Orientation and mobility are fundamental skills for the development of autonomy, which are especially relevant in the case of people who are blind or have reduced vision . Among other things, these skills facilitate the use of the cane and other important technologies for travelling, as well as strengthening the awareness and recognition of oneself in relation to the environment.

In this article we explain how we can stimulate orientation and mobility in people with blindness and what is the relevance of these functions in psychomotor development.

Orientation and Mobility

Orientation and mobility are two psychomotor processes of fundamental importance for our development and autonomy. As psychomotor processes they include elements of two different but interrelated orders: elements of the psychological order, and elements of the motor order .

The first are those related to the processes needed to execute actions, to perceive and interpret world phenomena, to plan actions, to make decisions, etc. The second are those that have to do with the motor system, that is, with our voluntary and involuntary movements, our balance, our posture, our extremities, among others.

Both orders are linked through the participation of our senses : touch, smell, taste, hate and vision. Thus, according to the functioning of the latter, our psychomotor skills can also function in one way or another. Both psychomotoricity, orientation and mobility are processes which are related to our bodily consciousness. Specifically, orientation is the process by which we use our senses to establish a position and a relationship with the objects in the world. And mobility is the ability to move between those objects.

Sensory scheme, orientation and mobility

As we have seen, the involvement of the senses is fundamental to the development of orientation and mobility, and in the case of total or partial absence of vision, their stimulation (that of the senses) becomes even more important. Likewise, and as they are fundamental skills for the development of autonomy, the development of orientation and mobility becomes especially relevant in the case of people with blindness or visual weakness. In fact, these are two of the skills that are an important part of training for the use of the cane and other assistive technologies.

Beyond being the fundamental act of moving from one place to another, orientation and mobility give us the possibility to organize and familiarize ourselves with the world through physical contact, to know where we are and where we are going.

How to stimulate orientation and mobility in people with blindness?

Stimulating the orientation and mobility of people with blindness depends on many factors that may be different according to each person’s needs and circumstances. For example, the process may be different between an adult who has acquired blindness and a child who has been born blind.

In the latter, orientation and mobility can be pre-stimulated through gross and fine motor skills, as well as through the acquisition of different concepts. This is because up to the age of 2 – 3 years the child is ready to begin the process of moving. In the case of adults, the process may not require a motor pre-stimulation, but a restructuring of the perception of space in relation to one’s own body .

Likewise, blindness in many cases is not total, but partial, or with reduced vision, and in these cases, the strategies for stimulation may also be different.

In any case, it is not only about skills and processes, but orientation and mobility are two needs that the person himself develops through physical contact with the elements of the outside world . In this sense, we professionals or family members who intend to facilitate the process of autonomy must be aware of and remain respectful of the rhythms of each person, as well as being flexible in the face of the individual need to explore and locate himself or herself physically.

5 strategies

Broadly speaking, some dimensions that we can stimulate to favour orientation and mobility of people with blindness are the body scheme, concepts related to space and time, concepts related to the environment or the city, fine and gross motor skills, and sensory perception.

All of them are part of psychomotricity, are related to each other and have the common characteristic that they allow us to put our body in relation with the material and semiotic elements that surround it and place it in a certain position.

1. Body diagram

The body schema is the representation that we build and acquire over our own body. It refers both to the parts of it, and to its functions and movements. It includes the personal exploration of the body, and its relationship with the external elements.

It also has a social element, since the acquisition of the body schema occurs in correspondence with the social norms that tell us what it is like and what the parts of our own body are, and that allow us to establish different relationships with ourselves. And also with external objects, because they allow us to establish spatial relations, to identify stimuli that we recognize as not being part of ourselves .

2. Spatial and temporal concepts

The spatial concepts are those that allow us to establish schemes of relationship and position. They refer to surfaces and the terms with which we can refer to them. They also relate to notions such as magnitude, distance, size, quantity, weight or volume ; and to concepts such as left-right, up-down, recognizing one side or the other.

We know that there is a development of spatial concepts such as position categories, shapes and measures when the person has established a reference point idea and models of systematic hand searching. This usually occurs from the age of 2 or 3 years, and can be encouraged later.

In the same sense, notions such as yesterday, today, tomorrow, day, night favour, among other things , the spatial-temporal appropriation of the environment and the location of the body itself in it .

3. Environmental/urban concepts

Spatial concepts are basically the names of the objects around us. Above all, it is important to reinforce the recognition of the most frequently used objects . They also include concepts related to what exists in the immediate environment. For example, the elements of the environment, such as the floor, the room, the corridor, the traffic lights, the cars, etc.

The aim is to identify elements that emerge from the environment, learn what places exist and where they are, and then establish routes or sequences that connect all these elements. Likewise this allows the identification of obstacles and the generation of avoidance tools (protection techniques).

From there, the walker can identify a line that leads him or her along a specific trajectory or route, then update his or her positions with respect to signs along the way, and finally use general concepts about space.

4. Gross and fine motor skills

The aim is to favour elements such as posture, walking and balance, on the one hand, and skills related to the manipulation of small objects, which helps to estimate distances and coordination, on the other. Gross and fine motor skills are fundamental for reinforcing cognitive processes as well as perception of one’s own body and understanding its relationship with external objects on a large scale.

Depending on the person’s age, there are many different activities that can help these skills, ranging from riding a tricycle and stringing small beads to complex physical activity.

5. Sensory perception

Sensory stimulation is of fundamental importance because it allows us to establish reference points and discriminate between different stimuli in the environment as well as relationships with it. Specifically in the case of the ear it is important to take into account concepts such as identification, discrimination, monitoring, and detection of areas of “sound shadow”.

In the case of touch, the direct experience of the skin in contact with objects is important , although there can also be intermediate contact (for example, the recognition of a fruit with a fork). The olfactory and gustatory senses can be stimulated by discrimination and identification of different stimuli, even the most everyday ones.

Bibliographic references:

  • Martínez, C. (2010). Orientation and Mobility Training: Must be done. Recovered June 21, 2018. Available at http://www.tsbvi.edu/seehear/fall98/waytogo-span.htm.