Orientation is the ability to use one's remaining senses to understand one's location in the environment at any given time. Mobility is the capacity or facility of movement. Orientation and Mobility (O&M) may be defined, then, as the teaching of the concepts, skills, and techniques necessary for a person with a visual impairment to travel safely, efficiently, and gracefully through any environment and under all environmental conditions and situations. O&M instructors are formally educated to help persons with visual impairments attain their O&M goals.
Other professionals who may teach or reinforce certain basic O&M skills include the classroom teacher, the rehabilitation teacher, the physical therapist, the occupational therapist, the nurse, and the low vision specialist (a teacher who has been specially trained in low vision skills or an optometrist or ophthalmologist who specializes in low vision). Still others, such as O&M assistants, teaching assistants, and nursing aides, provide practice and drill in certain techniques or procedures.
The O&M process begins with the seemingly simple step of learning to walk with a sighted guide. By using sighted assistance, the students not only begin to accept help from others when a situation warrants, but also to learn that they have control over a situation, and that they can ask appropriate questions about the immediate area in order to come back to that area at another time by themselves.
Parents of children with visual impairments, especially those of very young children, play a direct and influential role in helping their infants and toddlers acquire basic mobility skills because they are with their children most of the time. Since they must be knowledgeable about the skills that need to be reinforced and taught, the O&M instructor shows them how and what to teach by modeling the process with the children. With older children, the instructor becomes the primary teacher and the parents monitor some techniques and provide encouragement, support, and follow-up training. Other significant family members and friends also follow up on mobility instruction after the student has worked with the O&M instructor on a regular basis. In the schools, the classroom teacher, vision consultant, teacher's aide, and even a student's peers all reinforce the skills the student has acquired.