Guide Dogs for the Blind has a broad reach serving clients across the U.S. and Canada. The same goes for the allied professionals and service organizations with whom we work. We have collaborative relationships far and wide that help us reach our strategic goals.
One of our very important collaborations is with orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists across North America. O&M Specialists are certified professionals who work with people who are blind or visually impaired to teach safe and effective travel techniques, generally using the white cane as the mobility aid. Having excellent O&M skills is a foundational requirement for people to have before getting a guide dog, and the work of O&M specialists in their local communities helps to provide their clients with those guide dog readiness skills.
To help train O&M specialists in the nuances of guide dog travel and how they can best support their clients interested in the guide dog lifestyle, GDB offers free, hands-on Orientation & Mobility Seminars to O&M professionals throughout the year. The two-day seminars meet the high standards set by the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (ACVREP); upon completion, participants are eligible to receive 13 continuing education credit hours.
In addition to hosting these seminars on both of our campuses in California and Oregon, we also have the opportunity to take our seminar on the road! Most recently, we teamed up with one of our longtime agency partners, Second Sense in Chicago, to offer the seminar to participants who came from throughout the midwest to attend.
The Chicago-based seminar was led by GDB staff members Lauren Ross (field manager and guide dog mobility instructor), and Stephanie Zabitz (senior O&M program specialist and guide dog mobility instructor), with the help of Pamela Berman (outreach alumni representative) and her guide dog, Gumbo.
“O&M specialists who complete the seminar are able to take what they've learned and apply it with their clients who have expressed interest in getting a guide dog,” Stephanie said. “They walk away knowing how to prepare their clients in the transition from cane to dog, and can assess a client's travel skills in relation to the requirements needed to qualify for admission to GDB's guide dog program.”
Participants agree. “This was an excellent seminar. It helped me understand how to better prepare my clients who are going from tactile cane travel to non-tactile dog travel,” said one Chicago seminar participant. “I feel better prepared to educate my clients about working with a guide dog and facilitating growth toward their mobility goals.”
After completing the seminar, O&M specialists are also better equipped to assist their clients in completing GDB's application process. In addition, they are more adept in providing orientation assistance to active GDB clients who already have guide dogs, but might need some O&M refresher courses.
“It was a very helpful and informative two days," said another Chicago seminar participant. "It was great that Pam and Gumbo were there so we could get a guide dog user’s perspective first-hand. I feel more confident preparing a client for a guide dog, as well as understanding my role as an O&M specialist when working with a guide dog team.”
GDB is very grateful for our collaboration with O&M specialists, and thank them for being such fantastic ambassadors of our programs.
“We love working with O&M specialists to help create a better understanding of the unique orientation and mobility techniques used to travel with a guide dog,” Lauren said. “Our collaboration with Second Sense over the years has been so mutually beneficial, and we look forward to our continued partnership in the future!”
Visit the Resources for O&M Professionals page on our website to learn more about our O&M Seminars.