Teaching Children with Visual Impairments and Orientation and Mobility for Children

The teaching children with visual impairments and orientation and mobility for children program is a collaborative program between the Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies in WMU's College of Health and Human Services and the Department of Special Education and Literacy Studies in the College of Education and Human Development. This program prepares students interested in working as a teacher of children with visual impairments or orientation and mobility specialist with children, or a dual program of both teacher of children with visual impairments and orientation and mobility. The focus in these programs is on the specific skills required for helping children with visual impairments to learn to lead full and productive lives.

Many choose to become dual-certified as both a teacher of children with visual impairments and an orientation and mobility specialist for children. This combination helps the professional understand and meet the total needs of the child. The combination is also in high demand in primarily rural areas, where the number of children with visual impairments is too low to employ professionals separately educated in each area.

Teachers of children with visual impairments, orientation and mobility specialists for children and dual-specialists work primarily in public schools and residential schools for children with visual impairments. Personnel shortages exist in most states in the nation for people educated in these areas.

About teachers of children with visual impairments

A teacher of children with visual impairments teaches children with visual impairments the skills they will need to lead successful lives. These skills fall into two major areas: 

  1. Skills that are needed to support the full participation in academic curriculum. 
  2. Skills from the "expanded core," or vision-specific curriculum, that need to be specifically taught to students with visual impairments to accommodate their educational needs.

Responsibilities regarding support for the academic curriculum include working in multiple ways with the regular classroom teacher to assure that the student with visual impairments can access the regular curriculum. Duties include transcribing materials into Braille or large print, modifying materials so they can be read tactually and modifying test materials to accommodate for information not available through the visual channel.

In addition to modifying the typical curriculum, specialists are responsible for teaching children with visual impairments in the expanded core skill areas, including teaching Braille, daily living skills, social skills, adapted computer technology, and recreation and leisure activities. These skills are typically learned incidentally from watching others and are not readily available to children with visual impairments without specific instruction. The teachers will take the lead in teaching these skills to students with visual impairments and in helping parents and others to assist children to learn such skills.

About orientation and mobility specialists with children

Orientation and mobility specialists working with children also assist children with visual impairments to attain the skills they need to live successful lives. The orientation and mobility specialist's responsibilities center mainly on skills such as independent travel and daily living skills. In addition to the typical orientation and mobility sequence, orientation and mobility specialists working with children help children learn fundamental skills that support independence such as gross and fine motor skills, auditory skills, concept development, exploration and curiosity, problem solving and environmental experiential activities.

The majority of clients on an orientation and mobility instructor's caseload tend to have some remaining vision. It is also common for children with visual impairments to also have with additional disabilities such as traumatic brain injury, hearing impairments, physical impairments, or cognitive impairments. Many professionals in the field are members of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired and are certified by the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals that are professional organizations that govern the field. Certification allows an orientation and mobility specialist to work with people across the lifespan, from infants to senior citizens.

For information about the teaching children with visual impairments program or the orientation and mobility program for children, contact Dr. Dawn Anderson at dawn.l.anderson@wmich.edu or (269) 387-5944, or Dr. Robert Wall Emerson at robert.wall@wmich.edu or (269) 387-3072.