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How habilitation specialists can help you develop children’s independence

Habilitation specialists teach children and young people with vision impairment to move around as safely, efficiently and independently as possible. But, as Fiona Broadley explains, these professionals deliver much more.

Habilitation specialists can also help children to take charge of their own personal care – washing, dressing, choosing appropriate clothes, organising their belongings and taking a full part in family life, for example by helping at meal times.

As well as teaching cane training and safety skills, habilitation specialists offer sighted guide training for people working with young people and their families.

Are they always called habilitation specialists?

No. People delivering this type of work may be called mobility officers, mobility specialists, O&M (orientation and mobility) teachers, rehabilitation workers and specialist workers for visually impaired people. However, ideally habilitation should be delivered by a Registered Qualified Habilitation Specialist (RQHS) who is trained to the National Standards for Habilitation Training.

Who do they work for?

A variety of employers including specialist schools, local education departments, social services departments and charities. Rehabilitation workers in social services departments, who primarily work with adults, may also provide some support for children and young people.

Who do they work with?

They work with young people aged up to 25 years who have a visual impairment, both in mainstream and specialist education. They may also work closely with parents to help them support their child. Many of the young people have additional physical or learning disabilities. The level of habilitation support is likely to increase around transition times to help prepare children and young people for change.

What other advice do they give?

A habilitation specialist might suggest ways to improve a young person’s physical access to their environment, for example:

  • changing the lighting
  • increasing the contrast to décor
  • highlighting handrails, steps or furniture.

Any of these changes might help a pupil with vision impairment to be more independent and move with greater confidence.

How can schools make the best use of habilitation specialists?

Above all, schools need to realise that young people with visual impairment who are able to move around freely, learn better and become more confident, self-sufficient and employable.

In addition schools can make a huge difference by:

  • Allowing access to pupils during the school day. Children with visual impairment are often too tired to focus fully on habilitation work after a day of concentrating at school. Habilitation specialists obviously make exceptions for crucial times like exams. However, exams usually mean a pupil will soon be tackling new challenges, so gaining the skills for their next step is important.
  • Understand that going out of school is crucial for independence.
  • Encourage the student to regularly use their habilitation skills in school and build their independence levels. Skills not used will be lost. Habilitation specialists welcome school and family support.

What can vision impairment services do to work effectively with habilitation specialists?

VI services should refer all children and young people with visual impairments for a habilitation assessment as early as possible. Children who are accessing the school curriculum will often still have mobility and independence issues.

How could the government support the work of habilitation specialists?

Many of the people offering habilitation services aren’t fully trained or qualified in the National Standards for Habilitation Training. The government should require all habilitation specialists to be registered with Habilitation VI UK, and require local authorities to employ or commission all services from registered qualified habilitation specialists. This would mean that visually impaired pupils and their families got the best quality support available. 

About the author

Fiona Broadley was Chair of Habilitation VI UK at the time this article was published and is a registered practitioner in the Midlands.