Providing rehabilitation services to blind people: “all plus more.” – includes job descriptions for rehabilitation teachers & orientation and mobility instructors; also includes directory of professional personnel training program

Providing rehabilitation services to blind people: “all plus more.” – includes job descriptions for rehabilitation teachers & orientation and mobility instructors; also includes directory of professional personnel training programs – Careers in Rehabilitation

Patricia Bussen Smith

Blindness can be described as a summation of losses: primarily, loss of independent living skills and loss in control of the environment. Rehabilitation teachers and orientation and mobility (O&M) instructors are the key professionals who teach people with impaired vision the necessary techniques to overcome these limitations. Most people are familiar with the various professionals in general rehabilitation agencies, such as vocational counselors. Agencies which provide rehabilitation for people who are blind also utilize the services of these professionals, plus require the unique skills of rehabilitation teachers and O&M instructors.

Rehabilitation Teachers

Rehabilitation teachers assist people with impaired vision in meeting immediate and lifelong goals. These professionals are primarily responsible for 1 ) assessing and evaluating their clients’ independent living needs and abilities, 2) developing individualized teaching plans with clients, 3) teaching the adaptive skills needed for independent living in personal management, household management, communication, education, leisure activities, and orientation and movement in the immediate environment, and 4) teaching the use of low vision devices and techniques. In conjunction with these duties, rehabilitation teachers facilitate the individual’s and family’s psychosocial adjustment to impaired vision; provide consultation, public education, and inservice training; teach problem solving and resource utilization (including adaptive equipment); and coordinate the implementation of the rehabilitation teaching service plan, with all appropriate case management and recording. In simpler terms, it is the job of the rehabilitation teacher to provide people with impaired vision the instruction necessary for them to be able to deal with whatever causes them problems and to help them become independent. Rehabilitation teachers, formerly called home teachers, also function under other job titles, such as independent living specialists. (See AERBVI Rehabilitation Teacher Job Description at end of article.) Rehabilitation teachers are generally employed by state vocational rehabilitation agencies, private nonprofit rehabilitation agencies, and Veterans Administration rehabilitation centers.

Orientation and Mobility

O&M instructors have the primary responsibility of teaching people with impaired vision the orientation and travel skills and knowledge necessary to negotiate safely and efficiently in their work, home, or school environments. The individualized instruction might include use of functional vision, sensory training, concept development, electronic travel aid usage, low- vision optical and non-optical device training, pre-cane and cane instruction for indoor and outdoor travel, and specialized travel needs related to urban, rural, and inclement weather environments. The O&M instructor’s responsibilities include providing consultation, support services, inservice training, and public education to other agency personnel, family members, and the community at large. In layman’s terms, an O&M instructor teaches a person with impaired vision how to move from one place to another safely. (See O&M Job Description.) These professionals are generally employed in state vocational rehabilitation agencies, private nonprofit rehabilitation agencies, Veterans Administration rehabilitation centers, residential schools for the blind, and public schools.

Need for Rehabilitation Teachers and Orientation & Mobility Instructors

Due to the nature of the services provided by rehabilitation teachers and O&M instructors, the age range of their clients can be extensive; however, the greatest cultural pressure for independence is most often associated with people of working age, and rehabilitation teachers and O&M instructors are the primary service providers who prepare people with impaired vision for vocational training.

Elderly people also require the services of these professionals. Approximately half the people over the age of 65 have impaired vision and could benefit from specialized instruction. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (1989), it is projected that by the year 2020 there will be a 75 percent increase in the elderly population over what it was in 1987. By 2030 the elderly will double their present population. The National Center for Health Statistics Health Interview Survey reports that 38 percent of the people over age 65 indicated they were unable to read newspaper print and were also limited in some activity due to visual impairment and that 18 percent of these people indicated they were unable to carry on a major activity due to visual impairment (Kirchner, 1988). The other 62 percent, who indicated they could not read newspaper print, but did not have a handicap in a life activity, could benefit from training in independent living skills and utilization of low vision devices. The National Society for the Prevention of Blindness (NSPB) estimates there are 225 blind persons per 100,000 people in the United States. In 1978 there were 46,600 new cases of blindness; 55 percent of these people were over 65 years of age. The highest incidence of blindness is found in states with the largest elderly and nonwhite populations, such as in the southern states (NSPB, 1980).

Personnel Shortage

With the numbers of people with impaired vision increasing, the need for rehabilitation teachers and O&M instructors is also increasing. Personnel shortages in these professions are pervasive throughout the country. In a rehabilitation teaching manpower study, the perceived need was estimated to be 300 rehabilitation teachers per year, while the university personnel preparation programs would be graduating only 70 students per year (Uslan, Asenjo, and Peck, 1982). With the number of newly visually impaired people increasing each year, the discrepancy between the number of rehabilitation teachers and O&M instructors needed will continue to increase.

Reasons for the Personnel Shortage

As with most problems, the reasons for the personnel shortage are multifaceted. One of the greatest problems facing recruiters is the lack of knowledge by the general public–the pool of potential workers–of the existence of these specialized professions. The “behind the scenes” nature of these professions, especially rehabilitation teaching, contributes to the lack of awareness of these career choices. Career exploration is often initiated through computer programs based on the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). Unfortunately, rehabilitation teaching and O&M instruction are not accurately incorporated into the DOT.

Upon learning of these two professions, the first question potential workers frequently ask concerns projected salaries. Unfortunately, the salaries in rehabilitation agencies are not competitive with those paid in the public schools in the same geographical area. Not only is the actual salary paid by a rehabilitation agency generally less than that paid by the public schools, but the discrepancy is even greater when the salary for a 12month contract at a rehabilitation agency is prorated against a 9-month contract with the schools.

Research has shown that individual contact with a direct service provider or a visually impaired person is a major factor in recruiting a person to these specialized professions (Wiener and Bussen, 1988). Unfortunately, many of the professionals do not recognize the importance of their role in helping to resolve this personnel shortage.

The nature of these occupations makes them appealing to many people seeking second careers, especially to people looking for a helping profession and a relevant, functional application of their job skills. Although most positions are for full-time employment, many people work part time or supplement their current jobs by working freelance. Thus, for many people the location of the personnel preparation programs can be a factor. Currently, there are only six universities that offer training in rehabilitation teaching (a seventh is scheduled to begin in fall of 1992) and 16 universities with personnel preparation programs in orientation and mobility. Although entrance requirements are specific to each college or university, generally the master’s degree programs will accept a bachelor’s degree in any related field if the applicant’s academic standing is in the C plus or B minus range. A listing of the specific colleges and universities offering personnel preparation programs in rehabilitation teaching and orientation and mobility is provided at the end of this article.


Personnel shortages can be resolved by addressing those factors that relate to increasing the number of new professionals and retaining those currently employed. Recruitment and retention are equally important answers to the problem.


Teamwork has long been advocated as the most effective service delivery system in rehabilitation. It is the extension of that teamwork to recruitment efforts that will bring new professionals into these specialized careers. The Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) has established a professional personnel recruitment committee to address these personnel shortages. Each chapter of the organization has been asked to form a recruitment committee to work on “grassroots” efforts in the local communities. To assist the committees, the organization published a Personnel Recruitment Handbook, which provides a variety of ideas and sample materials for recruitment efforts.

As indicated earlier, individual contact with a professional in the field is one of the main reasons people enter these careers. Greater efforts need to be made to increase these contacts and to encourage more people to enter these fields, by planting that “first seed.” These efforts can succeed in reaching people who are considering a career change, whereas more traditional recruitment methods aimed at current students will not. Vocational rehabilitation counselors can be a vital link in making their clients aware of these career choices. These efforts would result in the vocational rehabilitation system obtaining additional quality closures as well as helping to meet the needs of other clients.

Efforts should be increased to obtain visibility for rehabilitation teaching and orientation and mobility through career exploration materials. The subcommittee of the American Foundation for the Blind Task Force on Rehabilitation Teaching should be encouraged to continue their efforts to obtain an appropriate listing of rehabilitation teaching in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.

Recently, a career day highlighting professions in rehabilitation was held in Dallas, Texas, sponsored in part by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). (See related article in this issue.) The interest and quality of questions from the students were encouraging. As expected, the majority of students attending were from the immediate geographical area, even though invitations had been extended to every state in the RSA Region VI area. Given the success of the Texas venture, other states should be encouraged to develop similar career days specifically related to rehabilitation.

Agencies have been developing some innovative methods to meet their personnel shortages. Several agencies have provided financial assistance to people for training with the stipulation that they work for the agency for a minimum number of years upon completion of the degree. To highlight one such agency, the Maine Center for the Blind was having difficulty filling a rehabilitation teaching position in a rural area of the state. Advertisements announcing financial assistance for training were placed in the local newspapers. Of 59 inquiries, 17 resulted in completed applications. Although the agency was only able to provide financial assistance to one person, several other applicants pursued training in the field after initially learning about these specialized professions through the newspaper ad. The success of these efforts should encourage other agencies to become directly involved in recruitment activities.


All things considered, the retention rate in rehabilitation teaching and O&M is better than in many professions. These professionals enjoy the rewards of individualized teaching in nontraditional settings. They can see the difference in the quality of life their instruction has made for their clients. Compared to other areas of rehabilitation, such as substance abuse, rehabilitation for people who are blind reflects one of the lowest recidivism rates. Teaching adults has many advantages over teaching children; in addition to the lack of discipline problems, there is an immediate application of skills, and timeframes are related to client needs rather than state mandated school calendars. When professionals do leave these jobs, the reasons are usually related to low salaries and caseloads too large to adequately meet client needs. Happily, some of the turnover can be attributed to promotions and advancements withhin the field.

Nonmonetary Incentives

There is no doubt that high salaries would assist in alleviating the personnel shortage. However, nonmonetary incentives could be implemented by administrators as a means of increasing staff retention. Improved communication and meaningful staff development are two areas frequently needing attention. Retention can be increased by creating a pleasant work environment, addressing both the tangibles, such as the physical aspects, and the intangibles, such as improving interpersonal relationships. Positive verbal feedback can be given for daily tasks–not just major projects. Showing a genuine interest in each person as a unique individual can do much for enhancing an employee’s self-esteem. Applying the principles of change theory can facilitate the staff’s adjustment to the changes and growth of the agency. Asking staff members to identify their job irritants might produce awareness of nonmonetary factors that can be easily corrected or improved. Nonmonetary incentives can be very simple things that produce major results.

Because rehabilitation agencies serving people with impaired vision are facing severe personnel shortages, especially in these two unique professions, a teamwork approach to recruitment and retention issues may enable agencies to meet the primary service needs of the visually impaired population.

Dr. Smith is an associate professor in the Department of Rehabilitation at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and is Chairperson of the AER Professional Personnel Recruitment Committee.


Kirchner, C. (1988). Data on Blindness and Visual Impairment in the U.S. New York: American Foundation for the Blind.

National Society for the Prevention of Blindness. (1980). Vision Problems in the U.S.: Data Analysis, 1980. New York: National Society for the Prevention of Blindness.

Uslan, M., Asenjo, A., & Peck, A. (1982). Demand for rehabilitation teachers in 1981. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness. 76, 412-417.

Wiener, W., & Bussen, P. (1988). Shortages in personnel serving children and adults who are blind: a recruitment dilemma. Yearbook of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, 1987. 5, 1-16.

Professional Personnel Training Programs in Rehabilitation Teaching and Orientation and Mobility Training

Colleges are listed alphabetically by state with the

following codes:

* Traineeships, scholarships, or financial aid


U Undergraduate

GM Graduate Master’s Degree Level

O&M Orientation and Mobility

RT Rehabilitation Teaching

S Summer

AY Academic Year


University of Arizona

Contact: Dr. Dan Head

Department of Special Education

University of Arizona

Tucson, AZ 85721

(602) 621-7822

* – GM – O&M – S – AY


University of Arkansas at Little Rock

O&M Contact:Dr. William Jacobson

RT Contact: Dr. Patricia Bussen Smith

Department of Rehabilitation

University of Arkansas at Little Rock

2801 S. University

Little Rock, AR 72204

(501) 569-3169

* – GM – O&M – RT – S | AY


California State University, Los Angeles

O&M Contact: Diane Fazi

Department of Special Education

California State University, Los Angeles

5151 State Univers ity

Los Angeles, CA 90032

(213) 3434411

* – GM – O&M

San Francisco State University

O&M and RT Contact: Dr. Sandra Rosen

Special Education

San Francisco State University

1600 Holloway Avenue

San Francisco, CA 94132

(415) 338-7650 or 338-1248

* – GM – O&M – RT – S – AY


University of Northern Colorado

O&M Contact: David Kappan

Division of Educational Studies

University of Northern Colorado

McKee Hall, Room 318

Greeley, CO 80639

(303) 351-2742

* – U – GM – O&M – S – AY


Florida State University

O&M Contact: Purvis Ponder

(904) 644-4880

209 Education Building

Florida State University

Tallahassee, FL 32306

(904) 877-6269

GM – S – AY


Northern Illinois University

O&M Contact: Thomas J. Langham

(815) 753-8455

RT Contact: Judy Matsuoka

(815) 753-8456

Department of Educational

Psychology, Counseling,

and Special Education

Northern Illinois University

DeKalb, IL 60115

(815) 753-0655

* – GM – O&M – RT – S – AY


Michigan State University

Department of Counseling,

Educational Psychology

and Special Education

331 Erickson Hall

Michigan State University

East Lansing, MI 48824

(517) 355-1871

* – GM – O&M – S – AY

Western Michigan University

Blind Rehabilitation Contact:

Dr. William Wiener

(616) 387-3455

Department of Blind Rehabilitation

Western Michigan University

Kalamazoo, MI 49008

(616) 383-1682

* – GM – O&M – RT – S – AY

New York

Dominican College

RT Contact: Dr. Rona Shaw

O&M Contact: Cynthia Shaw

Dominican College

10 Western Highway

Orangeburg, NY 10962

(914) 359-7800

* – U – S – (O&M only) – AY

Hunter College

RT Contact: Dr. Roseanne Silberman

Department of Special Education

695 Park Ave., Box 1487

New York, NY 10021

(212) 772-4701 or 772-4742

GM – S – AY


University of Pittsburgh

O&M Contact:

Dr. George Zimmerman

Department of Special Education

5M01 Forbes Quad

University of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, PA 15260

(412) 624-1403

GM – O&M – S – AY

Pennsylvania College of Optometry

Contact: Dr. Audrey Smith

Pennsylvania College of Optometry

1200 S. Godfrey Avenue

Philadelphia, PA 19141

(215) 276-6290

GM – O&M – RT – S – AY

South Carolina

South Carolina State College

Contact: Dr. Eddie Glenn

Department of Human Services

South Carolina State College

Orangeburg, SC 29117

(803) 536-8889

GM – O&M


George Peabody College for


Vanderbilt University

O&M Contact:

Dr. Mary-Maureen Hill

Box 328, Peabody College

Nashville, TN 37203

(615) 322-8160

* – GM – O&M – S – AY


Stephen Austin State University

O&M Contact: Robert Bryant

Dual Competency Contact:

William Bryant

Department of Counseling and

Special Education Program

Stephen Austin State University

SFA Station, Box 13019

Nacogdoches, TX 75962

(409) 569-2906

U – O&M – S – AY

University of Texas at Austin

Contact: Dr. Brad Walker

Special Education Department

EDB 306

The University of Texas

Austin, TX 78712

(512) 471-4161

* – GM – O&M – S – AY

Texas Tech University

Contact: Dr. Pat Kelley

Box 41071

College of Education

Texas Tech University

Lubbock, TX 79409

(806) 742-2345

* – GM – S – AY

Rehabilitation Teacher Job Description

Job Title: Rehabilitation Teacher

Independent Living Specialist

Rehabilitation Instructor

Qualifications: It is recommended that a person have a degree in rehabilitation teaching and certification from the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AERBVI). Otherwise, it is recommended that the applicant possess a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a related discipline– special education with an emphasis in visual handicaps, home economics education, rehabilitation counseling, human services–and be AER certifiable.

Roles: The Rehabilitation Teacher’s roles may include:

* assessment and evaluation of clients’ needs in home, community, educational, and vocational environments;

* teaching adaptive independent living skills;

* case management and record keeping;

* identification and utilization of community and national resources;

* utilization of community support services; and

* facilitation of psychosocial adjustment to vision loss.

Specific Responsibilities: The Rehabilitation Teacher may be responsible for:

* assessing and evaluating the independent living needs and abilities of people with impaired vision for meeting immediate and lifelong goals;

* developing individualized rehabilitation teaching plans with the client;

* teaching adaptive skills needed for independent living in personal management, household management, communication, education, leisure activities, orientation and movement in the immediate environment, and use of low vision devices and techniques;

* coordinating the implementation of the rehabilitation teaching service plan;

* teaching problem solving and resource utilization, including adaptive equipment;

* facilitating the individual’s and family’s psychosocial adjustment to impaired vision;

* providing case management and case recording; and

* providing consultation, public education, and inservice training.

Orientation and Mobility Instructor Job Description

Job Title: Orientation and Mobility Specialist

Orientation and Mobility Instructor

Teacher of Orientation and Mobility


Qualifications: Minimum qualifications include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university with emphasis in O&M. AERBVI Division IX (O&M) certification is recommended. Certification only in O&M is also available from AERBVI, providing the person has received a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a vision-related field of study (e.g., teacher of the visually impaired).

Roles: The orientation and mobility specialist is a professional with specialized training in the assessment and instruction of blind and visually impaired people in skills which lead to independent movement and travel to the greatest degree possible. The orientation and mobility specialist is a significant team member in the education and rehabilitation process of blind and visually impaired people. In addition to extensive training in the area of orientation and mobility, this professional has knowledge of the psychosocial implications of visual impairment, the structure, function, and pathologies of the eye, multiple impairments, kinesiology, and the learning process. Services may include: an evaluation and/or assessment, direct instruction, and liaison between the visually impaired person or parents and relevant school or agency personnel.

Specific Responsibilities: The O&M specialist has the responsibility to provide the following services for day and/or night travel purposes:

* O&M evaluations of clients with visual impairments, specifically as they relate to the orientation and travel needs of the client in the home, school, or work environment;

* functional low vision evaluations/assessments related to the orientation and travel needs of a person with a visual impairment;

* consultation and inservice on appropriate techniques and materials to other members of the evaluation team, and/or relevant professionals and family members;

* individualized direct instruction specifically related to the following areas: 1) use of functional vision, 2) sensory training, 3) concept development, 4) Electronic Travel Aid usage, 5) low vision optical and non-optical device training, 6) pre-cane and cane instruction for indoor and outdoor travel purposes, and 7) specialized travel needs related to urban, rural, and inclement weather environments;

* prepare and use equipment and materials for the development of orientation and mobility skills (i.e., tactual maps, models, long canes, distance low vision devices, and electronic travel devices with additional training);

* implement a program of individualized instruction in the following areas, as appropriate: basic skills; orientation skills; concept development; sensorimotor skills; cane skills; methods of travel in a variety of environments, including!residential, light business, metropolitan, and rural areas; communication and safety within the community; use of public transportation systems; and use of functional vision and training with low vi. sion devices;

* transport students to various community locations as necessary to provide meaningful instruction in realistic learning environments;

* provide consultation and support services to other teachers, family members, and other school or agency personnel;

* provide inservice training to other school or agency personnel and student peers and provide public education within the community;

* assist team members with the process of transition between and within educational settings, rehabilitative settings, and either of these settings and the work environment;

* conduct environmental analyses and make necessary recommendations or modifications to enhance the person’s orientation to and travel with the school, home, or work environment;

* maintain accurate records and supply appropriate reports regarding the status of the client’s training to relevant schools, agencies, relevant-professionals and family members;

* provide appropriately adapted materials (e.g,, large print and/or tactile graphic aids or maps) to assist people with orientation and travel needs;

* make adaptations to teaching style to meet the needs of the individual learner;

* maintain knowledge of local and national resources, and keep abreast of professional issues (e.g., review relevant literature, attend conferences) related to the field of vision and O&M; and

* advocate for the needs of visually impaired people.

COPYRIGHT 1992 U.S. Rehabilitation Services Administration

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group