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homeBOUND FOR ADVENTURE: Podcast to Promote O & M Skills Remotely

This interactive podcast is designed to help kids who are blind or visually impaired to increase their Orientation & Mobility (O&M) skills during the COVID-19 school closure.

By Tracy Spohn

homeBOUND FOR ADVENTURE is an interactive podcast that is designed to help kids who are blind or visually impaired to stay connected and engaged while quarantined.  Hosted by Tracy Spohn (O&M Specialist in Washington State), this podcast will help to promote Orientation & Mobility (O&M) skills during the COVID-19 school closure. Each episode presents fun lessons, activity ideas, and trivia for kids of all ages. 

How Did This Project Get Started?

I work for the Outreach Department at the Washington School for the Blind, as one of their itinerant O&M specialists.  I have 19 students on my caseload who are scattered all around southwest Washington. As school districts across the state started closing one by one due to COVID, I knew I had to come up with a way to start teaching my students remotely. I was talking to a non-teacher friend in mid-March about how all the districts I was working in were transitioning to online learning. She said to me, “Wow, so what are you going to do? Make a podcast?” I don’t think she was serious about it, but it was actually a good idea, so that’s when I started drafting out ideas for making an actual podcast.

Who Is This Podcast For?

The podcast is specifically for visually impaired O&M students during the COVID school closure. Originally, I was making it for only for my 19 students and their families, because I couldn’t do our regular O&M lessons. I thought it would be a good way for my students, who don’t know each other, to reach out and connect with each other while staying engaged with their O&M skills during the quarantine. I shared the podcast with my supervisor, however, and from there she asked me to share it other O&Ms/TVIs throughout the state of Washington. And I guess from there it spread to other states just by word of mouth!

It has been a joy to hear from teachers, families, and students who have reached out to me after hearing the podcast. I am always so surprised and encouraged by the awesome feedback I get, as well as the excitement from kids who want to participate in each episode’s activities and challenges.  It truly does feel like a community during this time of isolation.

The main challenge I face with this podcast is trying to maintain its purpose. I have gotten questions from listeners I’ve never met, asking me to cover certain topics, or asking me if I’ll be doing this throughout the summer. To answer that second question, no, I will not be making this podcast past June.

The purpose of the podcast is still for educating my 19 students, first and foremost, until the end of the school year (when quarantine measures will hopefully be lifted). The podcast takes up a lot of my work week, and the reason I’m getting paid right now is to teach my students, not others. Most of my students are younger or function at a lower academic level. As such, a lot of the topics I cover on my podcast are for that demographic. That is also the reason why I try to keep each episode to under 20 minutes. I do have a few high schoolers on my caseload, however, so it is a challenge making it something they’d want to listen to as well. Not to mention all my students have different visual impairments and different living situations, so I do try to be sensitive to that as well.

Launching Pad for Discussions and Activities

I welcome as many listeners as possible, because I do think it can benefit so many students…not only is it helping students with their O&M skills, but it’s improving their emotional/mental health too, which I’d argue is even more important than O&M during this time. The more listeners I get, the more momentum I have for creating better and better episodes. It’s definitely an exciting thing, and I hope it continues to be shared! BUT, at the end of the day, I know that I won’t be able to please everyone who is listening. If you listen closely, you might notice that I purposefully leave out certain information. That’s because the podcast is meant to cover foundational O&M concepts without getting too technical.  For example, in my episode about Measurements & Maps, I could have talked about meters and yards–in addition to inches, feet, and miles–but I chose not to. Or, I could have talked about ordinal directions–in addition to cardinal directions–but I chose not to. You might also have noticed that at the end of each episode, I encourage kids to talk with their families or O&M specialist about the topic for the week. That’s because the podcast is meant to be a launching pad for discussion and activities. Whatever I didn’t cover in the episode can always be discussed among families and teachers afterward. For me, personally, I reach out to each of my students a couple times a month to chat about the episodes. I also make supplemental videos for them about topics covered on the podcast.

I think the last thing O&M kids need right now is an O&M specialist trying to teach traditional O&M lessons remotely. I personally don’t believe remote O&M lessons can ever replace in-person lessons, due to liability and just the sheer boredom that would bring! So it feels nice to bring a little refreshment into the lives of my students and others during this time, in a way that is educational as well as entertaining. 

Collage of HomeBOUND podcast