Using Maps While Teaching Grocery Shopping to Students with Visual Impairments

Using Maps While Teaching Grocery Shopping to Students with Visual Impairments

Last summer, I did the most daring thing an Orientation and Mobility Specialist could do. I signed up to teach an elementary summer school class. For two sets of one week sessions, I was given a set of 8 brand-new-to-me students, aging from 7 to 8 years in age. The objective was to help them learn about their worlds in a fun, motivating, and impactful way. Kind of like O&M 101 camp.

On Day 1, we learned how to go grocery shopping. I had made 8 copies of light-weight maps, both tactile and high-contrast print versions.

What has happened since I left my full time Orientation and Mobility Specialist position

What has happened since I left my full time Orientation and Mobility Specialist position

“How did you get this job at the International Orientation and Mobility Online Symposium?”, one of our planning committee members asked the other day.

I shrugged, not knowing how to answer her. “I made it up!” I said.

It has been a long time since we got to chat about what I am up to now, so I figured we could sit down together, grab a cup of decaf coffee or sparkling water, and chat.

How to Conduct an Orientation and Mobility Assessment for a Student with Multiple Impairments

Background: Woman with blond hair working at a wooden table with notebooks around her.

We were walking down the hallway when my student turned to another staff member. He grabbed for the staff member’s arm. “Ayy-ee-oooh”, my student said to the staff member. “Oh, cheerios?” the staff member repeated back to my student.

He then turned to me “Ayy-ee-oooh”, he said as he grabbed my arm and pulled me closer to him. “Do you want some cheerios?”, I asked him. “Ya.Ayy-ee-ooh. Ayy-ee-ooh.”, my student repeated.

In that moment, my student, who did not speak in anything but vowels, had a severe learning disability, and light perception in one eye (no light perception in the other eye), had just completed a very complex task.

He was able to locate a person in the hallway who knew his word for Cheerios and then coordinate a complex system of communication in order to get his needs for Cheerios met.

If you pay attention to the tiny details of your students with multiple impairments, these intricate skills can be seen many times over.

Today, we are going to dive in to How to conduct an Orientation and Mobility assessment for students with multiple impairments, what assessments I love best, and some typical pitfalls that we need to be aware of during our assessments.

First, let’s clarify:

What defines a Student with Multiple Impairments?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines a student with multiple impairments as a student with more than impairment that affects their learning. The Special Education Guide website provides an exemplary definition and overview.

For us, we are going to classify that as a student with a visual impairment + another impairment.

This could fall in to at least one category:

  • Visual + Physical

  • Visual + Other Sensory

  • Visual + Cognitive

  • Visual + Social

Physical Impairments are: a limitation on a person's physical functioning, mobility, dexterity or stamina.

Some impairments that you might see include:

  • Cerebral Palsy

  • Neuropathy

  • Spinal Cord Injury

Sensory impairments are a disability of the senses (e.g. sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste).

  • Deaf Blindness

  • Sensory Integration Dysfunction

  • *Autism is sometimes included here

Cognitive Impairments cause significantly impaired cognitive functioning.

Some examples we often see are:

  • General Learning Disability

  • Traumatic Brain Injury

  • Neurodegenerative Diseases

  • ADHD

As Orientation and Mobility Specialists, we also often need to teach students with cluster syndromes as students with multiple disabilities.

Cluster Syndromes include conditions that affect multiple systems:

Conditions with more than one symptom.


  • Sickler’s

  • Norrie’s Disease

Parts Orientation and Mobility Assessment for a Student with Multiple Impairments:

  1. Folder Review

    1. Medical Information

    2. Visual Information

    3. Review past reports

  2. Parent Interview

  3. Student Interview*

4. Observations: Using the assessment, observe skills in:

a. Variety of environments

      • Familiar: Home, School, Community, familiar vehicles

      • Unfamiliar*: Different parts of school, new community environment, unfamiliar vehicles

      • Familiar environment, UNFAMILIAR routine.

      b. Variety of lighting conditions

      • Darkened area

      • Sunny environment

      • Just walked under a tree?

      • Is the building casting a shadow?

    c. Variety of situations

      • Familiar environment, UNFAMILIAR routine.

      • Seated vs standing/walking

5. Summary* (Some people include a subjective summary, other’s don’t. I haven’t seen a definitive right or wrong with this. I like reading subjective summaries, but I was also taught the our assessments need to be as objective as possible).

6. Recommendations

a. Travel guidelines (for parents, staff)

b. Goal area recommendations

How to Conduct an Orientation and Mobility Assessment for a Student With Multiple Impairments

  1. Determine the purpose of your assessment. Be as clear as possible with yourself. This will help you determine which assessment you choose, and which portions of the assessment you choose to conduct. For students with multiple impairments, you probably aren’t looking at assessing on the entire TAPS curriculum. Depending upon their age, TAPS may not even be the best option. But I am getting ahead of myself.

  2. Decide on an assessment tool. My favorite tools* are:

*Not affiliate links.

3. Gather as much information about the student as possible before you observe. Review their folder, call their parents, talk with their teachers and paraprofessionals. Then, Write out all of the things that you know about your student.

4. Write a list of the skills you need to assess during your observation
. Since you already have your report started, you can then walk in to your observation with a clear list of the skills you need to seek out.

5. Now it is time to assess your student! Use the template of your assessment as a guide. 

This is my biggest teaching tip: 

During your assessment, gather information from a macro to micro level. Macro: What is going on in the environment? What is the lighting like? What ambient sounds are around? Down to the micro: was the teacher on the left or the right side of the student? What happened when the teacher moved to the other side? What happened when their peer suddenly clapped their hands loudly? Could they still do the skill you were looking for?

The gems are in those tiny intricate details. When your students can't verbally tell you the information you need to assess, you have to be very observant. 

Seeing a skill done in a familiar, routine setting does NOT indicate that the student has the skill. It just means that they have memorized a routine. Try to see a skill in a an unfamiliar routine. Conversely, a skill performed while seated and instructed is NOT indicative of full comprehension. You will also want to see them perform the skill while in their routine and while traveling. 

Here is a quick, 2 minute video sharing how to conduct an Orientation and Mobility Assessment for a student with multiple impairments

Common Pitfalls of Assessing Students with Multiple Impairments

When you are only given a few hours to assess a student that you have never met before, it can be tricky to know exactly what to do and where to start in order to get the information you need.

Pitfall #1: Thinking that because the student does/does not perform a skill in one area, that they do/don’t do it across the board.

To do: remember, this assessment is only going to be a snap shot of what you see during that time. Do not generalize seeing a student trail the wall once to a sentence that reads “Student is able to trail the wall”. Try “Student was observed to trail the wall while walking from his classroom to the restroom.”

Pitfall #2: Not teasing out the difference between static and dynamic skills.

This can be an entire blog post in itself. Test BOTH static (seated) understanding of spatial concepts (such as left/right over/under) and dynamic (while traveling). You may get different results.

Pitfall #3: Not coming prepared with a list of skills that you need to assess.

Tip: Write down everything you know about the student before you assess them. Then call their primary caregiver and ask them what they have seen and what they want for their loved one. Call the teacher to find out what they see. I also suggest calling the physical therapist, occupational therapist and speech therapist as well. The speech therapist may have information as to how the student communicates that will help you formulate the questions you ask during your assessment.

In Summary, in order to conduct and Orientation and Mobility assessment for a student with multiple impairments, you will want to:

  • Plan your assessment and strategy

  • Perform the records review and interviews.

  • Write down everything you know about the student on your Assessment Template.

  • Then, make a plan to observe the skills you need to see in a variety of environments or routines.

What do you think? What did I miss? Tell me your thoughts below or come hang out with me on Facebook and share your ideas.

Woman with blond hair at table with notebooks. Text: How to Conduct an Orientation and Mobility Assessment for Students with Multiple Impairments.


How to Increase Academic Performance through Orientation and Mobility

How to Increase Academic Performance through Orientation and Mobility

Academic performance is at the heart of every piece of data that our administrators collect. 

We know it's not their fault. They need to prove that we are doing our jobs. But our job, although arguably the most important educational component to any student/ client/ consumer's curriculum, is not always seen as the pivotal piece. 

Often, as related service staff for a low incidence population, our bosses don't even know what we do. 

Easy Activities to Celebrate Blindness Awareness Month

October is a great time to focus our attention on what really matters. It isn’t the paperwork. It isn’t managing the bureaucracy. Nor is it finding the coolest new invention for people with visual impairments.

October is our time to educate the people around us about visual impairments. It is our time to celebrate with our loved ones, our students, and our peers who have a visual impairment.

Here are a few easy ways that you can educate our students’ community and celebrate their uniqueness with them!

How I set up my conference presentations to get maximum engagement

How I set up my conference presentations to get maximum engagement

During my first presentation, I was SO NERVOUS! I was 13 weeks pregnant and honestly could not tell if I was nauseous from the pregnancy or the nerves.

It was probably the nerves.

I want to take all of that away for you and share exactly how you can set up your presentations easily, without fuss, and get the maximum engagement from the crowd.

2 Most Important VoiceOver Gestures for Orientation and Mobility

2 Most Important VoiceOver Gestures for Orientation and Mobility

Do you ever feel like you missed the Tech-train as it left the station a few years ago?

Now the topics people talk about are above your head and you feel like you don’t speak the language.

Yes. Yes. and more YES. In a recent blog post, we talked about hard it is to keep up with all of the technology these days.

For those of you who want to get your feet wet, but haven’t yet, this vlog is for you.

There are 2 most important VoiceOver gestures that you NEED to know. Everything else is based on these two. Also, if you ONLY know these two, you can get a teenager to teach you the rest of them while still being a confident O&M Specialist. #win-win.

3 Simple Techniques to Increase Your Students' Independence

There has been a 16% increase in children with disabilities over the past decade.

The good news is, Asthma is down. The bad news is, neurodevelopmental disabilities are on the rise. That's CVI, ONH, and Autism.


We, as educators, are charged with leading our students’ teams in the fight for their independence.

Collaborating with Your Students' Team Members

During my first year as an O&M Specialist, I had a student with multiple disabilities that I walked to the dorm after school. He was a non-verbal 13 year old male student with Autism. When I inherited this student upon accepting the position, he was using a Connecticut- style AMD.


It worked great for him for the first few months. Then, he started to throw it. Every day. He also started to hit me, bite me, and throw himself on the ground.


Not too bad, unless you are 22, have NO idea what you are doing, and have to get this kid across a community-college size campus right after his gentleman “recreation” time. None of those things were in my favor.


Never-the-less, I noticed that he no longer needed the full AMD. It was time to move towards a less restricted cane.


So, I suggested an L-bar for him.


His teacher adamantly disagreed.


In this week’s vlog post, I share exactly how I navigated the situation and how I approach collaborations with other teachers.



If you like this information, you will definitely want to check out the O&M for Students with Multiple Disabilities Study Group. 

The good news is... STUDY GROUP REGISTRATION IS CURRENTLY OPEN! (As of August 20, 2018).

In case you are wondering, Study Group Registration will be open until we have 30 people in each group. I fully expect them to fill up before registration closes in September.