Travel Independence

A young woman who is deafblind stands with her cane.
A young woman who is deafblind stands with her travel cane.

Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instruction provides students who are deafblind with a set of foundational skills to use residual visual, auditory and other sensory information to understand his or her environment. For the child who is deafblind, movement is an opportunity to gather sensory information, to communicate, and to make choices. O&M instruction provides opportunities and skills that can broaden the student’s awareness of the environment, resulting in increased motivation, independence and safety.

Many children, especially those who are proficient communicators have great need to develop travel skills that will increase their independence, increase opportunities for future employment, and make activities of daily living much easier. 


The first step in accessing orientation and mobility instruction begins with assessment. In Texas, all students who are deafblind must be assessed in orientation and mobility (O&M) skills. “As part of the full individual and initial evaluation, an orientation and mobility evaluation performed by a COMS in a variety of lighting conditions and a variety of settings including in the child’s home, school, and community and in settings unfamiliar to the child.” (VISUAL IMPAIRMENT Authorities:  34 CFR Part 300; Texas Education Code; 19 TAC Chapter 89)

Assessment in different environments and at different times of day is very important. For example, an individual with Usher Syndrome has difficulty with reduction of light or moving from a brightly lite to dark environment such as entering or leaving a movie theater. They may not see obstacles in the periphery of their vision and be prone to bump into people and objects. This creates a physical hazard, and may also prove to be a social barrier as well.

Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants

Because their other distance sense (hearing) is affected, orienting to their environment and traveling safely becomes even more important for the student who is deafblind. Many individuals who are deafblind wear hearing aids or cochlear implants which may make it hard for them to localize sound sources that are important for safety; if you can tell which direction cars are traveling crossing the street safely is impossible. For this reason the O&M Specialist often must collaborate with the audiologist in fitting the individual with an appropriate hearing aid and setting it so that the individual can make use of environmental sounds for safe travel. To learn more about these issues you should read “Sound Travels”, a booklet developed by Texas Deafblind Project.

Service Models

There are two types of service provided to students who are deafblind and they may include both:

    • Direct instruction from the O&M specialist, and
    • Support for others on the educational team, including other special education and general education teachers, paraeducators, family members, related service providers, other school personnel, and community partners.

Developing the IEP

Goal and objectives should clearing state specific skills the student learns each year in the area of independence in travel. Specific supports may need to be provided for the student to access orientation and mobility instruction such as an intervener or interpreter to aid in communication and instruction, a teacher of students who are deafblind to consult with the O&M Specialist, or training for staff and family to be able to support travel in a variety of settings using appropriate techniques such as trailing, sighted guide, use of a travel cane and other information. 

An O & M program for students who are deafblind may include such things as:

    • sensory awareness: gaining information about the world through hearing, smell, touch and proprioception
    • spatial concepts: realizing that objects exist even if not heard or felt, and understanding the
    • relationships which exist between objects in the environment
    • searching skills: locating items or places efficiently
    • independent movement: which includes crawling, rolling, walking, etc.
    • sighted guide: using another person to aid in travel
    • protective techniques: specific skills which provide added protection in unfamiliar areas
    • cane skills: use of various cane techniques to clear one’s path or to locate objects along the way

Assistive Technology

Assistive technology related to orientation and mobility is a rapidly changing area for students who are deafblind. Use of smart phones, GPS systems, Lyft and Uber, and other advances make safe and independent travel much easier.  To learn more about possible AT for these students you should consult with your O&M Specialist. It is important to note that not all AT is high-tech. Basic devices such as a travel cane and use of tactile maps are just two examples. 

Deeper Dive

The Importance of Orientation and Mobility Skills for Students Who Are Deaf-Blind, National Center on Deafblindness

    • English –
    • Spanish –

Best Practice Principles for teaching Orientation and and
Mobility skills to a person who is Deafblind in Australia, ABLE Austrailia website at 

The Use of Wayfinding Apps by Deafblind Travelers in an Urban Environment: Insights From Focus Groups on Frontiers website at