NFB President Marc Maurer
by Marc Maurer
For about the past two years rumors have come to the attention of the National Federation of the Blind that Western Michigan University through its program of Blind Rehabilitation was planning to put together a standards and certification program for independent travel. Because independent travel is of primary importance to the blind, because organizations of blind consumers were not asked to participate in the creation of such standards, and because previous efforts to establish certification and standards for the blind were a thinly veiled effort to control blind people and programs for the blind by unscrupulous individuals, the National Federation of the Blind was deeply concerned. A document came to hand in June of 1999 which appeared to confirm these rumors. It said:
Western Michigan University in conjunction with a number of disability service agencies will establish standards, create a curriculum for the preparation of independent travel instructors, and develop a national examination that will lead to certification of those instructors. The standards for preparation will be developed by conducting a job analysis of various instructors who work at four facilities that are regarded by the steering committee as providing quality travel instruction. The job analysis will include observations, task analyses, questionnaires, interviews, and examination of manuals. From this information, job responsibilities will be identified as well as knowledge and skill competencies that are required to carry out those responsibilities. A national validation survey will also be conducted to weigh the importance of each of the identified competencies. The model curriculum can be offered at the college level and will consist of didactic courses and clinical experiences that will prepare instructors for the essential functions of the job.
In response to this plan the National Federation of the Blind considered a resolution during the 1999 convention, resolution 99-13. The resolution, which was printed in the August/September issue of the Braille Monitor asserted that "the latest effort to create a standards and certification program for professionals in the field of blindness has been announced at Western Michigan University, proposing to establish standards and a curriculum for instructors in independent travel. . . ." The convention condemned and deplored the actions of Western Michigan University. It also set out the intention of the organization to notify funding sources that Western Michigan University had not sought participation by blind consumers. The full text of the resolution reads:
WHEREAS, efforts to develop certification criteria and procedures in the field of services for the blind have largely failed in the United States because those involved in designing and implementing the programs have not involved elected representatives of the blind in their efforts, the most notable of these failures being NAC--the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped; and
WHEREAS, the latest effort to create a standards and certification program for professionals in the field of blindness has been announced by Western Michigan University, proposing to establish standards and a curriculum for instructors in independent travel; and
WHEREAS, the Western Michigan announcement also indicates that the standards and curriculum will be developed in conjunction with a number of disability service agencies, but says nothing about the involvement of consumer organizations of blind people and their elected representatives; and
WHEREAS, the choice of an alliance with disability service agencies rather than consumers is inexcusable and cannot be attributed to an oversight, since the architects of this latest certification scheme are well informed about the blind consumer movement and have therefore chosen to ignore it; and
WHEREAS, this latest attempt to promote standards and certification in the name of quality service is essentially a self-serving plan to promote the vision of travel instruction according to Western Michigan University and to perpetuate that vision without regard to benefits for blind people; Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this sixth day of July, 1999, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization condemn and deplore the Western Michigan standards and certification initiative, while recognizing that the plan itself is an acknowledgement of the other failed efforts in this area; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we advise authorities of Western Michigan University and any other potential sources of financial support for this effort that a project such as independent travel standards for the blind must first pass muster with the blind themselves before funds are approved to underwrite the effort.
Additional documents later supplied by Western Michigan University appeared to indicate that the training program for independent travel is not intended for the blind but for people with other disabilities. Consequently, the facts presented in the resolution regarding a standards and certification program to be applied to independent travel for the blind were incorrect. However, one of the advisory sources for information for the program at Western Michigan University is the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER). The curriculum is, according to the Western Michigan documents, being created by the Blind Rehabilitation Program of Western Michigan University. It is worth wondering whether the certification system being created by Western Michigan (though apparently today not applicable to programming for the blind) is intended in years ahead to encompass independent travel for the blind. Nevertheless, the facts stated in the resolution, it must be emphasized, are incorrect.
We hereby retract the assertion contained in the Braille Monitor for August/September 1999 with respect to independent travel. However, we also urge Western Michigan University to distribute information that is accurate. The assumptions contained in Resolution 99-13 are completely reasonable given the information Western Michigan itself distributed about the program. If Western Michigan University does not wish to be misunderstood in future, it should supply adequate information to prevent misunderstanding.