It has been very frustrating. It has taken a great deal of time to learn how to work remotely. I have enrichment activities for O&M students that can participate independently but we can only do that for so long before it simply becomes ‘busy work.’ I am trying to be sensitive to all that is required of academic students and their parents. Many of my younger students require significant supervision for outdoor travel. Until just recently families were not leaving their yards. —White female O&M specialist
There were 138 professionals who reported that they only worked as O&M specialists for the 2019-2020 school year and 180 dually certified professionals who worked both as a TVI and an O&M specialist during this school year. Unless otherwise specified in this section, the researchers have opted to combine the data of these two groups and refer to these 318 professionals as O&M specialists.
Delivering O&M Services Outside a School Building and Traveling Together in the Community
The O&M specialists were provided an extensive list of ways they could provide support and services to their students during the COVID-19 pandemic. They were asked to select as many options as applied to them, with 192 O&M specialists selecting between 1 and 17 options. There was a mean of 3.94 (SD=4.51) options selected. The 10 most common methods used by O&M specialists were:
- Sending resources to students’ family members (e.g., websites, videos, blog posts) (n=132)
- Calling on the telephone and speaking with family members (n=118)
- Providing assignments created by the O&M specialist that targeted IEP goals and having students complete them (n=113)
- Meeting online with family members (n=108)
- Texting with family members (n=106)
- Sending family members videos to watch with their child (e.g., cane technique) (n=79)
- Having students compare functionality of different map applications (e.g., Google Maps, Apple Maps) (n=71)
- Meeting with students online and looking together at websites and apps (e.g., Google Earth) to increase students’ understanding of communities (n=67)
- Providing students or family members activities to build students’ monocular skills (n=59)
- Building students’ understanding of numbering systems (n=43)
I think [working as an O&M specialist] is one of the most difficult jobs to have as a service provider. We have such a wide range of students and trying to ensure that they have online access to the curriculum is overwhelming. —White female O&M specialist
The 318 O&M specialists were asked about online service delivery, including the percentage of online services they were providing to students and/or their family members. One hundred thirteen O&M specialists reported that they provided services in more than one setting (e.g., as an itinerant and in early intervention/preschool). The question did not refer to service hours on the IFSP or IEP.
Table 16 presents the data, by setting, in which the O&M specialists worked. Six percent of itinerant O&M specialists were not serving any students, while 44% were meeting online with 50% or more of their direct service students. Some O&M specialists provided reasons they were not meeting with their students and/or family members online, including the fact that some districts did not allow for online meetings, students and family members did not have the technology to meet online, and family members could not be reached once the school building closed.
Table 16: Percentage of O&M Specialists, by Setting, Who Reported They Were Meeting Online with Direct Service Students
|Percentage of the Direct Service Students That O&M Specialists Were Meeting Online||Itinerant (n=86)||Resource Room* (n=8)||Specialized School (n=24)||Early Intervention/ Preschool (n=22)||Private School (n=4)||Other (n=11)|
|Less than 25% of students||29||25||21||23||0||9|
|26% to 50% of students||21||37||22||23||25||28|
|51% to 75% of students||15||13||12||23||25||9|
|76% to 99% of students||16||25||29||22||25||38|
*The O&M specialists group included 138 O&M only professionals and 180 dually certified professionals.
Early Intervention Children, Preschoolers, and Students with Additional Disabilities Receiving O&M Instruction
[The change due to COVID-19] has made it more difficult to provide services in the same way, especially for students with multiple disabilities who require much repetition and hands-on instruction. —White male O&M specialist
One hundred fifty O&M specialists reported serving students in early intervention and preschool settings, as well as students with additional disabilities. One hundred forty-five O&M specialists identified ways they were working with these students including:
- Giving family members suggestions on how they can encourage the child to explore the environment (n=81)
- Encouraging family members to point out auditory sounds (n=75)
- Giving family members ideas on how to use descriptive language within routine environments (n=72)
- Giving family members ideas for encouraging skill development while using toys (n=69)
- Suggesting ways family members can encourage sound localization (n=67)
- Sharing terms that family members can use to encourage skill development, for example, “sweep your cane” (n=60)
- Having family members read stories that emphasize concepts (n=53)
- Having family members interact with the child using songs and/or play to emphasize concepts (n=52)
- Sharing cane techniques that family members could have the child do with an ambulatory device such as a walker (n=42)
- Asking family members to work on self-determination skills (n=37)
Teaching Travel on the School Campus
My students are missing their time at school and saying that they are allowed to be much more independent at school. They are bored at home and needing more guidance from me and other teachers as to what kinds of things to do. —Female dually certified professional
One hundred twenty-nine O&M specialists indicated that they had at least one student on their caseloads with campus travel goals on their IEPs. Of these O&M specialists, 123 reported they were assisting their students to build these skills during the pandemic by:
- Giving family members ideas for practicing body concepts, visual concepts, or other skills (n=72)
- Having students create and share a map of the school or routes (n=43)
- Providing family members examples of different types of maps they can use to assist the child in creating a map of a familiar location (n=40)
- Having family members develop a map of the home (n=34)
- Using social stories (n=20)
In addition, 42 O&M specialists shared other activities they were doing with their students, including meeting with students and having them verbally describe routes, reviewing schedules with students and the location of classrooms, and discussing with students the location of landmarks in relation to classrooms.
Teaching Neighborhood/Residential Travel
Many of my students were traveling in residential areas or being introduced to/developing cane skills which I feel requires hands-on or direct supervision for safety purposes. —White female O&M specialist
Of the 318 O&M specialists, 149 reported they had at least one student on their caseloads learning neighborhood/residential travel skills.
One hundred forty-three O&M specialists reported how they were assisting their students to build these skills during the pandemic by:
- Providing family members ideas to practice concepts, such as comparing a square to a residential block (n=79)
- Having students create and share a map of the students’ home neighborhood (n=62)
- Providing family members pictures or examples to use when helping children develop a neighborhood map (n=44)
- Asking family members to assist children to develop a neighborhood map (n=35)
- Using social stories (n=22)
Forty-seven O&M specialists shared other ways in which they were helping their students build neighborhood/residential travel skills. These included having students use apps from Objective Ed 25, having students listen to Homebound for Adventure podcasts 26, and designing activities to have students work on skills to prepare for community travel. One of the most creative ways an O&M specialist was working on neighborhood travel skills was through a game she had created, as described in the following quote.
I [have] enjoyed creating meaningful activities the students can do by themselves and feel successful completing. The ‘Car-Stalker O&M [Specialist]’ has been hugely successful. I provided a satellite map of the student’s block.… I instructed the student and a parent which part of the route we would address.…[I met the student and parent in my car outside their home with the student wearing a headset and connected to me via phone.] As the student walked the route, I instructed, observed, provided feedback, and collected data! —White female O&M specialist
Teaching Business/Commercial Travel
O&M [instruction involves] a lot of hands-on, teachable moments, and feelings. O&M goals cannot be met virtually. Especially in the city schools where movement is so important. Trying to get students who are visually impaired or blind interested in talking, listening, or making things without my assistance has been difficult. Their sleep schedules are very messed up. Technology is all over the place along with Internet reliability. They get bored fast and trying to stay with the goals in their IEP is not realistic. —White female O&M specialist
One hundred seven O&M specialists reported that they had at least one student on their caseload learning to travel in business or commercial environments. One hun- dred one O&M specialists reported how they were assisting their students to build these skills during the pandemic by:
- Asking students to design routes in unfamiliar environments (n=59)
- Asking students to plan routes in familiar commercial/business environments (n=57)
- Having students use Google Earth or another map tool to analyze intersections (n=54)
- Having students draw or create and then share a map of the business/commercial area (n=33)
- Having students make a video of themselves using their cane or other tools and then share and discuss it with the O&M specialist (n=13)
- Having students watch a video of someone demonstrating a technique (e.g., traveling through an airport) and analyze the video content (n=24)
O&M specialists described other activities they had their students complete, including having students identify characteristics of intersections from online images and apply for a fare reduction card.
Teaching Travel Using Public Transit or Rideshare Services and/or Exploring Low Vision Driving
The most challenging aspects of providing O&M services is coming up with ideas where liability will not play a role when giving advice to parents. —White female O&M specialist
Due to COVID restrictions, IEP goals addressing public and shared transportation were especially challenging. One hundred four O&M specialists had students who had IEP goals that included developing skills in traveling by public transit, rideshare services, and/or exploring low vision driving. Ninety-nine O&M specialists reported that they were assisting their students to build these skills during the pandemic by:
- Having students compare the costs of different forms of travel (n=52)
- Guiding students to learn about paratransit and if they might qualify (n=34)
- Having students review maps and use these as they role played scenarios, for example, interacting with employees (n=24)
- Designing role-play scenarios for students to use to practice travel skills (n=23)
- Having students compare layouts and amenities in airports, bus stations, etc. (n=16)
- Requesting students to explore the costs of low vision driving (n=15)
- Having students research low vision driving requirements (n=14)
- Asking students to research regulations (n=7)
O&M specialists teach a unique set of skills to students with visual impairments from infancy through adulthood. Each student’s O&M goals are individually designed to promote their ability to learn to travel safely, gracefully, and efficiently. From body awareness to home, school, and then community travel, O&M specialists spend much of their instructional time with their students engaged in the development of travel-related skills. The quick transition from brick and mortar school buildings to virtual instruction that prevents hands-on learning has challenged O&M specialists in multiple ways. These recommendations can assist families, O&M specialists, administrators, and policymakers in considering how to deliver this hands-on service during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- In most cases, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused families to experience significant stress. Like other educational team members, O&M specialists need to work to strengthen communication with families, support families as appropriate with their priorities, and provide resources that will enable families to help their child continue to develop during these challenging times.
- Family members may not have a strong awareness of their child’s O&M goals or where in the learning sequence their child is with mastering a goal. O&M specialists can schedule meetings with family members and students, when appropriate, to review progress towards their goals, and develop relevant strategies to implement so the student continues to work towards mastery of O&M goals.
- Because most family members are sighted, they may not be aware of the many opportunities available within the home, neighborhood, or broader community for their child to develop O&M skills. O&M specialists can support families to incorporate O&M learning opportunities into daily routines. For example, a trip to the mailbox or a walk around the block present learning experiences for many students.
Promoting O&M Instruction and Supporting Students
- Prior to COVID-19, O&M specialists were often challenged to explain their discipline and its importance to families, educators, and administrators. During COVID-19, educating others about the importance of this discipline is paramount. O&M specialists can schedule virtual in-services, share resources that explain the discipline and skills the students are learning, or have their students design presentations to inform their family, educational team, and others about the O&M skills they are learning.
- Recognizing that family members are not trained professionals, O&M specialists must be strategic when they involve them in coaching the student. It is the responsibility of the O&M specialist to provide clear and consistent modeling of O&M skills that are appropriate for the family to reinforce with their child.
- The nature of COVID-19 has many families, students, and professionals feeling isolated and potentially having mental health challenges. O&M specialists often get to know their students well because they typically work one-on-one with students. If they note that a student is having mental health challenges, they should document their observations and discuss them with a family member and/or educational team members, so a plan can be implemented to support the student.
- O&M specialists may wish to bring a group of students together virtually so they can socialize in addition to working on O&M goals that may be similar. For example, a group of high school students who are each preparing to attend college can come together for a lesson on how one might orient oneself on a college campus.
Considerations for Administrators
- Administrators must recognize that although O&M is a related service, it is an essential service for students with visual impairments. O&M instruction is equally as important for students as instruction in academic subjects.
- Allowing O&M specialists the time to research methods of service delivery and to collaborate with other O&M specialists to explore options is necessary. Across the United States and Canada, O&M specialists and administrators are working together to explore options that ensure safety, liability protection, and implement best practices for instruction.
- Liability is a concern for O&M specialists since the skills they are teaching involve travel. Administrators should work closely with their legal department and O&M specialists to ensure there is a clear understanding of the O&M specialist’s liability coverage and what is and is not permissible for the O&M specialist to do if not meeting with the student in person in the same physical space.
- O&M specialists need administrator support and guidance as they conduct assessments and evaluations during COVID-19. In addition, they need recommendations of how to collect and use data to guide their work in these unprecedented times. Dr. Yue-Ting Sui and colleagues have made available the document. Comprehensive Evaluation of Blind and Low Vision Students During COVID-19: A Guidance Document 27 that is a valuable resource.
- As soon as permissible by health department officials, O&M specialists must be permitted to adapt hands-on instruction that meets social distancing and safety guidelines. Administrators need to recognize the importance of O&M, providing flexibility and guidance that allows O&M specialists to provide meaningful service as determined by the student’s IFSP or IEP. Administrators should provide appropriate personal protective equipment to facilitate safe hands-on instruction.
- Administrators should provide time for O&M specialists to identify and compile resources, to engage in professional development, and to find other ways to collaborate with other O&M specialists so that they can take advantage of the expertise of others in this unique profession. There is a need for a centralized hub of resources specific to O&M content, virtual instruction, and clear, direct guidance that can be available to both O&M specialists and family members.
Considerations for Policymakers
- Time and resources must be allocated to determine which models of service delivery O&M specialists should use to meet the needs of their students. For example, is online service delivery an effective strategy to use with a student who is learning bus routes in the community when neither the student nor the O&M specialist can travel together in the community? It may not be possible to provide remote instruction that is relevant and helpful for the student while also meeting the requirements of IDEA and the student’s IEP.
- Policymakers need to carefully consider guidelines for the revision to IFSP and IEP goals when work on some goals may not be possible through online service delivery. At the same time, all education team members, including the O&M specialist, must be accountable to ensure that students are receiving the services that they need and are entitled to under IDEA.