Roles and Responsibilities in the
Orientation and Mobility Process
Reprinted from the Braille Monitor
the Editor: One of the most respectedperhaps
the most respected by parentsearly
childhood orientation and mobility teachers in the country
today is Joe Cutter of New Jersey. He addressed the
2000 seminar sponsored by the National Organization
of Parents of Blind Children in Atlanta. As always his
remarks were sensible and comprehensible, and for all
of us interested in cane travel or blind children, they
are worth reading and thinking about. They first appeared
in volume 20, number 1, of Future Reflections, the quarterly
magazine of the National Organization of Parents of
Blind Children. Here they are, beginning with Barbara
Cheadle's editor's note:
Cutter, Early Childhood Orientation and Mobility (O&M)
Specialist, New Jersey Commission for the Blind, is
a professional in the best and most noble sense of the
word. He is also one of the most truly humble people
I know. He never feels he is above learning something
new from his students, their parents, blind adults,
or fellow professionals. Joe regularly attends National
Federation of the Blind conventions and freely shares
his knowledge and expertise with parents and teachers.
He makes presentations, gives group workshops, and voluntarily
consults one-on-one with any parent who approaches him
with a problem. The following article is an edited version
of the speech he gave at the 2000 Annual Parents Seminar
at the NFB Convention in Atlanta, Georgia:
know of no better place to come than the NFB and the
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC)
to hear about, be informed about, and learn about your
roles, rights, and responsibilities. I know of no other
venue that respects and values these three R's more
than the NFB.
Chinese proverb says: "To know the way ahead, ask those
coming back." The richness of human resources in this
room today and at this convention all week will provide
you with much fuel for thought and action in meeting
your child's requirements on the road toward independence.
The positive role modeling, the rights that have been
established by the individual and collective power of
this NFB movement, and the personal responsibilities
that have been taken by persons at this convention can
provide you with comfort, confidence, hope, and skills
as you travel the road ahead with your child.
is an interconnectiveness among these three R's. Your
role as a parent gives you rights that come with responsibilities.
For example, you have a need to know about blindness
and a right to information about it. You have a need
for training for yourself and your child on the skills
of blindness. This information and training will facilitate
your role and responsibilities as your child's first
teacher. At this convention a few years ago a learned
gentleman from India told me, "The mother's lap is the
child's first classroom." No one will have a greater
impact on your child's development than you, the parent.
would like to talk more about your right to information
and training. You have a right to clear, reliable, and
useful information. As a parent you are vulnerable to
reading inaccurate information and misconceptions about
blindness in the form of unreliable research about blind
children. Much of the time this information will be
with a negative perspective. Be careful what you read!
It may leave you functionally illiterate about the true
nature of blindness. At its worst such material will
leave you with less hope and less motivation. At its
best it's like a mixed-up math problem from when you
were a kid: Mary has three apples and Sally has four
apples, so how many miles is it to Detroit? You scratch
your head and think, "What?" You're left not knowing
what to do with what you read (or heard, for that matter)
about blindness and your child.
you have a right to read about and hear about a positive
perspective about blindness. It is my responsibility
as an O&M professional never to take away hope, to do
no harm by promoting unreliable practices, but rather
to nurture your role with your child, to develop, along
with you, options and opportunities for your child.
And it is my responsibility to advocate with you in
what sometimes is a formidable structure of misinformation
and misguided practices in the education of blind children
today, particularly in the field of O&M (more about
this point later).
have a right to training: the "what" and "how" of O&Mor
as I have come to know it through my involvement with
movement and travel. I am talking about training that
is concerned with skills and skill proficiency and not
the endless readiness and remediation for these skillstraining
that respects early use of cane travel with the young
blind child, training in what I like to call the really
long long cane. The best way to learn how to use a cane
is not with a pre-cane (you know, those PVC pipe, rectangular,
push devices). The pre-cane will only slow down children's
movement and make them vulnerable to not learning age-appropriate
movement and travel skills. No, the best way for your
child to develop cane skills is to hold a cane in the
hand and use it.
unnecessary so-called readiness curriculum serves only
the professional who uses it and, I believe, is used
only by O&M professionals who haven't learned the techniques
for teaching long cane skills to the very young blind
experience has been that the most misguided O&M information
parents get has to do with using sighted guides. The
practice itself is not the problem but the misuse and
abuse of it at home and school. All too often parents
and classroom teachers are left with the idea that the
child should do most of his or her traveling on the
arm of another person. What these children learn, then,
is how to observe someone else's movement and not their
own. Everything they experience about moving in the
outdoor community and in the school is dictated and
directed by someone elsethe
person guiding themand
they never get the opportunity to practice self-directed
movement skills with a long cane.
this is so, I believe, because the traditional university
programs preparing O&M instructors for the field place
an overemphasis upon this single skill. It is the first
skill taught for indoor and outdoor travel. There are
pages and pages demonstrating the technique in the textbook
curriculum and hours and hours in the practicum experience
for the student learning to become an O&M professional.
You will not find this skill overemphasized and over-used
at the O&M program at Louisiana Tech under the direction
of Dr. Ruby Ryles. Instead, in this program the students
preparing to be O&M instructors use valuable time learning
about a full complement of independent cane-based travel
skills, the real skills of blindness.
thinking, based upon years of experience in the field,
is that the sighted guide technique has become "filler"
in the curriculum and practice of the traditionally
trained O&M instructors. They do not know how to move
forward with the skills of blindness promoted by the
blindness community, blind travel instructors, and the
NFB. Instead they fill the curriculum with sighted-guide
practice, and your child pays the price of sighted-guide
overload every day. The blind child doesn't need filler.
Feed your child sirloin steak, not hamburger helper!
next point about training is that, if your child is
partially sighted, he or she has the right to sleepshade
(blindfold) training. Such training develops confidence
in using the alternative (non-visual) techniques of
touch, smell, and sound. Children cannot develop full
confidence in blindness-based travel skills if they
are still relying mostly upon ten percent or less of
typical vision. This will produce doubt, stress, and
a tentative style of travel. The often-used argument
against sleepshade training is that the student will
go back to using vision once the sleepshade is off.
This is of course true, but what these naysayers don't
take into account is that the person will now use his
or her vision with greater confidence and with better
judgment about when to use vision and when to use the
non-visual technique. He or she will have new options
and confidence in using these options. It's about developing
I told you earlier that you are your child's first teacher?
Well, as your child's teacher you have the right to
help train the other professionals and educators in
your child's life. You are his or her most natural resource.
The more clear, reliable, and useful information you
have about blindness, the more persuasive you will become
in advocating for your child. Your information will
be confidence-based. (The word confidence comes from
"con-fidos" which means "with trust.")
with the other parents of blind children in your state,
you can work toward making a better life for your child
and other blind children. An excellent example of this
is in my own state of New Jersey. A decade or so ago
Carol Castellano, Vice President of NOPBC and President
of the Parents Division of New Jersey, informed, persuaded,
educated, and trained me well. It was a gentle, one-on-one
education. She worked with other parents in her state,
and together they are making a difference. Some of these
parents are here at this conventionValerie
and Ed Ryan, Amy Kaiser, and Donna Panaro.
September the New Jersey Parents of Blind Children will
conduct a teacher-training workshop for classroom teachers.
Carol works closely with Joe Ruffalo, President of the
NFB of New Jersey, to make these kinds of training opportunities
happen. Together they have positively influenced the
quality of life in New Jersey for blind people. I have
learned much from Joe and Carol. Theyparent
and blind adulthave
taught me to be a better professional, a better person.
Truly an educational revolution is developing in the
field of education of blind children, and the NFB is
leading the way.
the right to freedom of movement, the joy of movement,
and the confidence that comes with self-directed movement.
They have the right to take responsibility for their
own movement and to practice and master the skills of
blindness. It is your right, your role, and your responsibility
to teach your child; and Ias
the responsibility to support, facilitate, and join
you in this effort. Together we can be very formidable
and persuasive in contributing to positive outcomes
in independent movement and travel for blind children.