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How people who are blind or visually impaired travel

Several choices
People who are blind or visually impaired have choices when it comes to traveling. At any given time, they can travel using a human guide, holding onto someone's arm; use a long, white cane to identify and avoid obstacles; use a dog guide, use special optical or electronic aids, or use no additional aid. The choice of tools depends on the extent and nature of visual impairment, personal preference, lighting, and familiarity with the area.

In order to travel independently, people with visual impairments use whatever vision they have, auditory and tactual clues, and other information they know about an area to keep track of their location and make travel decisions.

Sighted guide
At one time or another, most people who are blind will rely on the human guide technique in which a person with sight serves as a guide to a person who is blind.

Long white cane
Many individuals who are blind or visually impaired use a long white cane as a mobility device. In the most common technique, the cane is extended and swung back and forth across their body in rhythm with their steps to provide information about the environment in front of them.

Dog guide
Dog guides are carefully trained service animals used as travel tools by less than 10% of people who are blind. The dog responds to commands of its handler, such as right, left and forward. Dog guides move in response to directions from their handlers, who must know where they are going and make decisions about the proper time to begin a street crossing. Dog guides disobey commands only to avoid danger.

No aid
Not all persons considered blind use a long white cane or dog guide. People who are visually impaired often rely on their remaining sight and auditory and tactile cues in their surroundings for orientation and travel.

Orientation and mobility training
Many pedestrians who are visually impaired or blind have received orientation and mobility training, provided by an Orientation and Mobility Specialist (O&M; specialist). An Orientation and Mobility Specialist usually has an undergraduate or graduate degree in teaching travel skills to persons who have visual impairments .

Orientation is the ability to understand where one is located in space and Mobility is being able to travel thorough that space safely. The goal of most O&M; training is to prepare a person who is visually impaired to travel in a variety of environments and to assess new intersections and travel new routes.

Orientation is not provided for every route that a person who is blind needs to travel.

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This site was developed under the sponsorship of the National Cooperative Highway Research Program.