Guest editors' page.
Authors: Long, Richard G.
Fazzi, Diane L.
Pub Date: 10/01/2011
Publication: Name: Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness Publisher: American Foundation for the Blind Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 American Foundation for the Blind ISSN: 0145-482X
Issue: Date: Oct-Nov, 2011 Source Volume: 105 Source Issue: 10
Accession Number: 272077501
Full Text: Those of us who work in orientation and mobility (O&M) have the great honor and responsibility of partnering with individuals who are visually impaired to help them improve their ability to travel safely and independently. As we work together, we challenge each other, celebrate our mutual accomplishments, and confront our fears and disappointments. O&M specialists and their students respect one another and the unique abilities and opportunities that each brings to the relationship. O&M professionals do what human services professionals do best--observe, listen, think creatively, imagine the possibilities, teach, encourage, and guide.

We "O&M'ers" view the ability to travel in the larger context of our students' lives. We recognize that moving about safely and independently is not an end in itself, but a means to living, working, and recreating effectively with one another. Likewise, the profession of O&M itself is grounded in a larger context. To open this special issue of the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB) celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of university preparation of O&M specialists, we have elected to reflect on several broad issues in personnel preparation related to O&M. Clearly we have much to celebrate, but we must also face the challenges that lie ahead for our field. We trust that this editorial, the Comments that follow it, and the superb set of articles in this issue, will stimulate a lively discussion about the context and the future course of personnel preparation in O&M.

REASONS TO CELEBRATE

As university educators, we are grateful for the many books, journal articles, and other publications that inform practice and theory in O&M and that provide us with the tools we need to help our students acquire a solid base of knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Unlike the early years of the profession, when scant literature focused mostly on teaching O&M to working-age individuals, we now have research and practical guidelines that include information on working with young children, school-age children and youths, older adults, and individuals with multiple disabilities and complex health issues. Increasingly, O&M specialists use research published in JVIB and other publications to guide their instruction and keep up with changes in the field. The growth of our professional literature and its increasing use in personnel preparation is evidence of O&M maturing as a discipline. The active electronic discussion groups available to professors and students alike are also important teaching tools, as they often provide a diverse set of opinions on a wide variety of topics. In these discussions, students hear directly from the field and often can relate what they have learned in the classroom and in their field experiences to the collective wisdom of practitioners of the art of O&M.

We also celebrate the influx of individuals who have completed their doctoral studies in recent years; and we are grateful that many of these highly qualified, energetic, and passionate individuals have elected to accept positions in O&M personnel preparation. Many of these students were supported by a collaborative doctoral training grant for leadership personnel expertly developed by a consortium of faculty. We acknowledge the leadership of Salus University and the contributions of the U.S. Department of Education in making the National Center for Leadership in Sensory Disabilities a reality. The program and its graduates help to ensure a bright future in personnel preparation, O&M research, and leadership in the field.

We acknowledge, with gratitude, the many agencies and individual O&M specialists who enthusiastically undertake the challenge of mentoring and guiding professionals as they begin their careers in O&M. These mentors provide fieldwork experiences that allow young professionals to gain confidence in assessing students' needs, planning programs of instruction, learning about innovations in the field, and evaluating the outcomes of their work. They also provide a great deal of practical advice about the challenges that affect O&M work on a daily basis: overcoming transportation challenges, helping families to understand and support O&M goals, and dispensing with the myriad questions and interruptions from well-meaning sighted individuals that occur during the course of instruction. We hope that the pool of quality mentors can continue to expand and that, in times of resource constraints, agencies will continue to view the education of the next generation of O&M specialists as worthy of investment.

Finally, our colleagues in New York State who have led a long and challenging effort for licensure deserve our thanks for leading the effort toward greater professionalism and respect for O&M. Attaining licensure is sure to move the art of O&M forward rapidly as a profession and enhance the visibility and remuneration of its practitioners. We trust that other initiatives to promote licensure and the benefits of O&M services will undoubtedly occur in the future.

THE VALUE OF SYSTEMATIC PROGRAM REVIEW

As we celebrate these and other accomplishments, we also recognize the challenges ahead in personnel preparation for our relatively young profession. One sign of a mature profession is a well-established and comprehensive system for reviewing programs and their graduates to ensure that they are of the highest possible quality. Many disciplines in allied health, human services, and education have such systems in place. Although much progress recently has been made to improve our university program review process in O&M, much work remains to be done before an appropriately rigorous and fully implemented process of program improvement in university preparation is in place. Improving program reviews will require our personnel preparation programs and the broader profession to examine the core competencies and evidence-based practices for our field and ensure that we are teaching these practices to our students. Working together is one key to program improvement, and we see only modest cross-program conversation among university personnel today. As a result, there seems to be little sharing of innovative instructional methods and topics, strategies for assessing student learning, or content expertise. How will we ensure that the changing face of the consumers we serve is reflected in preservice education? As the population ages, for example, how will university programs determine how their curricula must change, and how will those changes be implemented and evaluated? Considering the relatively small number of programs (approximately 20 at any given time) and the technologies available for distance learning, improving cross-program communication, enhancing program review, and sharing evidence-based practices should be feasible and is essential to our continued growth.

CHANGING WORLD, CHANGING TECHNIQUES

The rapid expansion of travel-related technology and the changes in the travel environment, particularly the increase in unsignalized crossings and complex intersections, are two examples of "external forces" that have changed the way we think about O&M. How do we ensure that our personnel preparation programs provide solid instruction in technologies such as those that use Global Positioning Systems? In the future, devices will not only be used as aids in travel, but also to support teaching of the spatial and orientation concepts that build the foundations for travel. We must do a better job in university preparation in teaching theory and practice in spatial perception, cognition, and wayfinding, and new curricula and expertise will be needed to introduce new technologies to O&M specialists in training. O&M will look very different 20 years from now as a result of technological innovation. How do we "skate to where the puck will be" while at the same time focusing on our immediate challenges?

As with orientation and wayfinding technology, the travel environment and roadway infrastructure have changed dramatically in the past decade or so, and we have concerns that our curricula have not kept pace with changes in this area. We must ensure that our students have knowledge and skills to teach street crossings at complex intersections and uncontrolled crosswalks. We recognize that students must acquire a basic set of skills and knowledge to be effective O&M specialists, but we sometimes have the sense that there may be too much emphasis on a prescribed sequence of lessons in our preservice practical coursework and not enough focus on creativity, innovation, teaching strategies, and the challenges of complex travel environments. O&M specialists today must view themselves as "community travel facilitators," and must have the ability to converse knowledgeably with traffic engineers, transit personnel, and individuals who work in pedestrian safety and advocacy. We encourage university programs to educate students about the larger world of pedestrian safety and access, and embed their practice in this broader context. They must be advocates for the expanded core curriculum for students with visual impairments, access to public transportation, pedestrian safety and resources, and public education about the importance of walking as a means of transit.

DIFFERENT ERA, SIMILAR OBSTACLES

Fifty years after the first university training program for O&M began at Boston College, there continues to be limited visibility of the profession of O&M, low rates of referral for services, and limited funding streams to provide services. Even well-established service-providing entities-schools, state agencies, the Department of Veterans Affairs--face cuts to services for individuals with visual impairments. In times of shrinking dollars and mounting calls for accountability, the profession of O&M needs to show evidence of its impact on the quality of life of the people served. We must strategize about how we can be more politically savvy about telling our story and informing decision makers, families, and students about the positive impact O&M services has on its recipients. To do this, we need outcomes measurement research that is packaged so that policy makers are persuaded that what we do does in fact "make a difference." Outcomes measurement research needs to do more than document changes in travel skills, and it should include the impact of O&M services and travel abilities on broader factors such as success at school, social interactions, vocational opportunities, and quality of life.

The global economic downturn of the 21st century presents us with another challenge in university preparation. In these times of universally limited budgets, universities compete for ever-shrinking dollars to fund their programs and, in some cases, programs with low enrollment and expensive programs like ours are faced with closure. Unlike most disciplines in allied health, personnel preparation programs in O&M continue to compete with one another for federal grant dollars to fund programs and university students. It is likely that this funding source will decrease or be eliminated altogether in the not too distant future.

On a related note, O&M sometimes seems to be a well-kept secret--we find that the profession is unfamiliar even to many families of children with visual impairments and adults with acquired vision loss. Our limited visibility affects awareness of services, referrals for services, fundraising, federal support, and professional stature in advocacy efforts. Increasing the visibility of O&M is a vital component in increasing the applicant pool for university programs. Programs will need applicants with strong credentials who will be willing to provide their own support. How can practitioners and university personnel help potential students and the general public become more aware of our field? Although many people know a bit about occupational or physical therapy, few would be able to describe the work of an O&M specialist. We must work to address this lack of awareness on the part of the general public.

How do personnel preparation programs more effectively tap into the extensive knowledge about O&M that individuals with blindness and low vision and the people that serve them have? Many of the strategies we use in O&M originated in the work of creative students and service providers who generously shared their ideas in local, regional, and national O&M conferences and in other, more informal, venues. How do we make more effective use of the practical wisdom of consumers and service providers? For example, what are the most challenging travel-related issues and the greatest concerns of individuals with visual impairments? What would we learn from the experiences of individuals who have completed O&M training if each of them was asked to describe how the services they received have affected their daily lives? How well do the techniques we teach in our preservice personnel preparation programs fit the needs of people traveling in their communities? Services are too expensive and too scarce to spend them in ways that do not improve the quality of our students' lives. Consumers can help us identify what skills are most important to focus on. We advocate for early and frequent contact with visually impaired individuals in a variety of settings and contexts to help those university students who are future O&M specialists acquire the broader context they need to serve their clients well.

We could raise many other issues here. For example, the increasing numbers of school administrators and risk-management personnel who are making determinations about whether or not street crossings can be taught at real intersections or whether children and youth can even be offered the opportunity to learn to travel in their own communities. Many professionals and agency personnel still do not ensure that the individuals they hire to teach O&M are certified. The majority of persons with visual impairments in the United States do not have access to O&M services (or other services), and many are not even aware that such services exist. Despite the significant challenges that lie ahead, we are hopeful and confident for a bright future for this wonderful profession. We trust that the next generation of O&M personnel preparation faculty members and their students will champion our field, celebrate its accomplishments, remember its history and, most importantly, advocate and build an ever stronger and more vibrant profession.

RICHARD G. LONG, PH.D., COMS

DIANE L. FAZZI, PH.D., COMS
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