Orientation and Mobility (O&M)

An Individual experiencing vision loss encounters many new challenges. One challenge is navigating around one’s home and community. The Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) Orientation and Mobility Department consists of Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists who provide individualized travel training programs within one’s home, workplace and community. Instruction begins with an assessment of the individual’s travel needs, motivation, and visual and physical abilities. Based upon this assessment, a training program is developed with the goal of maximizing independence. Or, for the more experienced traveler, training may focus on providing orientation to a new environment, such as a college campus, work location, new residence, etc.

Some of the techniques taught may include:

  • Indoor and outdoor orientation skills
    • Problem-solving skills
    • Wayfinding skills
  • Self-Protective techniques
  • Travel Training
    • Street Intersection analysis
    • Pedestrian street crossing skills
    • Use of public transportation
  • Effective use of human guide technique
  • Long cane techniques
  • Self-advocacy skills
  • Use of low-vision aids for orientation & mobility

Some individuals may choose to apply to a guide dog school once they have mastered independent travel with a long cane. A guide dog, like a long cane, is a mobility tool. Applicants must demonstrate safe travel skills and effective problem-solving techniques. Individual guide dog schools have unique requirements and application procedures, and an evaluation conducted by the guide dog school. For more information on guide dog schools and resources go to http://guidedogusersinc.org/resources/guide-dog-training-schools.

Children’s O&M Services

Orientation and Mobility services for children are provided by individual school systems. School districts employ or contract directly with individual Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists. All children who are legally blind should have an orientation and mobility evaluation at least every three years. MCB O&M Specialists will work with school O&M Specialist during the transition year to adult services, upon request. For more on School age O&M services, go to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Guidelines for the Specialized Assessment of Students with Visual Impairments at www.doe.mass.edu/news/news.aspx?id=7000

Department of Developmental Services (DDS) Partnership

Individuals who are legally blind, or have low vision are also served by DDS O&M services and/or the MCB O&M staff. DDS O&M staff will also work with individuals they serve who are not legally blind but have a vision loss. Contact the DDS Director for Vision and Vision Loss Services at Lisa.DiBonaventura@state.ma.us. O&M Services include adaptive instruction for the consumer as well as instruction for support staff within home and community settings. DDS and MCB work together to coordinated services for this population.

Access a Video on Adaptive Guiding Technique

Let’s Walk Together, a video on adaptive guiding techniques for Individuals with vision loss and other disabilities can be seen here: www.focusonvisionandvisionloss.org/mcbdds.html.

Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC)

For Individuals who are not legally blind but need O&M services, he/she may be eligible for O&M services if served by MCB’s sister agency Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC). Contact MRC at  www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/mrc/contact-us.html for more information.

O&M Consultation Services

The Orientation and Mobility Department also offers consultation services to families and other professionals on issues such as:

  • Advocacy
  • Accessibility issues such as accessible pedestrian signals, safe travel routes, and environmental barriers which impact pedestrians who are legally blind
  • In-service training on blindness etiquette to professionals, such as employers, Senior Centers, Assistive Living Residences, group homes, etc.

For more information on these services contact the MCB Orientation and Mobility Department at meg.robertson@state.ma.us.

Other Resources

O&M Certification

Orientation & Mobility Specialists are certified by the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation & Educational Professions. Go to www.acvrep.org for more information.

Related Laws

Massachusetts White Cane Law GL c. 90 § 14A

Whenever a blind pedestrian, guided by a guide dog or carrying a raised or extended cane that is white or white tipped with red, attempts to cross a street, drivers must stop for the dog or cane user. A person who owns an animal shall restrain and control such animal on a leash when in proximity to a guide dog that is on a public or private way. Violations of this law are punishable by a criminal fine of not less than one hundred and no more than five hundred dollars.

Enforcement: State and local police enforce the White Cane Law.

Massachusetts Service Animal Law G.L. c. 272, §§ 92A and 98A

Any person with a disability accompanied by a dog guide or service animal is entitled to any and all accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of all public conveyances, public amusements and places of public accommodation, within the Commonwealth, to which others not accompanied by dogs are entitled, subject only to the conditions and limitations applicable to all persons not accompanied by dogs. People training service animals are also protected. No service animal user may be required to pay any charge or fare for the service animal in addition to those lawfully chargeable for the user’s own travel. Enforcement: Violation of this law is punishable by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and the service animal user is entitled to damages. Complaints must be filed within 300 Days at

Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD)
1 Ashburton Place, #601
Boston, MA 02108

Blind Access Card

Massachusetts residents who are legally blind may use all MBTA mainline transit services (but not the RIDE) for free with a Blind Access CharlieCard from the CharlieCard Store. To apply for a Blind Access Charlie Card, one must have an ID from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind and apply at the Charlie Card Store at the Downtown Crossing T subway stop. For more information, go to: http://www.mbta.com/fares_and_passes/reduced_fare_programs. Individuals who are legally blind, may also have a companion travel with them for free with a blind access card.

White Cane Information

White Cane recommendations are based on a number of factors, including the type of visual impairment, age, height and other specific needs as accessed by a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS). The two main types of white canes used by Individuals who are legally blind are:

A LONG WHITE CANE with red at the bottom. This cane type is for independent travel and to avoid obstacles. It is also used for identification, the detection of objects and drop-offs, and information gathering. There is also a variety of different types of cane tips.

And/or a WHITE SUPPORT CANE with red at the bottom, which is designed to identify the individual as legally blind but has usable travel vision. It is used to assist with depth perception on stairs or curbs in familiar areas. It does not offer protection against the unexpected obstacles.

Specialized training for both types of canes and travel skills are provided by a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS). These canes may be rigid or collapsible. They are used to help navigate the area ahead of the user. The long cane allows a person who is blind or visually impaired to check for objects in the path of travel and changes in the walkway surface.

A small percentage of persons who are legally blind use a dog guide rather than a long cane but usually need long cane and orientation & mobility training before acceptance to a guide dog school.

Legal Blindness v. Total Blindness

Legal Blindness does not mean total blindness. Most individuals who are legally blind have some usable vision. Some may be able to still read (regular or large print), recognized faces and colors (or not), depending on the type of vision impairment and degree of vision loss. Vision may also change throughout the day depending on the time of day, health of person, lighting of area, etc.

White Cane Safety Awareness Month

White Cane Awareness Month is to promote better understanding of what a white cane means & how pedestrians and motorist can assist long cane users and guide dog users at street crossings. For more information on White Cane Awareness Month or for white cane training, contact the Orientation & Mobility Department at MCB, 800-392-6450(V/TTY) x7581.

Top Ten List of DON'Ts For Motorists When They See a Pedestrian

Using a White Cane or Dog Guide at Street Crossings.

(Adapted from “The Ten List of What Motorists Shouldn’t Do When They See A Blind Person” by James Hazard & Kathy Zelaya info@oandm.org 1998)

10 Don’t stop your car more than five feet from the crosswalk line.

 9 Don’t yell out “it’s ok to cross”.

 8 Don’t get impatient when waiting for pedestrian who is visually impaired to cross. If the pedestrian places the long cane into the street, it usually indicates he or she will begin a street crossing. If the cane traveler takes a step back & pulls back the cane from the curb, it usually indicates the person will not be crossing at that time.

 7 Don’t consider a ‘rolling’ stop as a complete stop. A stop sign means STOP!

 6 Don’t turn right on red without coming to a full stop and looking for pedestrians. The Right on Red Law requires drivers to come to a complete stop prior to making right turn.

 5 Don’t fail to stop for pedestrians at all crosswalks whether or not there is a traffic signal or stop sign. Come to a full stop.

 4 Don’t stop your car in the middle of the crosswalk.

 3 Don’t pass another car, stopped, waiting for pedestrians to cross the street.

 2 Don’t wave to pedestrians who are using a white cane or dog guide to indicate that you are waiting for them to cross. They CANNOT see you.

 1 Don’t honk!

Massachusetts White Cane Law: All motorists, when they see a pedestrian who uses a dog guide or a white cane at a street crossing, must come to a complete stop.

Guide Dog “Dos & Don’ts”

  • Do not touch or pet a guide dog without permission of the Owner.
  • Never distract a working guide dog.
  • Never feed a guide dog.
  • Correcting the dog is the responsibility of the Owner; if there is an issue that needs to be addressed about a dog’s behavior, discuss it with the Owner so he or she can resolve the issue.
  • All Owners are expected to clean up after the dog and dispose of waste in appropriate trash barrels.
  • Do not acknowledge the dog before you acknowledge the Owner.
  • Guide dogs are allowed everywhere the Owner is allowed.
  • Guide dogs are taught to “follow”. If one is directing an Individual, ask if the Individual prefers to go sighted guide or to follow you.

This information is provided by the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.