Steve La Grow

Professor, Rehabilitation Studies

He can’t make the blind see again. But Steve La Grow’s work comes a close second; helping those who have experienced a significant loss in vision to participate fully in society again.

“While living with visual impairment is not always so bad, the experience of losing it is universely awful”, says the Massey professor and lecturer in rehabilitation studies.

“When you lose your sight you often lose the ability to get around. This poses the threat of social isolation, loneliness and a loss of self-worth. One’s sense of wellbeing may be affected – affecting one’s entire life.”

Steve La Grow had no dramatic soap-opera-type story of a passion for blind people, or personal experience with friends and family with visual impairment drawing him into this field. He freely admits his choice to pursue a career in blind rehabilitation was purely based on job prospects. 

“But the thing is, that I very quickly became fascinated by how blind people navigate and get around and figure out where they are in an environment.“Thirty-five years later, and I’m still intrigued” 

Steve’s focus is on the ways and means by which people who have vision issues can safely navigate through environments of varying complexity. And his work is in demand all over the world.

Navigation involves both orientation (knowing where you are, where you want to be and how to get there) and mobility (independent and directed movement). The elderly are especially vulnerable. With our population getting older, it’s an issue that is only going to grow.”

Technology is playing a major role in making things easier. While those who are blind or have low vision once had to rely on complicated strategies to maintain an awareness of where they were in the environment, there are now sophisticated GPS systems available.

“These devices do make life much easier for those who are blind or have low vision”, says Steve. “But, they still rely on working out a system for using them, so you can successfully get around in complex urban environments.

Steve is one of the most well known of only a handful of people in the world who are investigating these things. As a result he is in demand internationally.  His book Orientation and Mobility: Techniques for Independence is used as the basis of best practice In many places around the world: his work has set the standard for the provision of orientation and mobility (O&M) instruction.