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Orientation and Mobility Specialist Helps Students Find Independence

Orientation and Mobility Specialist Helps Students Find Independence
Jim Perondi helps a student

Transitioning to a new school can be scary for many students, but imagine the added challenges if you have a visual impairment.

Jim Perondi, orientation and mobility specialist with the San Diego County Office of Education, works with students who are visually impaired to help them navigate school transitions as well as a host of other important life skills like moving around campus safely, opening a cane, and traveling.

“Our goal is to ensure the student can access things safely and independently,” Perondi said. “Once campus orientation things are learned, we move on to items the student will need down the line. Everything that a student who is blind or visually impaired learns has a procedure. It’s like working for NASA — everything they do up there has a procedure. I teach the procedure of finding your chair, sitting in the chair safely, walking down a certain type of sidewalk, and up the stairs, which is completely different than going down the stairs,” Perondi said.

He emphasizes patience and calm as students progress through basic to more complex skills. He works with all ages of students in districts served by the South County Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA), from infants in the HOPE Infant Family Support Program through high school students, for both short and long periods of time. For older students, they work on skills that will ultimately prepare them to receive a guide dog, which requires an assessment and test.

“Jim builds a lot of independence with the kids,” said Olivia Rivera, executive consultant and content lead at the South County SELPA. “It’s never ‘because you're blind or visually impaired, you’re incapable.’ That is never acceptable. It’s always about ‘what’s the next goal, what are we going to accomplish next year,’” she said.

To receive orientation and mobility services through the program, Perondi assesses the student to determine if they qualify. He works with two visual impairment teachers, Tanya Gonzalez and Lauren Ingersoll, and serves as a member of every student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team.

He meets with five or six students on an average day for about 30 to 60 minutes and attends all IEP meetings. He says it’s a delicate balance between teaching kids academics and safety.

“Reading and math are important, but not getting hit by a car is important, too,” he explained.

Perondi adds a touch of humor when talking about his work but knows the seriousness of what he does and that he’s trusted to care for students in often dangerous situations. He brings an impressive mix of skills, experiences, and education to the table that make him uniquely qualified to serve these students and their families.

After college, Perondi worked at a middle school in campus security and helped students with severe disabilities. He studied criminal justice, was a trained EMT, and earned a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. At 24, he was preparing to attend the police academy when a hit to the left eye resulted in a loss of vision. With the police academy no longer possible, he decided to return to education and become an orientation and mobility specialist.

He completed his master’s in special education, orientation and mobility at Cal State Los Angeles, where it’s required to test out of every skill — blindfolded. He also holds a master’s degree in rehab counseling and an administrative credential, which allowed him to serve as the extended school year principal at Davila Day School this summer. He also serves as a crisis prevention and intervention instructor for the County of San Diego.

Rivera said Perondi is the “perfect teacher” who will do whatever he can for students. In 2021, a student in the HOPE Infant Family Support Program in North County needed an orientation and mobility specialist. Nobody in the region was available, so Jim agreed to drive to North County, meet with the family, and make sure the student had the services they needed.

“He’s a good listener, validates parents’ feelings, and always has a good personal relationship with the student,” Rivera said. “He cares, is professional, knows the law — is like, I can do that, I can’t do that, and this is why, and always explains. With parents, for example, he explains that in order for your student to learn to walk across the street, these are all the steps it takes and how long it’s going to take.”

The fact that he, too, is visually impaired helps him relate better to his students and his expertise enables him to answer questions thoroughly from students, staff, and parents, which helps build trust. He’ll often cover his one good eye so that he sees what his students see so he can help them adjust in a situation or alter the surroundings.

Perondi is in his 16th year and sees many more good years in the profession, as long as he can continue to provide these services to students.

“I get to work with awesome people every day,” Perondi said, “There are amazing teachers but also this cadre of special services people within special education that nobody knows much about. They choose to work in education and are passionate about what they do.”

Just as Perondi helps students navigate the first days of school, he also helps them prepare for graduation. For many, it’s their first time on a stage. He helps them get familiar with the stage and the stairs, and whether to accept the diploma or shake hands first.

“Jim is an amazing individual, both personally and professionally,” Rivera said. “When you find a professional who is committed to students and families and works 100% all the time, it’s just a goldmine. That’s why I respect him so much. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t think Jim is just top notch in his performance and commitment to kids.”

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