Orientation & Mobility: Directions to Home

I have always been guilty of zoning out on car trips. Since I am blind and can’t drive myself, I tend to luxuriate in my role as the passenger. As a kid I spent my time singing to the radio or reading a book. Nowadays I sing my kids ridiculous songs to keep them entertained, or pass them snacks, or play referee in the classic backseat sibling game of “That’s mine! Stop touching me!” In short, I’m rarely paying strict attention to where we’re going. Nowadays it’s usually out of necessity, but when I was a teenager, it never even crossed my mind. I would never be the one driving, so why were driving directions even relevant to me?

As I grew and as I began to ride with people other than my parents, I began to regret not having paid more attention. Driving directions are so much more relevant than I ever imagined. Today when an Uber driver brings me home, I want to be able to tell her which house is mine even when it’s dark and she can’t see the house numbers. I need to be able to help my driver when she can’t figure out if she’s missed the turn onto my street or if she just hasn’t gone far enough yet, or to reroute us if the road is blocked off from construction.

The purpose of this activity is to help students learn how to direct someone to their house, building on orientation and mobility skills, as well as skills for work readiness and independent living. Students may not think these skills are necessary, but they will be incredibly valuable when they reach adulthood.

Materials: 
  • Tools for reading and writing
  • Tools for mapmaking
  • Accessible GPS device providing turn by turn directions, such as an iPhone with Maps app
Procedure: 
  1. Select a place that the student travels to regularly from her home, such as her school, the library, or a parent or grandparent’s house.

  2. Ask the student to give details about her house and her school or other selected location. Can she tell you her address? The address of her school? The color of the building? Can her house be seen from the road?

  3. Now, ask the student to explain, to the best of her ability, what she knows about how to get from her school to her home. Questions may include:

    • How long does it take to get home from school?

    • What are some of the streets you go on?

    • Can you name some places or landmarks you pass on your way home?

  1. Based on the student’s needs and capabilities, work with the student to learn directions from her school or other chosen location back to her home. There are a number of ways to go about this project; teachers should select information and method that is most relevant to the student and that the student is most likely to absorb and be able to use.

Option 1:

Create a tactile map of the route from school to home that the student can feel and learn from. Using bump dots, puff paint, Braille labels, and/or other tactile materials, demonstrate the route to the student using any number of the following details:

  • Marks for landmarks (house, post office, library)

  • Lines for streets and to show direction of turns from one point to the other

  • Labels for street names or house numbers

Working with this map will help students build sensory efficiency and compensatory skills as well as a sense of direction. Students can even take this map with them when they travel in the car from one destination to the other, following along on their own map as the driver takes each turn. Another passenger can provide guided assistance if needed.

Option 2:

For students with advanced skills and access to high-tech assistive technology devices, ask students to use a GPS to provide turn-by-turn directions on a familiar route, such as the route from school to home. The Maps app on a Smartphone is a good example of a tool to use for this activity. Students can learn to enter start and end points, and can listen as the GPS provides directions throughout the drive.

  1. Once the student has practiced and become familiar with the route, ask the student to give someone else directions, either orally or in writing. This will help them to synthesize what they have learned.

Variations: 

For students with complex needs, teachers and parents can focus on teaching the student about her neighborhood. A Velcro board with pictures or tactile images may be a helpful way for students to begin learning about the components of their neighborhoods, such as:

  • My town has a fire station and a police station. (Understanding about typical town components and about town safety)

  • My town has an ice cream shop! (Awareness of nearby recreational opportunities)

  • There is a park next to my house. (Awareness of what is close by)

Collage of O & M directions to home