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This Mattered to Me

"Provision of Orientation and Mobility Services in 1990," by Mark Uslan, published in the May 1983 issue of the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, Volume 77, Number 5, pp. 213-215.

Nora Griffin-Shirley

Print edition page number(s) 173-174

The series editor of "This Mattered to Me" is Stuart H. Wittenstein, Ed.D., superintendent of the California School for the Blind.

Mark Uslan, the author of the article highlighted in this essay, was my instructor in the Peripatology Program at Boston College in 1978-79. Reading his article for the first time, I was stuck by the changing demographics of and the projected increase in the population of people with blindness and visual impairment that I, as a new orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist, was beginning to teach. My education at Boston College and my first-hand experience as an O&M specialist during the time that this article was written gave me insight into the population that was the focus of Mr. Uslan's article. The personnel preparation program at Boston College prepared me to teach O&M to people with low vision and multiple handicaps. As a student teacher at the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Massachusetts, and later as an intern at the Ohio State School for the Blind (OSSB), I gained considerable practical knowledge on how to work with young blind adults with diabetes and children with visual impairments. For example, when I was assigned at OSSB to teach a young lady who was deaf-blind and fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), it was difficult to work with her effectively since I did not know ASL and did not have an interpreter. OSSB provided me with a wonderful mentor, and I learned how to communicate with the student. These experiences led to my teaching O&M for the Columbus Public School system in Ohio, and then at the Vision Center of Central Ohio, an adult rehabilitation center for people with visual impairments.

In addition to providing information on the population with whom I was working, the descriptions in Mr. Uslan's article on the growing numbers of older adults with visual impairments and their need for rehabilitation services, including O&M training, were instrumental in establishing a focus for my doctoral studies. My dissertation was entitled, "The Effects of Rehabilitation Training of Visually Impaired Older Adults on Self-efficacy, Depression, Activities of Daily Living, Attitudes about Blindness, and Social Support Networks." Upon completing my doctorate, I was hired as a regional consultant in aging for the southeastern United States by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), the organization for whom Mr. Uslan worked at the time the article was published and still works for today.

This article highlighted the economic times of the mid-1980s, the shortage of O&M specialists, and the increasing numbers of legally blind people, including young children under age 5 and people over age 65. Mr. Uslan discussed the need for an adequate number of O&M specialists to be trained to teach these legally blind individuals, and he charged agencies and schools for the blind with the responsibility of meeting their students' needs in the area of O&M. Twenty-five years after this article was written, these issues are still a concern of the field of visual impairment and blindness. Mr. Uslan's article concludes: "Considering the current economic climate, whether these 1,400 legally blind people will receive O&M services in 1990 is food for thought" (p. 214), and we as a field are still questioning whether all the people who need O&M services are receiving them. Furthermore, the numbers of legally blind people and children with visual impairments has increased at an even higher rate than Mr. Uslan projected.

In addition to the strain caused by the ever-increasing number of individuals requiring O&M services, new issues confronting the field today compound the problem of service delivery--including newly recognized causes of blindness and visual impairment (for example, cortical visual impairment); students with additional disabilities, including veterans with polytrauma; the development of technology and its implications for people with visual impairments; the built environment and quiet automobiles; and the federal government's requirements for evidence-based outcomes and highly qualified personnel as mandated in recently passed legislation.

Service delivery for children and adults with blindness and visual impairment is as much of a concern for professionals and consumers in the field today as it was when Mr. Uslan wrote his article in 1983. If the problem of service delivery is ever to be solved, critical questions that the field of visual impairment and blindness need to address include:

  • How do we get quality services and products to people in a timely manner?
  • How can professionals be prepared in an innovative way to meet the critical shortage?
  • What partnerships can be established between the systems of education and rehabilitation and private and governmental entities to brainstorm solutions?
  • Are we ready to embrace the systemic changes that are necessary to plan for the future?

Although these questions have been posed many times by leaders of the field in the past, they are still germane to the current situation. What gives me optimism in my belief that we will find answers to these questions are the new leaders who are emerging and the partnerships we have developed with other fields when collaborating on research and the development of new technology to facilitate access to information and services by people with visual impairments.

On the web
The article relating to this commentary is available free to subscribers at JVIB Online: <>. Nonsubscribers may purchase a copy of the article from AFB's ePublications web site: <>.

Nora Griffin-Shirley, Ph.D., COMS, assistant professor and director, Virginia Murray Sowell Center for Research and Education in Visual Impairment, and coordinator, Orientation and Mobility Program, Division of Educational Psychology and Leadership, Program in Special Education, College of Education, Education Building MS1071, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX 79409; e-mail: <>.

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