To learn more about this work, you can explore Web sites concerning disabilities and social work. A job in the school library or public library helping people conduct research will put your information retrieval skills to good use. Working on the school newspaper will also help you develop your writing, researching, and interviewing skills, all of which are important aspects of social work.
Part-time data entry jobs at a hospital or long-term care facility can familiarize you with medical terminology and the services available to people with disabilities. A part-time job in a retail pharmacy will involve you directly with people with disabilities and also the services that pay for the rental and purchase of wheelchairs, walkers, and canes. You can also gain experience by volunteering at any social service agency to get a sense of the work environment and responsibilities.
Suppose you were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis years ago but only recently required the use of a wheelchair. You also have only partial use of your right hand. For the last few years, you have worked as a newspaper journalist, driving yourself to crime scenes, taking notes during interviews, and writing at a frantic pace to keep up with the pace of the newsroom. Now that you require a wheelchair to get around, you are going to have to make many adjustments in your life. Fortunately, there are a number of services and benefits to help you; you just need to know how to find this help.
The simple act of providing information is one of the most important jobs of an orientation and mobility specialist. These workers help to direct people to the many agencies available that assist those with vision and mobility impairments. By listening carefully to the problem, orientation and mobility specialists determine the best route for assistance, contact the agency on behalf of the client, and make sure the client receives the proper assistance. Because of limited funding and support, disability services are often unable to promote themselves. The biggest problem facing communities is not the lack of services available, but the lack of public awareness of these outlets.
However, you will require much more than names and phone numbers from an orientation and mobility specialist. You not only need to find the right wheelchair, but you also need instruction on how to use it. Your home needs to be analyzed to determine what modifications need to be made (for example, wheelchair ramps, handrails, and wider doorways). If the necessary modifications cannot be made, you will have to consider moving to a new place. For all of these somewhat daunting decisions, you can ask an orientation and mobility specialist for advice.
Your workplace may also require modifications. Though perfectly capable of continuing your work as a journalist, you are going to have to fulfill your duties in different ways. For example, a special car may be required. Because of the limited use of your left hand, you may need a modified computer keyboard or an assistant. An orientation and mobility specialist can serve as a client's advocate, negotiating with employers to prevent any cause for discrimination in the workplace. Specialists may also offer training and education programs to integrate or reintegrate the client into the workplace.
An orientation and mobility specialist also serves as a counselor. A client may need individual therapy or a support group. The family of the client may also need counseling on how to adjust to a parent's or child's disability.
In addition to offering services that directly benefit the client (counseling, advocacy, education, and referral), some specialists may offer services that have indirect benefits for clients. These additional services include outreach, publicity, planning, and research. Because of a general lack of awareness of the social services available, orientation and mobility specialists may focus on ways to educate the public about the challenges facing those with disabilities. They may lead fund-raising efforts for research or programs aimed at assisting the disabled community.