My name is Ashley Broussard and I am an Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist.
I was first introduced to this field near the end of my undergraduate studies at California State University, Los Angeles when I was given an opportunity to observe an O&M lesson. That day at the Braille Institute changed my life forever. Most of the people I saw there were walking around using a long cane and I immediately felt like I was in a new world. It was so unfamiliar to me, and yet, so routine for everyone else. I wanted to learn everyone’s story and I wanted to be a part of it. A few months later, I was enrolled in the O&M graduate program at CSULA.
People that use canes can do the same things as everyone else, but just in a different way. As an O&M Specialist practicing for two years now, my role is to teach them how to travel safely and obtain the skills necessary for adapting to their environment in the way that they need to be able to do the things that they want to do in their everyday life.
I quickly realized after entering this field that while there was an abundance of information, videos, tutorials, etc. at school and on the web on how to perform O&M techniques, there was also a lack of resources for aiding specialists in teaching these methods to their students in creative ways.
I was motivated to create fun lesson plans for my students and noticed that after implementing them, it paid off! My students were more engaged, having fun, and each session felt more fulfilling.
To share, I once took a kayaking trip with a group of students that were absolutely fearless! They waited impatiently for the kayak to be ready for take-off, stuck their hands as deep into the water as they could to try and feel some kelp, and were so excited to pet a snake we found during a hike up a mountain. “Fearless” may not be the common adjective used to describe people with visual impairments; however, I can tell you from first-hand experience in working with them that it is most certainly a true one.
I designed Cane and Compass: Pointing the Way for Creative Orientation and Mobility Instruction as an online space for all O&M Specialists to visit, use, and contribute with the intention of building a collective resource for creative lesson planning. I recently launched Cane and Compass Shop, an extension to the website that features products designed to reduce stigma and stereotypes associated with people that have visual impairments.
So if you see someone walking down the same side of the street as you, at a coffee shop, or waiting at the same bus stop as you, just say “Hey!”
Ashley Broussard grew up in Southern California and currently lives and works as an O&M in the Bay Area. She received her BA in Communications Disorders in 2014 and, in 2015, began her career as an O&M and launched Cane and Compass. Most recently she launched Cane and Compass Shop – and the first product she designed was a t-shirt with the words “It’s Just A Cane” across the entire front side of it, inspired by her fearless students.