To many people the role of the visually impaired teacher is a mystery. Indeed I was a mainstream secondary teacher for many many years and I have to say it never occurred to me that a person called a VI teacher even existed. I rarely came across pupils with major difficulties with their eyesight so perhaps that is part of the reason; in those days of course the majority of VI children went to special schools. Am I giving away my age here...?
This is surely an argument for one day in the future explaining the role of the VI teacher in some depth in this blog. To me I have to admit the same can be said for some other professionals, such as the OT or the physio. However the one professional that is seriously underestimated and even less understood is the mobility instructor. I do not even know the right term to use. Is it rehabilitation worker or habilitation worker? And what is the difference between the two? What is mobility? I know that it is more than learning how to get around. It is also, I am informed, very much to do with independence and also to do with doing everyday things for yourself. My apologies for expressing my sheer lack of knowledge. I only say these things to show that though I work in the field of visual impairment I am not an expert on everything (let alone on VI!) For this reason I have asked Charmaine to explain her role and I am truly grateful for her very kind contribution here. I know I will learn as much as anyone who reads her article. Thank you Charmaine. Enjoy.
My name is Charmaine Sutton and I am the Educational Rehabilitation and Mobility Officer (ERMO) for the Sensory Education Support Service in Lincolnshire (SESS). My post was developed approximately 6 years ago when the Teachers for Visually Impaired Children (TVIs) put together a case for employing a mobility officer as part of the educational provision for children and young people with visual impairments in Lincolnshire; mobility training is an educational requirement for children with visual impairments if they are to develop independence. For the child with severe sight impairment it means they can attend the same school as their friends and be independent in the classroom, corridors and playground.
As the only ERMO in the team, I cover the whole of the Lincolnshire; Lincolnshire is a very rural and large county. I work with children and young adults from 0-19, teaching anything from long cane, symbol cane, general orientation, upper and our body protection, tracking and ball balance work. Each TVI has a caseload and from that caseload they refer children/young adults to me. Many of the children and young people with severe sight impairment will need ongoing mobility programmes, but some only need programmes at times of transition when they change classroom or move from nursery to primary school or primary school to secondary school.
My daily routine – well, I call it a routine but it isn’t. No two days are the same, which is exciting, although I do have regular visits to most of the children on my caseload - some have weekly some have fortnightly visits. I rely on teaching assistants to carry on practising the skills with the children in between visits. I am one of those very lucky people who absolutely loves her job. I love working with these inspirational children and young adults. I make mobility fun and introduce it at a very young age. I try to start some long cane training as soon as children can walk so that it becomes part of who they are and not something that makes them different.
Here is an overview of a Day in the Life of an ERMO:
My first visit of the day is to a school where I am assessing a child for long cane use, so I observe them within their environment. As an assessment tool I use Steps to Independence which is an RNIB publication. This gives me some pointers as to where the child may need input. During the visit I will hopefully get the chance to observe a playtime, PE lesson and a classroom situation.
My next visit is providing balance ball training with a child that has a very wide gait. Using a balance ball and various exercises enables the child to building core strength and get used to the feeling of being off-balance.
My final visit of the day is to a young adult who is having long cane training. The cane training takes place in the educational environment, a place where the young person feels comfortable and at ease. This enables them to learn the skills in a safe controlled environment and then in time we move the skills on to a more unpredictable environment. This is done slowly, building the skills and confidence continually.
As you can see from this overview of my day, each visit brings its own challenges and rewards. My job is never the same day to day or visit to visit. This makes my job challenging, exciting and rewarding. The main thing I would like to achieve in being a mobility officer is to enable blind and severely sight impaired children and young people to feel empowered and full of confidence to tackle any area outside of the educational environment and also make the long cane more obvious in general society and so detach some of the stigma.
Charmaine Alice Sutton ERMO