Episode Two – O & M Training

March 30, 2023

Dear listeners and readers,

Thank you for joining us for the second episode of The Impossible is Only the Untried : a Prologue Podcast with Mandy E. MacLean.

In this episode, we learn about orientation & mobility training and what it entails. We also pose the question, how can O&M training help us to create better theatre?  Plus, Mandy gives us an update  on the end-of-year student project with the W. Ross Macdonald drama students.

Listen to the episode on Buzzsprout or click the audio player below.


(student voices) WRMS. W. Ross Macdonald. W. Ross Macdonald School. WRMS. W. Ross Macdonald School. W Ross. 

The Impossible. The Impossible. 

The Impossible is Only the Untried. 

(Mandy’s voice) What you just heard was a recording from students of W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind in Brantford, Ontario. My name is Mandy E. MacLean and I’m a professional artist and I work for Prologue Performing Arts.

I’m excited to be the Project Coordinator for the collaboration between Prologue Performing Arts and the W. Ross Macdonald School. As Project Coordinator, I’m responsible for facilitating the creation of a piece of theatre in conjunction with the school and industry professionals working in the Toronto Theatre community. The focus of the project is student-led and in fact, you’ve just heard one of our students, Logan, in the piece at the beginning of this episode. You’re going to meet him later on for an interview in a future episode. And he’s really excited about it. 

The motto of the school is “The impossible is only the Untried” and that’s the name of our podcast because we are trying to figure out how to integrate those with low vision or no vision at all into the creation of a piece of theatre from the initial concept all the way to performance. In this episode, I’m going to tell you about where we are in the process and what’s happening in the classroom, and I’m going to take you through my Orientation and Mobility training at the school and describe to you what happened in each one of these amazing sessions.

We’re working with the grade 10, 11, and 12 students in their drama class, and we’re creating a piece that will be performed at the end of the year, in May, at their celebration day. So far, we’ve given the students a prompt: “you can’t stop me” and what they’ve created is amazing.

They’ve each come up with these little specific, personal, pieces of creation. These little pieces of creation are going to be the basis for the end production in May. We’re going to give you a sneak peek of some of those amazing responses during Poetry Month in April on Prologue’s social media @prologuearts.

As the students have created these little pieces of creation, their definition of what making a play means is expanding and what it means to perform in a play. It’s been fascinating watching this definition explode and realign. They’re contributing to the work in the way they’ve never done before because they have input on what we do, how we make it, and why. The most exciting part of this is watching these students discover what they’re capable of, what their bodies can do in space, what they can do with their voice, and how they can make the piece of work! 

These students are thinking about things like, what does my body do in time and space, and how does that relate to the character I’m attempting to portray? How does my voice contribute to what I’m trying to tell the audience? How does every little specific action or inaction contain information for the audience, down to even the tiniest breath? 

So right now we’re at the building stage, and soon we’re going to be adding new and exciting professionals from the Toronto Theatre community into the process. It’s a great big shiny question mark right now, and I cannot wait to share with you as we grow this beautiful piece. 

Today, I’m going to talk about my Orientation and Mobility training at the school, and what a wonderful experience it was to work with Heather DeBoer, an Orientation and Mobility specialist on staff at W. Ross Macdonald.

Right away though, I want to take a moment to say how grateful I am that she was willing to spend time with me and answer every one of the immense questions I had, because I had so many things and thoughts I wanted to share. She is so patient and wonderful and such a wealth of incredible information in this area.

So what is an Orientation and Mobility specialist? These staff members work closely with those that are blind or low vision to help them develop the necessary skills for independent and safe travel. This is the same training that each of the school students go through, but what does Orientation and Mobility mean?

So, Orientation means where am I going? How do I get there? What am I doing in time and space? Makes sense, right? Mobility means the techniques we use to achieve those goals. So how do you get to the place you want to go to? How long does it take you? What devices can we use to achieve that mobility? So a mobility device could be a cane, could be an assistance or seeing eye dog, could be a sighted guide assisting someone that is low vision or blind. We’ve had multiple sessions together so far, and the two biggest areas that really stuck out to me were my blind simulation and when I was offered a mobility device. 

My blind simulation was actually a very emotional experience. I was asked to wear these goggles that completely interrupted my vision, and I was taken around the school with Heather as my sighted guide to offer me mobility, and I would say that it was a moment where I felt that I really needed to reassess my senses and how I was interacting with the world around me. During that process, Heather offered me many techniques to help me orient myself by using clues and identifying where I was in time and space and I had a wonderful conversation with a student in the hallway that I had never met before. Through that conversation I realized that, because my sight was interrupted, I was really missing the context of what was happening. This was not an experience I was used to, and I left that conversation with a completely different perception of what had taken place, or that I hadn’t really grasped what had gone on. And then I thought how fascinating that was, that as a sighted person, I’m relying so heavily on my sight to interact with the world around me.

The next session we went to I was offered a Mobility device. I used a cane and was offered all kinds of techniques on how to go down stairs, how to encounter a doorway, and how to walk between different levels of heights. And again, I realized how heavily I rely on my sight to interact with the world and gather information about what I’m doing and where I am.

Orientation and Mobility techniques are a lifelong process. They are techniques and strategies that grow and develop differently and specifically for each person as the person ages, as they use them, and as circumstances and environment changes. Heather was very clear that it’s a lifelong process of developing these skills. In the same way that I can imagine any kind of a technique or pedagogy is to develop, much like making theatre. As a theatre person and artist, I’m thinking about how can we take this into our work? How can we enter the process of creating a piece of theatre, not relying on our sight to gather information and storytelling elements? And how can the audience encounter our work without relying purely only on their vision as the first point of entry? This is what I’m going to try and take forward, and I’m excited to see how our students, and how all of the industry professionals I’m bringing into the room are going to tackle these big questions.

It’s a process, and every single day we get closer to building that show in May, and finding more questions to think about during our work. Next time on the podcast, you’re going to get to meet Angela Prior, another staff member at the school that worked very hard to develop the school’s Snoezelen room. If you don’t know what a Snoezelen room is, I encourage you to tune in next time and check it out, because it is a fascinating theory of working with young people and a specific room in which they do it in. At the time when this Snoezelen room was built at the school, it was only the second Snoezelen room in North America. You’re not going to want to miss it. Don’t miss our next podcast episode and join us on social media at @prologuearts. But we’re going to listen to these students again because I can’t wait for you to meet them!

(student voices) The impossible. The impossible. The impossible. The impossible. The impossible. The impossible. The impossible is Only the Untried.