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Access to O&M

Friday March 19, 2021

GDB Client Sherry Brackett navigates a wooded trail with a white cane. O&M Manager Marc Gillard follows behind her.

It is important that GDB ensure that any qualified individual wanting to achieve independence with a guide dog doesn’t face barriers preventing them from reaching their goal. One barrier that has become increasingly difficult to overcome is being able to develop the essential orientation and mobility, (O&M) skills needed for guide dog mobility. It is an unfortunate reality that lack of O&M skills is the number one reason applicants are denied from the GDB program and has been for several years.

In many cases, a lack of O&M skills is only symptomatic of a wider situation. Access to O&M training varies across the United States and Canada. In some areas, services may be severely limited or nonexistent and there can be long waiting times. Some people may even be ineligible for services.

The main contributors to this situation are a shortage of O&M professionals and reduced funding for rehabilitation services. O&M specialists have higher caseloads and reduced instructional hours for each client. As a consequence, O&M Specialists may only have time to teach a client a specific route instead of a full range of O&M skills which are needed to be a successful guide dog user

    To learn to travel independently a person who is blind or visually impaired first learns to use a cane. O&M Specialists focus more on teaching skills related to cane travel than guide dog travel. Cane travel is a more tactile way of moving through the environment than a guide dog. The information gained through the cane tip is unavailable to the guide dog user so if a person interested in a guide dog has only been taught to use tactile information to remain oriented they may find it difficult adapting to guide dog travel.

    To address the situation, GDB launched a program called the ‘Orientation and Mobility Immersion’ (OMI). The immersion is designed to teach O&M skills related to guide dog travel but also includes a wide range of O&M skills training. The program can take place in the client's home or in residence on one of the GDB campuses. As with all clients services at GDB, this program is provided free of charge thanks to the generosity of our donors. 

    If you are interested in learning more about our OMI program and or would like to learn how to apply, visit our Orientation & Mobility Page today.