New PSU Orientation & Mobility Program Is Already Changing Lives
Author: Jillian Daley
Posted: July 15, 2019
Being enrolled in a Portland State University graduate certificate program can make all of the difference when it comes to landing a job. Just ask Katie Ericson.


Ericson is in the new Orientation & Mobility (O&M) program, which launched in 2018. She is among the second cohort to join the O&M Program, housed in PSU’s College of Education (COE).


The O&M Program shows students how to teach what are called expanded core curriculum, which are nine areas in which people with visual impairments or blindness may need additional support, such as social skills (including personal space). O&M students also learn how to help students access general education through Braille documents and tactile graphics, such as raised maps. The new program is already changing lives.


While a newly enrolled O&M student, Ericson applied to teach students with visual impairments at an elementary school in Tokyo, Japan. The school was for children from U.S. military families through the Department of Defense Education Activity, one of two federally operated school systems. Ericson was one of several candidates who held a master’s in special education (in her case, from Vanderbilt University). It was a prestigious, competitive placement.


But few other applicants had specific training in orientation and mobility. Ericson’s enrollment in the O&M program at PSU made her stand out, and it’s online flexibility left her free to relocate. She got the job and launched her career in the largest city in the world.


“In the United States, O&M specialists are hard to find to begin with, and there are few O&M specialists here in Japan,” she says.


Part of her job is to assess students in their O&M capabilities as they navigate their environments in a safe manner. For example, Ericson is taking a cane class at PSU this summer and will be able to show students how to tap the ground to test the terrain or feel for where a curb drops off.


“Being able to say that I have that background and am working toward certification and can do these assessments under supervision and, eventually, independently was a great selling point,” Ericson says.


She will wrap up her certificate later this year. She says the supportive staff and faculty of the O&M program has also helped her with housing and has done so much more to make her future bright.


But, for Ericson, the program is about more than just a job. It’s about helping people in the best way that she can. After all, she first got her master’s in special education because of a student who was both blind and gifted. His potential pushed Ericson to strive to obtain more skills to help her students.


The only problem was she had to send her students to another expert in orientation and mobility, and it interrupted the flow of teaching. She wanted a seamless transition that would allow her to serve her students from a general special education standpoint, as well as from the more specialized field of orientation and mobility.


“I feel like the Orientation & Mobility Certificate will round that out and allow me to provide more complete training, more complete lessons for my students,” Ericson says.


The O&M Program allowed her to build on her knowledge, and she liked having the option of taking one class per term, although many students finish the certificate by going full-time. Ericson made inquiries and learned about the O&M Program and Amy Parker, an assistant professor at PSU and the coordinator of the O&M Program.


“PSU came very well-recommended,” Ericson says. “One of my colleagues at the time knew Dr. Parker, and she spoke very highly of her and the O&M Program.”


Parker says that Ericson has been an enthusiastic student.


Katie has added to our online and face-to-face cohort discussions about community design, accessibility, forms of transportation and mobility options for people in Japan,” Parker says. “Her passion for learning and sharing has been a gift to our discussions about culturally competent partnerships with diverse educators, families and communities as well.


A teacher once told Ericson she has an “insatiable curiosity,” and she is taking that desire for knowledge a step further and looking into doctorate programs, potentially becoming a professor just like Parker. Right now, Ericson says, she feels ready to take on the many challenges her career has in store.


“The opportunities are endless at this point,” Ericson says.


Learn more

For more information about the Orientation and Mobility program, visit the website, or email Amy Parker.


To share stories about the College of Education, email Jillian Daley.