Skip Navigation

National Center for Special Education Research


Facts From NLTS2: Orientation and Mobility Skills of Secondary School Students With Visual Impairments
NCSER 2008-3007
November 2007

Orientation and Mobility Skills

School personnel who knew students in the category of visual impairment and their school programs well were asked to complete a checklist of selected items taken from Teaching Age-Appropriate Purposeful Skills (TAPS), developed by the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (Pogrund et al. 1995), portions of which were included in the NLTS2 student's school program survey.6 TAPS is a comprehensive orientation and mobility assessment and curriculum for practitioners who work with children ages 3 through 21 who are blind or partially sighted. The assessment instrument was originally developed using the orientation and mobility manual from the Los Angeles Unified School District and revised by an advisory committee of orientation and mobility instructors from Texas who added functional mobility skills to the assessment and piloted the instrument. The assessment instrument is comprehensive in scope and may be used as an initial assessment of skills, to develop priority areas for instruction, and to document student progress. Both the assessment instrument and the curriculum are divided into five sections (home/living, the campus environment, the residential environment, the commercial environment, and public transportation) that reflect the key environments where students need orientation and mobility skills. The beginning of each section includes a list of functional mobility tasks, arranged from simple to most complex, that a student would perform in each specific environment. The TAPS assessment manual provides a 3-level rating criteria to use in assessing student performance (see below). The 10 mobility and orientation tasks7 represent a continuum of basic to more complex activities related to successful travel in the campus environment and are age-appropriate for the secondary school population (Pogrund et al. 1995).

The TAPS functional mobility tasks for the campus environment and the rating criteria were included in the NLTS2 student school program survey. Respondents were asked to report, "how well this student performs each of the mobility activities." Respondents selected one of the following response choices:

  • "Not very well—can do the task only within a familiar routine when there is no novelty introduced, or needs a considerable amount of prompting to do it."
  • "Pretty well—performs the task consistently in at least one setting or inconsistently but well in several settings."
  • "Very well—performs the task well in many settings over a period of time."

Overall Orientation and Mobility Skill Levels and Variations by Disability Characteristics

Travel using a sighted guide to familiar locations. Most secondary school students with visual impairments (82 percent) are reported to be able to travel to familiar locations with a sighted guide very well (figure 6). There are no statistically significant differences between students who have visual impairments only and students with visual impairments and coexisting disabilities or between students with varying levels of visual impairment (blind vs. partially sighted).

Travel indoors using rotely learned routes. Eighty-two percent of students with visual impairments are reported to be able to travel indoors using rotely learned routes very well. Although no statistically significant differences exist between students with visual impairments only and those with coexisting disabilities, the difference between blind and partially sighted students in performing these skills very well is statistically significant. This skill is more difficult for students who are blind than for those who are partially sighted; 62 percent and 90 percent, respectively, are rated as performing the skill very well (p < .01).

Travel to various school areas or buildings using rotely learned routes. School personnel report that about threefourths of students with visual impairments can travel very well to various school locations, such as the cafeteria, the auditorium, or the gym, using rotely learned routes (72 percent). Performance of this skill is significantly lower among students with coexisting disabilities compared with students with visual impairments only; 48 percent vs. 84 percent are rated as performing this skill very well (p < .001). Performance on this skill also is significantly lower among students who are blind compared with students who are partially sighted; 54 percent vs. 80 percent perform it very well (p < .05).

Create new routes between familiar places indoors. Sixty percent of students with visual impairments are reported by school personnel to be able to create new routes between familiar places indoors very well. Performance is lower among students with coexisting disabilities than with students with visual impairments only, with about one-third as many students with coexisting disabilities than with visual impairments only being able to do so very well (26 percent vs. 77 percent, p < .001). Creating new routes to familiar places indoors is more difficult for students who are blind than for those who are partially sighted (32 percent vs.69 percent, p < .01).

Execute a route, given a set of verbal directions, to an unfamiliar location within one building. Slightly more than half of students with visual impairments (54 percent) are rated by school personnel to be able to follow verbal directions to find their way to an unfamiliar location within a building very well. However, fewer than one-fourth (23 percent) of students with coexisting disabilities are rated as performing this skill very well, compared with 70 percent of students without coexisting disabilities (p < .001). Thirty-seven percent of students who are blind are rated as being able to follow verbal directions to find an unfamiliar location indoors very well, compared with 60 percent of students who are partially sighted (p < .05).

Execute a route, given a set of verbal directions, to an unfamiliar location in another building. This skill poses challenges such as detecting and negotiating stairs, doors, landmarks, and other pedestrians for most students with visual impairments (Pogrund et al. 1995); fewer than half of students with visual impairments (48 percent) were rated as performing the skill very well by school staff. This skill poses greater difficulties for students with coexisting disabilities compared with their peers without them and for students who are blind compared with peers who are partially sighted. Twenty-one percent of students with coexisting disabilities are rated by school personnel as being able to negotiate a route to an unfamiliar location across a school campus with verbal directions very well, compared with 61 percent of students with visual impairments only (p <. 001). Students who are blind also have greater difficulty with this skill relative to students who are partially sighted (28 percent vs. 54 percent rated as doing so very well, p < .05).

Locate an unfamiliar place by using numbering systems. For students with visual impairments, using a numbering system to locate floors and/or rooms in an unfamiliar building (for example, room numbers begin with the floor number so that room 325 is on the third floor) poses challenges in finding unfamiliar places beyond those involved in physically negotiating the space. Overall, 46 percent of students with visual impairments are rated as performing this skill very well. As with other skills, there are significant differences in performance between students with coexisting disabilities and students without and between those who vary in the extent of impairment. Twenty-two percent of students with coexisting disabilities are rated as doing this skill very well, compared with 56 percent of students without coexisting disabilities (p < .01). Twenty-six percent of students who are blind are reported to do this skill very well, compared with 54 percent of students who are partially sighted (p < .05).

Orient self to an unfamiliar room. This skill requires a student with a visual impairment to attend to and to use auditory information (for example, echolocation, object perception, or sound shadows) to understand objects in relation to oneself; to identify the front, back, sides, and corners of a room in relation to the door; to use a specific search pattern; to locate objects in a room; and to use protective techniques safely when traveling both with and without a cane (Pogrund et al. 1995). Although a majority of students with visual impairments (64 percent) are reported to perform this skill very well, significantly fewer students with coexisting disabilities are reported to orient to unfamiliar rooms very well than students without other disabilities (24 percent vs. 73 percent, p < .001). Twenty-seven percent of students who are blind are reported to orient to an unfamiliar room very well, whereas 68 percent of students who are partially sighted do so (p < .001).

Solicit help to orient self to a building. Requesting appropriate help and or directions to orient to a building requires a student to have a certain level of social skills, self confidence, and determination as well as the cognitive skills and a repertoire of mobility skills to use the assistance obtained (Pogrund et al. 1995). Sixty percent of students with visual impairments overall are reported to solicit help to orient to a building very well, with significant differences noted related to the presence of additional disabilities and to the severity of impairment. About one-third of students with coexisting disabilities are reported to perform this skill very well, whereas threefourths of students with visual impairments only do so at this level (35 percent vs. 75 percent, p < .001). Forty-three percent of students who are blind are very able to solicit the help they need to orient to a building, compared with 69 percent of students who are partially sighted (p < .05).

Solicit help to orient self to a high school campus or to a workplace. In addition to the skills needed to orient to an individual building, soliciting help to orient to a school campus or workplace may require familiarity with streets, outdoor communal areas, and pedestrian traffic, for example (Pogrund et al. 1995). A similar pattern of performance is apparent for seeking help in orienting to a campus or workplace as was noted with orienting to a specific building. Sixty-one percent of students with visual impairments overall are reported to solicit help to orient to a campus or workplace very well, with about one-third of students with coexisting disabilities doing so, compared with three-fourths of students with visual impairments only (34 percent vs. 75 percent, p < .001) Forty-two percent of students who are blind are reported to perform this skill very well, compared with 70 percent of students who are partially sighted (p < .05).

Demographic Differences in the Performance of Orientation and Mobility Skills

There are no statistically significant differences in the performance of individual orientation and mobility skills among students with visual impairments who differ in gender, age, or race/ethnicity. However, soliciting help in orienting to a building and to a high school campus or workplace are reported to be significantly better for students from higher-income households. (Household incomes are categorized as: $25,000 or less, including below poverty level; $25,001 to $50,000; and more than $50,000). School personnel reported that 84 percent of students from households with incomes greater than $50,000 solicit help to orient to a building very well, compared with 47 percent and 56 percent of students from the middle and lower income groups, respectively (p < .01 and p < .05). Similarly, school personnel reported that 84 percent of students from the highest income group solicit help to orient to a high school campus or workplace very well, compared with 51 percent and 54 percent of students from the other two household income groups (p < .05 for both comparisons).

Top

6 The TAPS checklist was recommended for use as part of the NLTS2 student's school program survey by the study's advisory group.
7 School personnel who knew the student well rated the student on the following skills:
     Travel using a sighted guide to all familiar locations.
     Travel indoors using rotely learned routes.
     Travel to other school areas or other buildings using rotely learned routes.
     Create new routes between familiar places indoors.
     Execute a route, given a set of verbal directions to an unfamiliar location within one building.
     Execute a route, given a set of verbal directions to an unfamiliar location in another building.
     Locate an unfamiliar place by using numbering systems.
     Orient self to an unfamiliar room.
     Solicit help to orient self to a building.
     Solicit help to orient self to a high school campus or to a workplace.