newer things with kids, and that is looking at the technology that's now available, looking at Global Positioning Systems or GPS, Accessible Pedestrian Signals or APS, and transportation options.

In relation to building the skills for learning to use a global positioning system, I think—having worked with the GPS now for several years—I would ask that most parents consider putting in a GPS system in their car so the child can get used to hearing the streets and the different points of interest in their town. It can announce if you pull up, like restaurants, it can announce all the restaurants that are nearby, and it makes a child aware of the information that is accessible to their sighted peers. Kids who are in their car, riding around with their parents, see those things on a daily basis all day long, and blind children don't have access to that information. And I think it would be beneficial if they had access to that information, and they could do that with a GPS from a regular store. Later on, they could get a GPS that would either connect to their braille computer, or they could get an independent GPS system that is designed for visually impaired kids.

As far as Accessible Pedestrian Signals, I think the biggest thing that parents need to do is educate themselves and their children about what's out there. Traffic has changed over the last 20 years, and the traffic engineer's job is to get drivers through. If you're a driver, you don't want to sit at a light, so their job is to get the drivers through. However, they've changed the system so that it's not very pedestrian-friendly. They've put in what is called semi-actuated and fully-actuated systems, and you may have seen the little indentations in the street. Looks like lines. What that is, it's a system that detects your vehicle at the light, and it changes the light based on the traffic patterns; the lights change for only so many seconds per car. And so, if there's a pedestrian button there, and you do not push it, you as the pedestrian, do not have time to get across the street. The problem is that you have access to the pedestrian button if you know it is there. If you don't know it's there, you may be crossing the street at an unsafe time. The Accessible Pedestrian Signals do two things: one, they can have a locator tone so that you can find the button easily and don't have to search all over a huge area of the corner to find it, and two, it allows you to know when the light changes. It doesn't make the decision for you, but it gives you access to the same information that a sighted person would have so that as soon as the signal changes, you know that it is safe to go ahead and cross. The thing that greatly interferes is that there are so many right turns on red—and again, as a driver, that's a good thing. You don't want to sit at a light and wait to turn when there are no cars coming on your perpendicular street. But as a pedestrian, you're standing there auditorially analyzing the traffic pattern, and when a car starts to pull out, you don't know always if that's a right turn on red, or if it's the surge of your parallel traffic. And a blind person uses the surge of their parallel traffic in the near lane to cross the street. So the Accessible Pedestrian Signal signals when it is the beginning of the cycle; you then have to make the decision, "Is it safe to go?"

A way to educate yourself about this is that you can use a website that has a PowerPoint on there that shows you how these systems work, and you can advocate for these for your children. It's There is also information on there about detectable warnings, which indicate when you're about to enter an unsafe area such as a street—and that is a federal law. Unfortunately, not all private contractors are following the law as designed with truncated domes. They'll put grooves. Part of that, as a parent, you need to educate yourself to advocate for your child.

On transportation, it is the key to independent living as an adult, and it is your job as the parent to help expose your child to a variety of transportation options. There's not just one, a car. There are buses, there's door-to-door, there are taxis; there is calling and asking a friend for a ride. Kids need to have exposure to this as a young child. You can't wait until the child is 16 or 18 or goes to college to introduce transportation options; it should be something they are exposed to on a regular basis. A good resource is "Finding Wheels" (Finding Wheels: A Curriculum for Nondrivers with Visual Impairments for Gaining Control of Transportation Needs) by Anne Corn and Penny Rosenblum, and it's especially good for preteens and teenagers. It has a lot of areas to discuss and considerations to make to live your life as a nondriver. It gets into budgeting and the emotional aspect, and how to earn money to pay for rides, and how to set up a budget. Because, if you look at what you and I pay in a budget, we have our car payments, our insurance, our gasoline, and our maintenance—so you have to look at your monthly budget like that for a nondriver. And so, you're looking at several hundred dollars a month, and that will cover bus fares, taxi fares, door-to-door, reimbursing the friend for dinner for taking you someplace—it has some really nice ideas in this book, and for a parent, it would be an excellent resource.

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