Welcome to the Aidis Trust blog. Here you’ll find our posts on assistive technology that are meant to inform and encourage discussion. Feel free to join in!

Out and About: Basic Mobility

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Mobility is the training which visually impaired and blind people receive to help them learn to travel and navigate their environments safely and independently.

People with other disabilities receive a similar thing often called travel training. In this blog series, I’m going to start off talking about what mobility is and the different things that are taught, then I’ll move on to talk a little bit about travel training and then, especially for our blind and visually impaired readers, I will look at some specific areas of travel and talk about some of the issues and share some useful things people have told me throughout my life. In this post, I’ll be talking all about basic mobility mainly about navigation.

If you don’t know many visually impaired people or are newly visually impaired yourself, you may be wondering how we get around out in the big wide world. Well, we learn through mobility lessons which encompass a variety of different skills. For this post, I’m just going to focus on basic skills and simple routes. These are things that most visually impaired people should learn at a relatively young age, assuming they are born visually impaired If they are not born visually impaired, they should learn it when they receive rehabilitation training to help them cope with their condition.

To give you a sense of the sort of things involved, here’s a list with some explanations:

1. Using a cane. Many blind people use canes to navigate and get around. The main purpose of a cane is to make sure that we don’t trip on anything or miss a change in a surface, for example falling off a curb if we do not know it is there. It also helps to make sure we don’t walk into obstacles or people. This may sound obvious to some of you but many people do not know this. I have had quite a few people come up to me while out and about trying to either let me know that a certain obstacle is there or trying to insist upon guiding me around it. And these aren’t always big threatening things. It is understandable and even possibly desirable that if there are building works going on on a side road, that someone will come and offer assistance. However, I have had people come and show concern about me getting around things as simple as bins on bin day or bollards in shopping areas, all of which are perfectly fine as I can get around them with my cane.

2. Navigating around buildings. This will involve things such as finding specific rooms, learning the layout of the building, dealing with changing obstacles and so on. While most of the skills for building navigation are usually taught in the early stages of mobility, with every new building they wish to access independently, blind people will need to be oriented around it by a mobility officer. I have known people before who are unfamiliar with blind people who assume that they are perfectly capable of doing the orientation work. While it is reasonable for them to do something simple like show a blind person around a room, they do not have the specialist knowledge to teach a blind person the best way of navigating an unfamiliar building.

3. Being guided. As much as it is important to be independent, one of the things blind people have to learn is about being guided in the right way.

4. Learning to cross roads and walk around the streets. Simply walking down the road can be a challenge if you’ve never done it before without sighted assistance. There are plenty of obstacles to get in your way such as trees, peoples’ garden walls, litter, leaves in autumn and peoples’ bins when it’s collection day. Therefore, one of the basic things people learn when they first have mobility is how to navigate around these obstacles. Crossing the road in the right way is also an important skill and one that’s important to be taught in a VI friendly way. Most primary schools have a person come in who does generic road crossing techniques, because it is such an important skill. However, there are some more specific things that you need to be aware of as a visually impaired person and these are another thing that is taught in mobility.

4. Visiting shops. Pretty much all the blind people I have ever had conversations with about mobility, did a basic shop route of some description early in their days of mobility. The reason for this is that it gets you using your street navigation skills in a simple route and also introduces an element of shopping. Local smaller shops usually have a small team of staff and mobility officers often have shops that they are familiar with, where they know the staff are good or that they at least know where they stand with the staff, so that they can teach the student to interact with that particular set of staff in a way that would mean that they can get the shopping they need. This also prepares people for moving on to bigger shops.

If you’ve found this post interesting, there’ll be more posts coming up in the Out and About series, which are all about travel and mobility.

If you’ve any thoughts on mobility training or any suggestions for areas for us to cover, we’d love it if you shared them in the comments below.

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