Use of technology by orientation and mobility professionals in Australia and Malaysia before COVID-19.
PMID: 32643468 DOI: 10.1080/17483107.2020.1785565.
PURPOSE: Orientation and Mobility (O&M) professionals teach people with low vision or blindness to use specialist assistive technologies to support confident travel, but many O&M clients now prefer a smartphone. This study aimed to investigate what technology O&M professionals in Australia and Malaysia have, use, like, and want to support their client work, to inform the development of O&M technologies and build capacity in the international O&M profession.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: A technology survey was completed by professionals ( = 36) attending O&M workshops in Malaysia. A revised survey was completed online by O&M specialists ( = 31) primarily in Australia. Qualitative data about technology use came from conferences, workshops and interviews with O&M professionals. Descriptive statistics were analysed together with free-text data.
RESULTS: Limited awareness of apps used by clients, unaffordability of devices, and inadequate technology training discouraged many O&M professionals from employing existing technologies in client programmes or for broader professional purposes. Professionals needed to learn smartphone accessibility features and travel-related apps, and ways to use technology during O&M client programmes, initial professional training, ongoing professional development and research.
CONCLUSIONS: Smartphones are now integral to travel with low vision or blindness and early-adopter O&M clients are the travel tech-experts. O&M professionals need better initial training and then regular upskilling in mainstream O&M technologies to expand clients' travel choices. COVID-19 has created an imperative for technology laggards to upskill for O&M tele-practice. O&M technology could support comprehensive O&M specialist training and practice in Malaysia, to better serve O&M clients with complex needs. Implications for rehabilitation Most orientation and mobility (O&M) clients are travelling with a smartphone, so O&M specialists need to be abreast of mainstream technologies, accessibility features and apps used by clients for orientation, mobility, visual efficiency and social engagement. O&M specialists who are technology laggards need human-guided support to develop confidence in using travel technologies, and O&M clients are the experts. COVID-19 has created an imperative to learn skills for O&M tele-practice. Affordability is a significant barrier to O&M professionals and clients accessing specialist travel technologies in Malaysia, and to O&M professionals upgrading technology in Australia. Comprehensive training for O&M specialists is needed in Malaysia to meet the travel needs of clients with low vision or blindness who also have physical, cognitive, sensory or mental health complications.