Using Landmarks for Orientation – Point 4 of 5 of the 5 Point Travel System

Video Demonstration

Introduction to the 5 Point Travel System

The 5 point travel system is an important set of orientation skills for people who are blind and visually impaired to become independent travelers. For an introduction to the 5 point travel system, you can check out my Introduction blog post here.

If you missed any of the first three points or need a review you can click on links below

Point 1 – Route Patterns/Shapes, Point 2 – Compass/Cardinal Directions, Point 3 – Hallway/Street Names

What are Landmarks?

Now we come to the 4th point of the 5 point travel system, using landmarks for orientation and independent travel. First, it is important to understand what landmarks are before diving into how to use them for orientation. The term landmark can mean a lot of different things to different people but for orientation and mobility, some set characteristics are required to consider an object a landmark.

People walking along cobblestone sidewalk near buildings.
People Walking on Sidewalks Near Buildings

1: Permanent/Fixed – The object needs to be permanent, unmovable, and set in a fixed location. The object should not be able to be moved easily. Some good examples include telephone poles, buildings, or trees. Some bad examples include a parked car, movable trash cans, or unfixed patio furniture.

2: Easily Recognized/ Unique – The object needs to be something easily identifiable either visually, audibly, or tactically and also unique to an area. Good examples include a single fire hydrant along a street, a stop sign at a street corner, or a railing along a pathway leading up to a house. Bad examples include: one of many similar trees lined up along a sidewalk, a door into a college classroom that is the same as the other classroom doors, or identical street parking signs that are scattered along a city block.

If the object fits the characteristics above it can be considered a landmark.

Boy wearing a backpack running down a school hallway with an elevator on his left
Boy Running in Hallway

How to Use Landmarks for Orientation

The main goal of landmarks is to identify to a person their specific location in the environment as well as directional information. Without the use of landmarks as an orientation tool it can be very difficult to maintain one’s orientation within an environment. However, what one person uses as a landmark along a route may be different from what another person uses along that same route. For example, one person may use the stop sign at the end of the street to know they are approaching a corner. And another person walking along that same route may use the yellow tactile warning strip as a landmark that they are approaching the corner. Both are landmarks and good ways of detecting the coming corner.

When considering what object to use as a landmark it is also helpful to consider the potential landmark in relation to other landmarks or objects. For example, there may be several elevators in a university building, but only one of them may be located near a drinking fountain.

Here is a list of some of the benefits of using landmarks.

  • Establishing one’s orientation within an environment
  • Knowing one’s relationship to other objects within the environment, being able to locate those objects
  • Establishing both parallel and perpendicular alignment
  • Confirming if a desired destination is reached

Tips for Establishing Landmarks

Step 1: Locate a potential landmark, note its general location within the environment.

Step 2: Determine what the object is and if it’s permanent and can be considered a landmark according to the characteristics above.

Step 3: Note other recognizable objects in the area and the landmarks orientation to those objects.

Step 4: Practice locating and recognizing the landmark without assistance.

Landmarks vs. Clues

In the field of Orientation and Mobility, we use two terms quite frequently, landmarks, and clues/cues. Both are important terms and skills for orientation but it is important to note the distinctions. Landmarks are permanent, fixed, easily recognizable, and unique. Clue’s or cues on the other hand are helpful ways of establishing a person’s orientation but are not always reliable. The reason being they are not permanent or fixed and come and go. Clues can be helpful when they are available but if they are not available they do not provide assistance to the traveler.

Stack of six Baguettes on a table
Baguette Bakery

Some examples include the smell of a bread shop baking bread during the day. The smell can be a great clue to know where a person is located but when the shop is closed the smell disappears and is no longer helpful. Another example is the sound of kids playing at a playground which can be a helpful clue to determine one’s location but as soon as the kids leave that clue is gone.

By using a combination of both landmarks and clues a person can feel confident in their orientation ability within an environment.

Conclusion

The use of landmarks is one if not the most important skills a person who is blind or visually impaired can learn to become a truly independent traveler. There is a reason this is one of the points of the 5 point travel system. As an Orientation and Mobility Specialist, I highly recommend practicing and developing this skill.

To see why counting steps is not a good practice click here

Thank you for reading. I hope this article was helpful. Please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email at blindonthemove@gmail.com with any questions or comments.

Published by Mike Mulligan

Is a Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialist who provides product resources, reviews, and tutorials.

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