Photo of 2 students walking on a college campus sidewalk and text

AFTER Remote Instruction for Students Transitioning to College: On Campus

Did the non-visual map and remote lesson make a difference in this student's O&M skills?

In Phase 2 (re-opening with COVID-19), Elon University has started individual college campus outdoor tours and has plans to allow orientation weeks over the summer. The buildings are still closed with only a few staff having access; but people are allowed to walk the campus. While there are a variety of safety precautions in place, Victor, a rising Elon freshman has received notice that his Odessey Scholars program will run as scheduled in July. With that in mind, Victor and I (his O&M specialist) made a trip to Elon.

Prior Remote Instruction O&M Lesson

Elon is a mid-sized private university founded in 1889 nestled on 656 acres with approximately 7,000 undergraduate students. Victor has only been on campus once for a quick group tour, more than a year ago and before he had applied to the university. 

Two weeks ago, Victor was sent a non-visual digital Elon campus map. This map was created by me, his O&M instructor. Learn more about what to include when creating a customized campus map: Remote O&M Instruction for Students Transitioning to College: Getting Started post. Learn how to create your own non-visual accessible map: How to Create Accessible Maps Using SAS Graphics Accelerator and Google Maps post.

Last week, Victor and I had a remote O&M lesson through a Zoom call. During this hour long lesson, Victor shared how he used the non-visual map commands to explore his campus; additional O&M discussions included how to use this map to build a mental map of campus such as forming a mental “grid” of the campus streets and where the main areas/buildings of campus are in relationship to this grid. This Zoom lesson was recorded and explained in the Remote O&M Instruction for Students Transitioning to College: Building a Mental Map post.

Fast forward one week to the on campus O&M lesson!

Activities Before Walking Campus 

This week, Victor had his first on campus O&M lesson. Victor knows that during the Odessey Scholars week, he will be in the Colonnades Neighborhood; he does not yet know the specific dorm or other campus buildings that will be open during his summer program. Victor does not yet have any information about his fall classes, dorm or academic buildings that he will need to know for the fall semester. The goal of this on campus O&M lesson was to walk the campus and learn the basic layout and the areas of campus. We did not go inside any buildings and we only saw a few family tours from a distance. Victor confirmed with his Odessey Scholars facilitator that we could go on campus.

Learning about Distance in Yards

During the Zoom lesson, Victor mentioned that the non-visual map’s Distance Feature had little functional meaning to him, as he could not relate to the measurements in feet or in yards. While in his driveway, I used a measuring tape to mark off a yard along a small stone wall. We discussed that an average person’s stride is 2.5 feet but a tall person or a person with a big stride may be 1 yard. When Victor “walked out” with a good pace, his stride is 2.5 feet. In his crowded high school, his normal stride is less because of crowded environment. We discussed that on campus, Victor will have to walk quickly – with a good stride – to get from class to class. To put things in perspective, we talked about the length of a football field (100 yards) and high school basket ball court (28 yards). 

Note: Many college-bound cane traverlers need to work on walking faster, increasing their stride, and endurance – especially if planning on attending a large university! 

Review Mental Map

Before walking the campus, Victor first verbally reviewed the “boundary” streets – the main streets that travel along the edges of campus – including the directions that these street run, the spatial relationships to other streets, and important facts about the intersections (Example: round about, T-intersection, etc.). Victor discussed the main road through campus and it’s spatial relationships to the boundary roads. Then, Victor named campus areas and how they related to the streets.

Draw a Tactile Map Smiling Victor sitting in the car on campus drawing a tactile campus map using the Sensational Blackboard

To confirm that Victor indeed had developed an accurate mental map, I had him draw the main streets using the Sensational Blackboard. (The Sensational Blackboard is a rigid mat the size of a 9×13 sheet of paper. Place a regular piece of paper on top; using a pen, simply draw your diagram which creates a raised line drawing.) This was Victor’s first time with the Sensational Blackboard and he has not had many opportunities to create his own drawings. Victor has learned how to use a pen to write his signature, so he needed initial guidance on what to draw first and where to start drawing on the paper. Victor verbally named the boundary roads, details about these roads and where they are located. Victor started with the two east/west roads on the southern boundary of campus; however, he wanted to start his drawing in the center of page and needed a prompt to draw the line across the entire page. He needed a few more prompts or confirmation about where to draw the other boundary streets and where they intersected; he included a round about, a T-intersection, and a road that curved in a “hump” shape. 

The five or ten minutes spent on drawing his tactile map helped Victor solidified the campus map in his mind. It also helped me – his O&M – confirm what Victor definitely understood and what he could verbalize but did not fully comprehend. Victor was excited to use the Sensational Blackboard and we discussed how Victor could use this tool with a peer in class, when a professor draws a quick diagram on the board.

Campus Orientation

Since I wanted to start with the Colonnades Neighborhood – the dorm and dining hall used during the summer Oddessey program – I chose to park in the nearest parking lot. Victor stood on the sidewalk by O’Kelly Street and used the sun to identify which was north, which way was south and that we were on the west side of O’Kelly. From his mental map, he knew that the Colonnades Neighborhood was on the east side of O’Kelly, so we needed to cross the street. He confirmed his cardinal directions using the compass app on his iPhone.

Once across the street, Victor pulled out his iPhone and used the BlindSquare app to look up Colonnades. He listened to BlindSquare’s bearing and distance, then turned BlindSquare off. I asked Victor to point to the Colonnades Neighborhood, point to where the car was parked, and to identify which was north O’Kelly and which way was south. Victor had a general idea that Colonnades Neighborhood was close, so he found a sidewalk that traveled in the desired direction.

As we traveled the college campus, my job was limited to reading the signs on each of the buildings and at times, I described the layout. Example: The Colonnades neighborhood has dorms facing the open grass area (known as the  “quad”) with the Koury Business building one one end. Since Elon is a small university, victor walked along the boundary streets stopping to explore the sidewalks to the main buildings such as Belk Library and Moseley Student Center. Victor pulled from his mental map and frequently named buildings and streets correctly and various areas, such as academic buildings in the Pavilion area or the older dorms in the Historic Area. At various intersections, I would ask Victor to point to nearby things and “as the crow flies” to campus “neighborhoods” and areas. At the end of the circular campus walk, Victor struggled to point to the Global Neighborhood from our original parking lot, so we double backed to a nearby main area on campus (Moseley Center) and reviewed what was in each direction as the crow flies, walked to our starting reference point (Colonnades Neighborhood) and then the last piece of campus (Global Neighborhood) fell into place in Victor’s mental map. I could literally see the light bulb turn on, as Victor figured out the spatial relationships of campus buildings. He quickly pointed to the various neighborhoods (as the crow flies) and then described the route to the Global Neighborhood, which included going around the Moseley Center, follow the sidewalk along the edge of Lake Mary Nell, to find the entrance to the main academic building in the Global Neighborhood. (Note: There is not a direct sidewalk – as the crow flies – from Colonnades Neighborhood to the main building in the Global Neighborhood.)

Setting POIs

Since this will be the only O&M lesson on campus prior to his Odessey Scholars week, I asked Victor to set two Points of Interest POIs) on campus using the BlindSquare app, including the Colonnades Neighborhood. Victor’s response was, “Sure, I will set the POIs, but I will not need to use it!)

Visual and Auditory Landmarks

Victor is a braille reader and relies on a screen reader. He does have some functional vision, with a very small field of vision and significantly reduced acuity: he can identify colors. Victor does use visual clues to identify distinguishing characteristics of buildings. He visually identified that the Colonnades Neighborhood has dark brick buildings with white columns in front, the Historic Neighborhood has older all brick buildings that are close together, and the Global Neighborhood has white brick on the bottom of the buildings and dark brick on the top. There is a large water fountain in front of the Colonnades Neighborhood and a smaller water fountain in the Historic Neighborhood; these are great auditory landmarks on campus. He also used a number of auditory clues as he walked through the central part of campus where there are no roads to follow.

Cane Skills and Other O&M Skills

While traveling on campus, Victor maintained a good walking speed and was consciously aware of and increased his stride. His cane arc was excellent. He did stumble on one set of three small steps  (with several strides between the steps) in the middle of a large bricked area (no visual contrast or railings). He had approached the steps at an angle; his cane found the steps but he did not react quickly enough to keep from slightly tripping. Victor’s comment was that it was an unexpected place for three steps and that he would anticipate random steps from now on! Victor confidently led the way around campus throughout the O&M lesson. Victor used excellent O&M skills to cross streets at crosswalks and when available, pushed pedestrian crossing buttons. Victor also learned about his ID card that is used to swipe to open doors and that the device is always to the right of the door.

Next Steps

Victor is confident in his knowledge of campus and is no longer anxious about navigating around the campus. He will not need another O&M trip to campus for his Odessey Scholars week this summer, as he knows the general layout the Scholars participants will do things as a group and will not be in one classroom or area. Once Victor knows which buildings (and the room numbers) for his fall courses along with his dorm room, we will make another trip to campus to review the campus itself, to learn where his academic rooms are, familiarization to his dorm and dorm room, and to learn the dining hall layout and routine. Victor has been in contact with the school’s Disabilities Office (located on the second floor in the Belk Library); Victor will be sure to meet with them as well.


Victor spent a total 90 minutes on campus. During that time, he applied a combination of O&M skills that he began learning back in kindergarten: Orientation skills such as developing a mental map, pointing to areas as the crow flies, street concepts, learning the perimeter of the area first, etc. Victor was not given and did not need step-by-step directions to any location on campus. With his strong mental map, Victor demonstrated that he could figure out routes to specific locations – even though there were multiple criss-crossing sidewalks and options. Victor is able to figure out shortcuts and could problem-solve if he had to walk around a building or if there was not a direct sidewalk to where he wanted to go. During this campus trip, absolutely no time was spent on basic O&M skills, such as his cane arc or street crossing skills. As expected, Victor has mastered all the O&M skills during K-12, and is now easily applying these skills to master his college campus.

Victor has a variety of O&M-related tools and skills that he used for college orientation, including:

And of course, his ability to develop a robust mental map!

Using the non-visual map of campus the week before and reviewing that information just prior to exploring campus, significantly cut down the time required to learn campus – especially since Victor did not have to learn step-by-step directions or individual routes to specific destinations! Victor is and will be a confident, fearless independent traveler on his college campus!

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