GSE students are learning how to ride TriMet’s public transportation system blindfolded this summer.
When the Visually Impaired Learner (VIL) and the Orientation and Mobility (O&M) cohorts began this term, students came to campus for their initial three-week summer intensive course. Except for this session, these classes are delivered entirely online. Because these are regional programs, some of the VIL and O&M students are from as far away as Alaska and Maryland.
Amy Parker, O&M coordinator and new GSE faculty member, contacted TriMet’s training division to see if there was interest in working with PSU O&M students. TriMet personnel graciously responded and hosted 11 students and 4 instructors at TriMet facilities in Portland. TriMet provided bus passes, safety vests, classroom space, and seasoned TriMet trainers who collaborated with faculty for hands-on lessons.
O&M is a field where instructors teach individuals who are visually impaired or deaf-blind to travel safely and efficiently at home, at school, and in the community. O&M specialists work with people of all ages to support independence, access, and participation. O&M specialists frequently work with transportation providers and designers to support accessible mobility in transportation systems.
“TriMet is a tremendous partner and offers incredible support for independence, self-determination, and mobility,” said Parker, who is building new partnerships with organizations like TriMet and the Transportation Research and Education Center at PSU.
At the TriMet Transit Mobility Center in Northeast Portland, drivers are trained to assist riders who are unable to access a regular bus. Students in this work session learned how the TriMet LIFT system works and practiced boarding the buses in wheelchairs while blindfolded.
James Scott Crawford, an author and certified O&M specialist, joined students at the TriMet Transit Mobility Center as a guest lecturer. Crawford’s specialty is working with individuals who are blind or visually impaired and using wheelchairs. He says his highest priority is keeping people safe. He teaches students how to give clear instructions to clients while allowing them the freedom to learn how to navigate boarding the bus.
A second work session the following week was held at TriMet’s Operations Headquarters in Southeast Portland and was led by TriMet trainers Elizabeth Rushen and John Ames. In this session, O&M students learned what to expect when riding a standard TriMet bus while blind or visually impaired. TriMet drivers are trained to help individuals with guide dogs know where to sit and will alert the rider if there are additional service dogs on the bus. Students explored the buses inside and out under blindfold. Rushen explained that all TriMet bus stop posts are hexagonal so that they can be differentiated from other street signs by someone who is blind. The TriMet trainers reminded students that safety is their number one priority.
This year’s O&M cohort also includes five students and two community based instructors in Seattle who participated a similar experience with King County Metro. Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind and the Washington State Services for the Blind provided support for the Seattle activities.
The O&M program at PSU introduces students to a variety of tools and technologies for navigation that help those who are blind or visually impaired to fully participate in all aspects of the community. Mobility is a prime concern for this population, and O&M and VIL students are often asked to perform many activities while blindfolded. Under supervision, they may use canes and other devices that will help them to understand what future clients will need to learn in order to travel safely in the community.
The PSU Orientation and Mobility Certificate program was launched in 2017 as an expansion of the VIL master’s degree in special education. The VIL program has been preparing teachers of visual impairments (TVIs) to work with school-age children for over 50 years. The VIL and O&M programs are part of the Pacific and Northwest Consortium for Vision Education that serves a six-state area. The VIL program at PSU pioneered online delivery for vision programs, making it accessible to urban and rural students across the country.