Program Description

Orientation and Mobility is that part of a rehabilitation or education program that teaches an individual who is legally blind how to travel safely and independently.  At the Board of Education and Services for the Blind, the goal of any orientation and mobility program is for the individual to achieve the maximum safety and independence in mobility that is possible according to his needs and capabilities.

Orientation and Mobility Instruction

The components of Orientation and Mobility instruction may include:

  • sensory training – development of the senses of hearing, touch, etc.

  • development of good spatial and environmental concepts – building an understanding of the layout of the environment in which the individual travels

  • confidence building

  • assessment and training of an individual's functional travel vision (if any)

  • instruction in self-protection techniques

  • instruction in the use of sighted guide technique

  • instruction in the use of a white cane for independent travel

  • familiarization to specific areas or routes in the individual’s environment

  • instruction in the use of available public transportation

Lessons are taught on a one-to-one basis by an orientation and mobility specialist.

Other Orientation and Mobility Services

For an Orientation and Mobility program to be successful, parents, teachers, employers, direct care staff, and others who may be involved to some extent in the daily life of an individual who is blind must feel confident and knowledgeable enough to offer appropriate assistance to the individual if and when the need arises.  Orientation and Mobility specialists at the Board of Education and Services for the Blind may assist these individuals by:

  • consultation with parents of children who are blind or visually impaired and families of adults who are blind to promote the development of good mobility skills and concepts for safety and independence in the home and community

  • consultation with teachers and paraprofessionals to develop the expectation of independence within their schools for students who are blind or visually impaired

  • consultation with school administrators, employers, direct care staff, and others to ensure that their facilities provide a safe, accessible, and “user-friendly” environment

  • presentation of in-service training to inform individuals of ways in which they may assist a person who is blind

  • participation in public education programs to inform the public about services offered by the Board of Education and Services for the Blind and to counter common misconceptions about blindness

Sighted Guide Technique

Most people who are blind travel at one time or another with the assistance of a sighted guide.  Even someone who normally travels independently with a cane or dog guide may take the arm of a sighted companion on occasion. {Sighted Guide Technique}

When walking with a sighted guide, a person who is blind walks a half step behind and to the side of the guide while holding the guide's arm just above the elbow.  In this way the person being guided can feel and easily follow the guide's movements.

For more detailed information about guiding a person who is blind, please see the pamphlet, Sighted Guide Techniques, published by the Connecticut Board of Education and Services for the Blind.

White Cane

A primary travel aid, one used quite frequently by individuals who are blind, is the long cane.  Often this cane is described as a "white cane" because it is painted white or coated with reflective white tape.

The long cane has a lightweight shaft, usually constructed from aluminum, graphite, carbon fiber or fiberglass, which is approximately {White Cane} one half inch in diameter with a rubber hand grip at one end and a nylon, plastic or metal tip at the other.  Each cane is individually prescribed for a user's height, length of stride, and comfort by an orientation and mobility specialist.

The basic technique for cane travel, the "touch technique," requires the cane user to move the tip of the cane in an arc across the front of his body, thus assuring a safe space for the next footstep.

White canes, both rigid and folding, are available today in a variety of styles from a number of manufacturers.  All are designed to fulfill specific needs for the user.  After being taught correct cane techniques by a qualified orientation and mobility specialist, a cane user can expect that the cane will:

  • identify the cane user to the public as legally blind by its distinctive white and red color

  • protect the cane user's body from collision with objects having a base

  • forewarn of drop-offs ahead or to the side of the cane user's path

  • inform the cane user about the tactile nature and condition of the surface underfoot.

Some cane users, although legally blind, may travel visually from place to place carrying a white cane to identify their blindness to the public.  Some individuals who are legally blind, especially the elderly, require support canes to counter orthopedic or neurological difficulties.  They may display white support canes to identify their blindness.  In this way, these cane users show courtesy to others while hoping that, in return, courtesy will be shown to them.

White-Tipped Cane Manufacturers



34 DeBaets Street

Winnipeg, Canada  R2J 3S9

1-800-561-3340, 204-663-3340

Fax:  1-800-267-5059, 204-663-9345


Web Site:

Revolution Enterprises, Inc.

12170 Dearborn Place

Poway, CA  92064

Att: Cane Division



Web site:

National Federation of the Blind

1800 Johnson Street

Baltimore, MD  21230


Fax:  410-685-5653


Web site:


Dog Guide

The Board of Education and Services for the Blind does not train or provide dog guides for individuals {Dog Guide} who are blind.  However, most organizations that train dog guides will require or recommend that applicants have instruction and experience in Orientation and Mobility before being accepted for training with a dog.  The Board of Education and Services for the Blind may assist these individuals by providing training in those Orientation and Mobility skills necessary for independent travel with a dog guide.

The following information about dog guides and their training is provided for informational purposes only.


Dog guides provide a rapid method of travel, safety, and companionship to those who choose to use them.  While only a small percentage of people who are legally blind travel using dogs as their primary travel aid, the use of a dog guide can be most efficient for active, physically fit individuals who must travel a great deal in varied environments.

Dog guides are usually Labrador or Golden Retrievers or German Shepherds, although other breeds are used occasionally.  All dogs selected for training must possess certain characteristics, including intelligence and a stable disposition.

Each dog undergoes intensive training before being matched with the person who will be its handler.  The dog is taught to respond to basic commands such as "sit," "stay," "forward," "left" and "right."  It must learn to react appropriately to curbs, pedestrians, traffic, barriers, and low hanging obstacles.  In addition, the dog must be able to disobey intelligently by refusing to proceed when there is danger ahead.

A dog and handler train together for approximately four weeks.  The dog wears a harness with a “U”-shaped handle, a leash, and a choke collar.  The dog’s handler walks to the dog's right, holding the center of the harness handle and the leash with his left hand.  The harness provides contact between dog and handler as they walk, allowing the handler to feel and follow the movement of the dog's body.  The leash is used by the handler to control the dog when the dog’s harness is not in use. The leash may also be used to discipline the dog.  If the dog misbehaves, the handler may correct the dog with a sharp tug on the leash.

It is important to understand that when a dog guide is in harness it is working.  Distracting the dog in any way while it is working could compromise the safety of the dog's handler.  You should always ask the handler's permission before speaking to or touching a dog guide, even when the dog is not in harness.


For more information about obtaining a dog guide, please refer to the list below.

Guide Dog Schools


Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, Inc.

P. O. Box 142

Bloomfield, CT 06002


Fax: 860-243-7215


Web site:

Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Inc.

371 East Jericho Turnpike

Smithtown, NY 11787-2976

631-265-2121; 800-548-4337

Fax: 631-361-5192


Web site:

Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Inc.

611 Granite Springs Road

Yorktown Heights, NY 10598

914-245-4024; 800-942-0149

Fax: 914-962-1403


Web site:

The Seeing Eye, Inc.

P.O. Box 375

Morristown, NJ 07963-0375

973-539-4425; 800-539-4425

Fax: 973-539-0922


Web site:

Freedom Guide Dogs
for the Blind
1210 Hardscrabble Road
Cassville, NY 13318

Orientation and Mobility Dos and Don’ts

If you see a person who is blind who seems to be in need of assistance:

  • DO introduce yourself and ask the person if he needs assistance.

  • DO provide assistance if it is requested.

  • DO respect the wishes of the person who is blind.

  • DON’T insist upon trying to help if your offer of assistance is declined.

If a person who is blind asks you for directions:

  • DO use words such as “straight ahead,” “turn left,” “on your right.”

  • DON’T point and say “go that way” or “it’s over there.”

If you are asked to guide a person who is blind: {Guide Person}

  • DO allow the person you are guiding to hold your arm and follow as you walk.

  • DO move your guiding arm behind your back when approaching a narrow space so the person you are guiding can step behind you and follow single-file.

  • DO hesitate briefly at a curb or at the beginning of a flight of stairs.

  • DO {Guide person} tell the person you are guiding whether the steps go up or down.

  • DO allow the person you are guiding to find the handrail and locate the edge of the first step before proceeding.

  • DON’T grab the person you are guiding by the hand, arm, or shoulder and try to steer him.

  • DON’T grab the person’s cane or the handle of a dog guide’s harness.

The following article was written by Dr. Chris Kuell, member of the BESB Board and the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut. It appeared in the Spring, 2008 edition of  The Federationist in Connecticut, published by the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut, and is reprinted with permission.


I Think I Cane


By Dr. Chris Kuell


A cane is only as useful as the attitude of the person wielding it. I found out the first time I went hiking with my family after losing my sight. Our kids were young at the time, so we picked a relatively easy trail around a small lake near our home in western Connecticut. Our son scampered ahead of us, pointing out every interesting bird and flower. My wife, Christine, carried our year-old daughter in a backpack, and I clung to her right elbow, stumbling along in this new and unforgiving world of darkness.

Christine detached my hand from her elbow and said, “Use your cane.” This was the third or fourth time she’d done this in the quarter mile we’d gone so far.

“It’s too hard,” I said. “Let me take your elbow. It’ll be much easier.” I knew she had the extra weight of our daughter, but I didn’t understand what the big deal was. Did she really expect me to walk this uneven, root-filled trail without getting hurt?

 A few steps later I stumbled over a rock the size of a small terrier, and fell hard, scraping tender flesh from my hands and elbows.  Months of anger and frustration erupted inside me. I smashed the cane into the rock like Paul Bunyan with his axe, bending it to an angle that matched my bloody elbow. A few seconds of absolute silence followed—not even the birds or chipmunks dared make a sound. Then the kids started to cry, Christine and I exchanged a few unloving words, and our hike was finished.

          At thirty-five, I lost my sight, my career, my confidence, and my self-respect. To me, the white cane represented a neon sign, my scarlet letter, proclaiming to the world that I was blind, and I wanted nothing to do with it. Two days after the hiking fiasco, a new cane arrived in the mail.

I’m blessed to have a wife who is caring, smart, and tough. Even though both of our lives had been turned upside down, and the weight of responsibility grew heavier on her shoulders, she had the good sense that I was lacking.

“We’ve got two kids,” she said. “And I won’t have them growing up feeling sorry for their Daddy.” She paused to let this sink in. “You need to get off the pity pot and learn how to take care of yourself. I want my kids to be proud of you.”

Those words proved to be the arrow that penetrated my layers of depression. She was right. If I couldn’t do it for me, and I couldn’t do it for her, I had to make some changes for my kids. 

Over the next several months, I began a new phase in my life. I received Mobility and Orientation instruction from the Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB, our state agency for the blind). Once a week an instructor visited my house and taught me proper cane travel technique. He showed me how to get around my neighborhood, and how to use public transportation. The cane gave me a physical connection to the places I traveled, and helped me to develop mental pictures of where I’d been.   For practice, I’d go for walks downtown, to the pharmacy, or the library to check out a book on tape. This was when the real lessons occurred, because sometimes I’d get lost. I’m yet to find a panic equal to being blind and completely confused about where you are. You have to resist the urge to bawl, and utilize the sounds and your physical surroundings to figure out where you are, and how you went wrong.

On one such occasion, I found myself in a parking lot full of cars. I figured I must have drifted into the lot, and attempted to retrace my steps to get back to the sidewalk. Everywhere I turned, I found only more cars. I paused, and listened for sounds of traffic. But, at ten-thirty on a Tuesday morning, all the streets were quiet. I tapped around, trying to find a way out. At some point, I heard the distinctive clicking of high heels, and made my way towards the sound.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I’m blind, and I’m lost. Can you please show me where the sidewalk is?”

Désolé, je ne parle pas anglais,” a woman answered.

I pointed my face skyward and thought—God, if this is your idea of a joke, I’m not laughing. I tried in vain to communicate with the woman, who really didn’t know a word of English, until I gave up and wished her a nice day. She went to her car, and then the solution hit me. I listened while she backed up, and followed the sounds of her vehicle as it weaved through the aisles and back to the street. Once there, I found the sidewalk I’d lost a half-hour ago, and made my way home.


I joined the National Federation of the Blind and talked with other blind people to find out how they did things. I began to believe in myself, and with support and encouragement from my family, I mastered some of the alternative techniques blind people use to get along in life.

With a newer, and lighter, fiberglass cane, I walked my children to and from school. In time, I learned Braille, and how to use a computer with a speech synthesizer. As I gained understanding about the true nature of blindness, I started doing advocacy work on behalf of the blind and visually impaired.

Three years after losing my sight, I traveled solo to Atlanta. Two years after that, I traveled to West Virginia and attended a Writer’s conference—by myself. Since then, I’ve traveled to our state capitol to lobby our Senators and Representatives to improve training and opportunities for blind people. I’ve co-chaired a legislative council overseeing our state agency for the blind, and tapped my way to meetings with the governor and the Secretary of State.

I now have a wide collection of canes. Most are taller than that first one, and most are lighter, fiberglass models—although I do have a sturdy aluminum one I use specifically for hiking. Some are one piece, others telescope or fold. Some have roller tips, others have a plastic ball or a thin aluminum disk.

Now I can’t imagine leaving the house without my cane, and I always have a spare in my suitcase when I travel. My cane does announce to the world that I’m blind, but I’m okay with that. It only symbolizes inferiority in the hands of those who don’t have the skills and confidence to use it properly.  When I’m walking down the street, it signals to cars and pedestrians alike that I’m going places.



Content Last Modified on 7/24/2008 9:38:24 AM