Essential Orientation & Mobility Skills for Those With Low Vision

2023-11-15 | By Justin Lubomirsky

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Master 12 Key Skills for Visual Impairment: Gain Mobility & Freedom

Living independently is about gaining the necessary skills and confidence to navigate the world on your own terms. In this article, we will explore 15 essential orientation and mobility skills that can empower visually impaired individuals to live life independently and confidently.

1. Spatial Awareness

Spatial awareness involves understanding the layout of your surroundings and how different objects and spaces relate to each other. This skill is essential for creating mental maps of your environment.

Here are some tips to improve and gain this crucial skill:

  1. Active Exploration: Engage in purposeful exploration of your surroundings to become familiar with different spaces, objects, and landmarks. Use your remaining senses like touch and hearing to gather information about your environment.

  2. Mental Mapping: Practice creating mental maps of locations you frequently visit. This involves visualizing the layout, orientation, and distances between different elements within the environment.

  3. Sensory Integration: Learn to integrate sensory information from different senses, such as listening for echoes to detect the size and nature of spaces or feeling for temperature changes to identify doorways or entrances.

2. Sensory Awareness

Visually impaired individuals often rely on their other senses to gather information about their surroundings. Developing sensory awareness helps in identifying landmarks and potential obstacles.

  1. Practice Active Listening: Pay attention to sounds in the environment, such as traffic, footsteps, or birdsong to gather important information about your surroundings and potential obstacles.

  2. Enhance your  Sensitivity to touch: Practice using your sense of touch to gather information. Take time to explore different textures with your hands, such as various surfaces, objects, or tactile maps. Utilize Scents and Smells: Train yourself to recognize different scents and associate them with specific places or objects. Engage in Sensory Exercises: Participate in activities that focus on stimulating your senses, such as sensory gardens, nature walks, or sensory play. These exercises can enhance your overall sensory perception and awareness.

3. White Cane Techniques

The white cane is a powerful tool for mobility. Learning how to use it effectively and safely is crucial. Techniques such as the two-point touch and constant contact can provide valuable information about the terrain ahead.

  1. Two-Point Touch: Practice using the two-point touch technique, which involves keeping the cane in contact with the ground at two points simultaneously. This technique provides a more detailed perception of the terrain and helps detect obstacles or changes in elevation.

  2. Constant Contact: Maintain constant contact between the cane tip and the ground as you move, rather than swinging it in the air. This consistent contact enhances your ability to detect subtle changes in the environment and improves overall stability and awareness.

  3. Regular Practice: Practice white cane techniques regularly to improve your skills and build confidence. Seek guidance from orientation and mobility specialists who can provide feedback and suggestions for further improvement.

By implementing these tips and consistently practicing white cane techniques, you can enhance your mobility, safety, and independence as a visually impaired individual.

4. Guide Dog Training

For some, a guide dog can be an invaluable mobility aid. Training, bonding, and working with a guide dog is a skill in itself, enhancing mobility and independence.

5. Public Transportation

Navigating public transportation is crucial for visually impaired individuals to access various services and opportunities independently. Learning how to use buses, trams, or trains equipped with assistive technologies like the OrCam Read 3 can greatly enhance their ability to travel efficiently and confidently. The OrCam Read 3, for instance, can read aloudbus schedules, route information, and other transit-related materials on the go. By incorporating tools like the OrCam Read 3 into their public transportation strategies, visually impaired individuals can empower themselves to navigate and utilize public transportation systems effectively.

6. GPS and Assistive Technology

Technology plays a significant role in enhancing orientation and mobility. Learning to use GPS apps and other assistive technology can greatly improve a visually impaired individual's independence.

  • Familiarize Yourself with Available Technology: Research and explore different GPS navigation applications specifically designed for visually impaired individuals. Become familiar with their features, such as voice-guided directions and real-time location updates. 

    • The "What's in front of me" feature of the OrCam MyEye device helps users identify objects within a range of 6 to 30 feet ahead. It can recognize various objects like doors, chairs, round containers, ascending stairs, digital screens, and tables. To use this feature, the user needs to direct the camera towards the area of interest and then either say "Hey OrCam, what's in front of me" or double-tap the touch bar and say the same command after a beep. The device then announces the identified objects, their quantity, and relative locations, such as "A table in the center and 2 chairs, one to the left and one to the right”.

  • Practice with Familiar Routes: Start by practicing with routes you are already familiar with. Use the GPS app or assistive technology to navigate these routes while becoming comfortable with the navigation prompts and instructions.

  • Gradually Expand to New Locations: Once you feel confident navigating familiar routes, gradually expand your exploration to new locations. Challenge yourself to use GPS and assistive technology to navigate unfamiliar areas, gradually increasing the complexity of the routes.

By following these tips and practicing regularly, you can improve your proficiency in using GPS and assistive technology, enabling you to navigate independently and confidently.

7. Crossing Streets Safely

Crossing streets can be one of the most challenging aspects of mobility. Understanding traffic patterns, and identifying safe crosswalks are crucial for safety.

Here are some tips to improve this skill:

  1. Utilize auditory cues: Listen for traffic sounds, such as the sound of approaching cars, traffic signals, or pedestrian signals. Locate crosswalks: Familiarize yourself with the location of crosswalks in your area. This will help you plan your route and know where it is safest to cross the street.

  2. Look for visual cues: If you have some remaining vision, use it to your advantage. Look for visual cues such as the walk signal, pedestrian countdown timer, or the absence of oncoming traffic.

By following these tips and practicing crossing streets safely, visually impaired individuals can enhance their ability to navigate roadways with confidence and independence.

8. Indoor Navigation

Mastering indoor navigation ncludes finding your way through buildings, malls, and other indoor spaces.

To improve your indoor navigation skills using GPS and assistive technology, here are five tips:

  1. Familiarize yourself with Indoor Navigation Apps: Explore and learn how to use indoor navigation apps that are specifically designed for visually impaired individuals, such as BlindSquare, Nearby Explorer, or Microsoft Soundscape. These apps provide audio directions, points of interest, and detailed indoor maps for various locations.

  2. Utilize Floor Plans and Maps: Obtain floor plans and maps of buildings or venues you frequently visit. Study them to understand the layout, including the locations of entrances, exits, elevators, restrooms, and other important points of interest. Use assistive technology, like the OrCam Read 3, to access and let these floor plans and maps be read out to you.

  3. Practice Echo Location Techniques: Echo location involves using auditory cues and sound reflections to identify objects and navigate through indoor environments. Mastering echo location techniques can enhance your indoor navigation abilities. Seek guidance from orientation and mobility specialists or join support groups to learn and practice these techniques.

By implementing these tips, you can improve your indoor navigation skills using GPS and assistive technology, such as the OrCam Read 3. Remember to always seek professional guidance and practice regularly to enhance your abilities.

9. Time Management

Efficient time management is crucial for independent living. 

Here are five tips on how to improve the skill of time management for visually impaired individuals:

  1. Utilize Time-Tracking Tools: Use tools like digital calendars, alarm clocks, or smartphone apps with built-in reminders to keep track of appointments, deadlines, and daily tasks.

  2. Set Realistic Goals: Set clear and achievable goals for the day or week. Break larger tasks into smaller steps and assign time blocks for each step to stay focused and on track.

  3. Minimize Distractions: Identify and eliminate distractions that may hinder your time management efforts. This could include turning off notifications on your phone or finding a quiet and dedicated workspace for focused work.

By following these tips and actively working on improving time management skills, visually impaired individuals can effectively manage their schedules, prioritize tasks, and maximize productivity.

10. Self-Advocacy

Self-advocacy is a crucial skill for visually impaired individuals to assert their needs, rights, and preferences effectively. Here are five tips on how to improve self-advocacy skills and gain independence:

By implementing these tips, you can enhance your self-advocacy skills and gain the confidence to advocate for your needs, promote inclusivity, and live life more independently. 

11. Adaptive Cooking

Cooking represents a vital life skill and an avenue for fostering independence among visually impaired individuals. While assistive technologies like the OrCam Read 3 offer remarkable benefits in the kitchen with their instant audio reading capabilities for recipes and ingredient labels, it's important to recognize a variety of other strategies and tools that also facilitate cooking for those with visual impairments. For instance, tactile markers can be used on appliances for easier navigation, and talking kitchen scales and thermometers provide audio feedback for precise measurements. Organizational techniques, such as consistent storage systems, ensure easy location of ingredients and utensils. Additionally, safety measures like cut-resistant gloves and audible alerts on timers and appliances enhance the cooking experience. These tools, alongside devices like the OrCam Read 3, collectively empower visually impaired individuals to navigate the kitchen environment more effectively and enjoy the art of cooking with greater confidence and autonomy.

Financial Assistance

To achieve independence, it's crucial to have a grasp of available financial assistance and benefits:

Disability Benefits

  • Information on Disability Benefits: Access information about disability benefits available to visually impaired individuals.

  • The Application Process: Understand the application process and eligibility criteria for disability benefits.

Grants and Financial Support

  • Exploring Grants: Explore grants and financial assistance programs specifically tailored to support visually impaired individuals in their quest for independence.

  • How to Apply: Learn how to apply for grants to enhance your journey toward independence.

Mental Health and Emotional Support

Emotional well-being is paramount, and these topics explore how to maintain it:

Counseling Services

  • The Importance of Mental Health Support: Understand why mental health support is crucial for visually impaired individuals.

  • Accessing Counseling Services: Learn how to access counseling services, including professionals with expertise in visual impairment.

Coping Strategies

  • Practical Coping Strategies: Discover practical coping strategies to navigate emotional challenges that may arise during your journey toward independence.

  • Building Resilience: Learn how to build emotional resilience and maintain a positive mindset.

Support Networks

  • Identifying Support Networks: Identify and connect with support networks, including support groups and peer mentoring, to find a sense of community and emotional assistance.

Legal Considerations for Employment

Understanding your rights in the workplace is pivotal for achieving independence:

Understanding Your Rights

  • Comprehensive Overview: Get a comprehensive overview of legal rights for visually impaired individuals in the workplace, including laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

  • Applying Legal Knowledge: Understand how to apply your legal knowledge to protect your rights in your place of employment.

Reasonable Accommodations

  • Defining Reasonable Accommodations: Learn what reasonable accommodations are and how to request them from your employer.

  • Negotiating Accommodations: Gain insights into effectively negotiating accommodations in the workplace to ensure you can perform your job effectively.

Accessible Housing

A safe and accessible living environment is essential:

Finding Suitable Housing

  • Strategies for Locating Housing: Discover strategies for locating housing that is accessible and safe for visually impaired individuals.

  • Evaluating Living Spaces: Understand the important questions to ask when evaluating potential living spaces.

Modifying Living Spaces

  • Practical Advice: Receive practical advice on how to modify your home to make it more accessible and suitable for your needs.

  • Recommendations: Explore recommendations for making essential adjustments to your living space.

Community Resources

Connecting with the community can provide invaluable support:

Local Organizations

  • Local Resources: Access a directory of local organizations offering support, services, and resources for visually impaired individuals.

  • Engagement: Learn how to get in touch and engage with these local organizations, building a supportive network.

National Support Groups

  • National Support Groups: Explore a list of national support groups and organizations that provide additional support and information.

  • Community Connection: Find opportunities for connecting with a broader community of visually impaired individuals.


In your journey toward living independently as a visually impaired individual, these essential skills and topics are your guiding light. To sum it up:

  • Navigating Healthcare: Understand healthcare systems and advocate for appropriate care.

  • Assistive Devices: Use screen readers, Braille displays, and magnifiers to your advantage.

  • Financial Support: Explore disability benefits, grants, and financial assistance.

  • Mental Health: Access counseling, coping strategies, and a support network.

  • Legal Rights: Know your rights in the workplace and request reasonable accommodations.

  • Accessible Housing: Find and modify housing for safety and accessibility.

  • Community Resources: Connect with local and national organizations for invaluable support and camaraderie.

Embrace your independence with confidence and determination, knowing that you are part of a community that supports your journey. Your path to independence is filled with possibilities and opportunities for growth.

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