I’ll Do It Myself!!


A very wise woman I had the privilege of providing orientation and mobility services to once told me “I’ll do it myself!” It is the mantra of a three-year-old child and ninety-tree year old woman. It rings true to anyone who wants to maintain or regain their independence. A child might want to make more decisions about what they prefer to do and when they want to do it. A ninety plus -year-old woman who recently lost all her residual vision might want to be able to navigate her home or residential area with greater independence.

This chronologically mature and spunky person informed me at that I should treat her as if she is entering kindergarten and needs to learn everything. Her intention was to learn enough in the next few weeks in order to ‘graduate from high school with high honors’. It was soon apparent that she was in the accelerated program and would soon earn a degree in independence.

We started at the very beginning. Kindergarten included an intensive review of basic long cane skills and locating her front door. The first grade curriculum encompassed expanding her ability to execute routes from her front door to her living room and bathroom. By the time she completed second grade, she could travel around her apartment and locate all of the rooms with very little guidance. She was a gifted student who graduated to intermediate skills by the time she entered the third grade.

Before she could say hip, hip hooray, we were walking down the hallway identifying clues and landmarks, trailing the wall and practicing long cane skills. Fourth and Fifth grade included an expanded curriculum, goals comprised of walking to the garden, tennis courts, and benches behind her building. Middle school incorporated familiarization to the community room, pool and gym. Some of the skills that she developed included opening gates with assistance, locating gym equipment and traveling within the community lounge primarily independently.

High school was a bit of a struggle. Crossing a parking lot is never easy and this was the only path to walk to the community pool, lounge, and exercise room. Compromise was part of the curriculum. She graciously agreed to walk to the community lounge and exercise room with her niece. She earned her degree in independence by living her mantra “I’ll do it myself!”

Copyright October 14, 2016. JoAnne Chalom. All Rights Reserved


Is there a ‘Me’ in Mentor?

Mentoring starts with idea that it’s all about the ‘me’. As the mentor, the student is dependent on you to access their ability observe the strategies you use routinely. Your timeline is also impacts when progress is evaluated and goals are completed. Reality can be very different. Mentoring is a lot like walking a tightrope and balancing the needs of the practitioner and practicum student.

I was asked to mentor a student who was completing coursework and needed to learn how to apply theory to reality. Was this something I wanted to do? In addition to my responsibilities to my clients would this individual add to or detract from providing services to my clients? Would our personalities clash? How would I tactfully address any concerns that might arise? Would I adjust to having a shadow for the next few months?

Being a mentor requires a certain degree to selflessness and hope that future professionals be proficient and work well with clients. Creating theoretical reports and reality based ones is very different. Agencies and school boards require dissimilar documentation. A practicum student would benefit from understanding the need for creating documentation that is routinely used in the field. As the practicum student transitions from shadowing, to co-teaching to teaching the need to demonstrate proper implementation of procedures and strategies is critical. The art of communicating with clients to ensure that they under how to implement the skills presented is a crucial part of a real-life experience.

In a structured academic setting, time is taken to practice and model instruction. Intensive discussions with professors and cohorts are part of the curriculum. A practitioner does not typically have the luxury of analyzing instruction and then transitioning to an in-depth review of recent events. Instruction is modified as needed in real time and thoughts about best practices occur at the end of the day.

Working with another individual does have its benefits, a person new to the field has enthusiasm and energy for their new career. The intrinsic benefit of mentoring someone can be gratifying, knowing that you have helped someone reach their professional goal.

Copyright October 13, 2016. JoAnne Chalom. All Rights Reserved

What’s in Your ‘Go Bag’?

Whether your place of work is an office, an airplane, or outdoors most adults going to work have a “Go Bag.”   As an Orientation and Mobility Specialist ­­­ my ‘office’ is my car which stores most of the components of my “Go Bag.” On any given day, I can work with clients in variety of settings ranging from a residential to a multimodal station (bus, train, and rail at one depot).

How has my ‘Go Bag’ evolved over the years? It started as a draw string backpack that could carry a limited quantity of items. It has advanced into a full backpack that dries quickly and has comfortable shoulder pads. Side pockets to hold water bottles are a required feature. Water and snacks are a must in case planned events such as a planned one-hour bus trip morphs into the three-hour bus journey.

Sunscreen, bug repellent, and a UV protected hat should be easily accessible as well as rain gear for those frequent downpours in a subtropical climate.

A fully charged phone with a backup battery is a must. GPS apps can easily drain a phone battery. Interchangeable outerwear is also part of the external ‘Go Bag’ which can include rain coats, sweaters, and jackets.

What does your ‘Go Bag’ include? Have you packed the essentials for this career; a willingness to adapt to unexpected events, a sense of humor, perspective and patience?

Copyright October 14,2016. JoAnne Chalom. All Rights Reserved

Orientation & Mobility Program from A to P


School is back in session, the day to day reality of maintaining an orientation and mobility program is an undeniable reality.  So, what type of effort is required to maintain an orientation and mobility program through a school system?

I’ve started a list and checked it twice, but I’m sure that I’ve missed a few things that are needed to sustain an orientation & mobility program in the schools.

Accessible Pedestrian Signals

Work with traffic engineers at the department of transportation to request Accessible Pedestrian Signals

Annual Individual Educational Plan meetings

Develop current individualized Present Level of Performance summations

Develop current individualized goals and objectives

Attend Individual Education Plan meetings and reviews of evaluations

Research and implement best practices

Audit docs

Ensure that all audit docs are completed within a timely manner


Attend monthly department meetings

Return phone calls to parents

Consult with teachers, paraprofessionals, physical therapist, occupational therapist and other employees


Aggregate data on student progress

Collect data on student progress

Complete informal assessments to guide lessons

Complete an Orientation and Mobility Severity Rating Scale or Orientation and Mobility

Secure information to validate the use of this tool

Evaluations and Informal Assessments

Interpret medical eye reports

Complete all parts of Orientation and Mobility Assessments

Complete all parts of Informal Data Observations Severity Rating Scale Plus for each student

Expanded Core Curriculum

Educate employees and parents about the mission of an orientation and mobility specialist

Organize groups for off-campus Expanded Core Curriculum trips for multi-age students

In-service Training

Gather, maintain, and distribute information about guide dog schools

Lesson Plans and related duties

Create and update lesson plans

Create routes and problem solving on-campus travel issues

Low Vision Clinics

Attend Low Vision Clinics with students and parents


Justify the need for materials such as canes and tips

Maintain an inventory of canes

Order long canes, tips, and adaptive mobility devices

Issue and replace cane and tips

Repair canes

Drop off materials and devices at area schools

Order materials


Attend to urgent matters


Address social skills necessary for off-campus instruction

Build relationships with transportation personnel

Research safe places for off-campus instruction

Gather and secure completed consent forms for off-campus instruction

Insure that off-campus instruction is scheduled on a regular basis

Confirm that that bus will arrive at the designated site in a timely manner

Justify of the need for bus transportation to residential areas that are not within walking distances

Paperwork: daily and monthly

Complete progress reports for all students

Send or reply to work emails

Professional Development

Introduce new ideas such a Treasure Quest to school personnel and administrators

Attend professional development workshops and conferences

Self-training of new products and technology

I’ve checked my listed, twice, but I’m sure I’ve forgotten something.  So try to relax and enjoy the journey.

Copyright October 13, 2016. JoAnne Chalom. All Rights Reserved


How Do You ‘Jump Over the Wall?

Marathon runners and career entrepreneurs have shared experiences. At some time in their respective sports and entrepreneurial careers they have ‘hit the wall.’  How do you move forward when you ‘hit the wall’?

Most runners and entrepreneurs push through the wall and walk their way into success.  Some change their pace, alter their routine. and find their rhythm again.  Many push beyond their comfort zone to achieve their goals. They change their training routine to reenergize themselves. Focus on marketing one day and networking another.

Create short term goals and complete a to do list.  Explore other options that includes a long term plan. Think through their business and personal priorities.  Think of the journey not the destination to ‘jump’ over the wall.

Copyright. October 2016. JoAnne Chalom. All Rights Reserved


Are You Busy Enough ?

As a private contractor,  I am frequently asked “Are you busy enough?”  The short answer is yes.  It’s a misnomer to believe that all of the work required to  implement and maintain a quality orientation and mobility program can be done during regular  business hours. Some programs have well established off-campus instruction programs and some are in their  infancy.

If districts do not have well established off-campus orientation and mobility programs they must develop procedures and protocols to ensure the safety of the student and professional.  Before an off-campus program can be ‘born’ the ‘parents’ or administrators must be convinced that the conception of this idea is  valid and educationally relevant.  Is off-campus instruction an educationally relevant  component of a quality program for student with visual impairments?

Once administrators agree to the establishment of an off-campus O&M program, the initial stages of development can start.  Forms are created and the program grows as the forms are approved, distributed and signed by legal guardians or parents.

In the second phase of development, potential sites need to be scoped out and determined if they are appropriate for the student.  Some things to consider include  the ability to safely travel to the sight by an acceptable form of transportation and determining if the destination is safe for the student and staff.

Do sidewalks exist or must the student walk on the road or grass ?   Are accessible pedestrian signals (APS)  in close proximity  to the destination ?  What other obstacles need to be considered to enable the student to have a positive experience ?

If APS is a distant concept then relationships need to be developed with the city, county and state department of transportation representatives.  Advocating might include reacquainting  some employees of outside agencies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In the third phase of development, a calendar of dates, times, places, activities must be shared with the extended family such as the  District Transition Specialist, District Program Specialist, on-site  Attendance Clerk, on-site ESE Specialist, ESE teacher and General Education teacher.

Other family members must be included in the process of implementing off-campus instruction.  Key family members include aunt transportation director to schedule school buses.  Otherwise, uncle alternative transportation and his cousins must be contacted up to two weeks in advance to schedule para transit.

Once the O&M program grows to the point where it is mobile, a visit to aunt attendance clerk must be included in the lesson.  Students must be signed out and back in when they are preparing to leave and return to campus.

The extended family of the off-campus orientation and mobility program continues to grow and go through some growing pains.  So to answer your question am I busy enough, you bet !

Copyright. 2013. JoAnne Chalom. All Rights Reserved

When Marketing is More than Going to the Grocery Store

What is marketing ?  Going to the market to pick up some eggs?  Comparing different grocery stores in your neighborhood ?  Creating and distributing materials about your business to  your niche market ?  Well, it depends.  If you are a homemaker option one makes perfect sense.

If you are collecting data on features of different grocery stores then option two is the correct answer.  But if you are a business owner then option three is the selection that works best for you.  Keep it current, marketing is more than having business cards, brochures and flyers.  Do you tweet , routinely ?  Are you LinkedIn ?  Do you have a Facebook page for your business ?  How often do you update your status on all  these social media sites ?   Do you blog ?   How often do you post ?   Do you focus on different markets for each of your social media options  ?

When was the last time you revamped your business’ website ?  Are the current trends integrated into the website ?  Have you used search engine options so the website is accessed often and easily ?  Once you have checked all the marketing boxes, take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back, but not for too long because everything changes in a heartbeat.

Copyright. 2013. JoAnne Chalom. All Rights Reserved

You Do What for a Living ?

As an Orientation and Mobility Specialist it is typically a challenge to explain to other professionals what I do? Are you a teacher, occupational therapist, or a physical therapist? Well, in reality none of the above. But you work with children and you go to schools so you have to be a teacher, right? Well, not really, speech language pathologist, behavioral analyst and assistive technology specialist work in the schools do they fall under the generic description of a teacher?

I try to simplify the description of an Orientation and Mobility Specialist and tell teachers that I help students learn how to travel safely and help them improve their long cane skills.

I’ve used my 30 second elevator speech to pique their interest by saying that I play in the traffic for a living. I can explain that I work with individuals that have a visually impairment or are totally blind. I am a subject area expert and I work with people and teach them how effectively implement long cane technique and other techniques. I team with project managers to recommend the installation of Accessible Pedestrian Signals.

If I’ve captured their attention for more than a minute I provide examples of what I do such as showing a student how to analyze an intersection. If the conversation is expansive, I can define my position as an Orientation and Mobility Specialist as someone one who teaches people who are blind or visually impaired the skills and concepts they need to travel safely with greater independence at home, the classroom, or communities. That’s what I do for a living.

Copyright. October 2016. JoAnne Chalom. All Rights Reserved


Copyright. 2013. JoAnne Chalom. All Rights Reserved

My Bobcat ate My Cane and Other Reasons to Cancel O&M Lessons

In my world, orientation and mobility is not typically seen as a priority when high stakes testing carries more educational clout.  Determining student mastery of state  curriculums ,and end of course exams supersedes all other services including orientation and mobility.   But what real world impact does this philosophy have on academically proficient  students  with visual impairments when  they graduate and do not have sufficient skills to travel safely ?  Do they take classes at home through a virtual university majoring in a field that virtually excludes them from mainstream society?

So flexibility is the word of the day, week and year when you strive to provide quality services when your area of expertise is not considered a high priority.  When you work in a rural/suburban area flexibility is the key to making it through a typical day.  Your schedule can change in an instant and you have to learn to  just go with the flow. 

Some of the more unusual reasons for having orientation and mobility lessons cancelled included  ‘our chicken coup collapsed and a bobcat is in our backyard and  I am going to be on TV and cannot meet with you.’   Other less creative reasons include, ‘I forgot my cane at home, I have a court or social appointment, I’m going to Space Camp , I’m going out of town , I’m in a detention center, I need a smoke, I know I have glaucoma and I have a rash…’don’t ask where.’

Other challenges include convincing the client/student that orientation and mobility lessons are worth their time.  Sometimes the ‘cool factor’  impacts a student’s motivation to participate in orientation and mobility lessons especially when their peers can see them in their neighborhoods during lessons.  The cool factor seems to be prevalent when the student hasn’t really experienced any major issues traveling during the day, but it might be a different story when they try to travel  at night.  Some of the stronger responses include ‘I’m opting out of the program or I already know everything.’   Some students have not accepted that a cane is a useful tool when they can ‘pass’ as a typical student and locate all their classes on campus.  They might occasionally trip or fall when ascending and descending stairs, but they rationalize that as that is just part of their  clumsiness.

So as you interact with your clients you will encounter many opportunities to  advocate, facilitate and mediate their preferences  with your commitment  to make them safer travelers.


Copyright. 2013. JoAnne Chalom. All Rights Reserved

What do Lavern and Shirley have to do with O&M ?

So how did a nine-teen seventy’s show become the focal point of an O&M lesson ?   Let’s combine the need for a student to learn two-point touch cane technique with her sense of rhythm  and her need to be both in step and in rhythm.

Using an app of  a  metrodome could be effective and very utilitarian, but it also has another factor that would be seen by any preteen student, boring.  So let’s spice it up a bit with some music.  Why Lavern and Shirley’s theme song, well if you listen to the first verse of the song “Making our Dreams Come True” by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox it works beautifully to help Katy learn to ‘tap’ her cane.

” One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight,  Sclemeel, schlemazel, hasenfeffer incorporated,  we’re gonna do it! ”  Katy could tap her cane to the rhythm of the song and then we would work on the technical aspects of two point touch. Now she had a song in her head to help her focus her attention on the lesson.   So thanks to the creative efforts of Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, ” we are gonna do it!”

Copyright. 2013. JoAnne Chalom. All Rights Reserved