Braille Monitor May 2008
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by Daniel B. Frye and Barbara Pierce
If the comprehensive adult rehabilitation program and the activities of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University were the only initiatives that the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB) administered, most people would agree that they constituted a full array of service delivery options for any single agency to manage. These, however, do not represent the LCB’s sole offerings. In addition to its core services, the LCB runs several seasonal, periodic, and ad hoc specialty programs for infants and toddlers, youth, those seeking employment, and seniors.
Recognizing that healthy and fundamentally sound attitudes about blindness are best formed early—well in advance of the inevitable influences of negative public opinion and low expectations about limited vision—the LCB established its Early Steps Infant and Toddlers Program. Staffed by consultants who espouse the progressive philosophy about blindness promoted at the LCB and who possess expert knowledge about early childhood development and pediatric orientation and mobility (O&M), this cadre of outreach specialists helps parents cope with their children’s vision impairments and helps them learn that blindness does not have to limit opportunities. Through basic education about blindness, early O&M instruction, and facilitated interaction with parents of other blind children and blind adults at state and national seminars and meetings, the LCB Early Steps consultants work to remove the initial mystery, misconception, and misery that parents often feel when they first learn that their child is blind. They are also available to make presentations on blindness to organizations and government entities throughout Louisiana.
The LCB consultants--Sandy Dunnam, vision consultant, and Roxann Buller, O&M instructor in the school systems of several Louisiana parishes--have capitalized on their significant professional experience and cultivated positive working relationships with the state’s public schools over the years. Their early intervention in the lives of families with blind children—from the rural depths of Louisiana to the urban inner cities of New Orleans and other metropolitan areas—allow Louisiana’s blind children to begin school and growing up generally as well-adjusted blind people.
Eric Guillory, a young blind leader in Louisiana whose résumé includes a professional background in Braille literacy, adaptive technology, and special education advocacy stemming from his recent successful work as a high-profile statewide consultant with the Louisiana School for the Blind, now directs youth programs for the LCB. These include free consulting services on Braille, adaptive technology, and special education law to public schools throughout Louisiana; advocacy support to parents of blind children; and the Buddy Program and the Summer Training and Employment Project (STEP) summer program for blind youth.
Capitalizing on his network of public school contacts throughout
the state, Guillory introduced the full scope of the LCB school consulting program
in the following letter:
As some of you know, I became employed as director of Youth Services with the Louisiana Center for the Blind in May 2007. I am happy to report that in this capacity I stand ready to assist your agency or school district with a variety of issues and challenges including instruction in the implementation and utilization of assistive technology, Braille literacy concerns, activities of daily living, transition planning, and in-servicing or training in other skills of blindness areas. We offer training both on-site (in your locale) and on the LCB campus in Ruston.
The Louisiana Center for the Blind’s Youth Services Department is committed to providing outreach, training, and advocacy assistance for students, their families, and the professionals who serve them. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions or wish me to provide training or technical assistance to your school or agency. I look forward to working collaboratively with you to ensure that a high degree of quality services is made available to Louisiana’s blind students and their families.
Since 1989 the LCB’s Buddy Program has combined hard work and challenging recreational activities to provide blind students in grades four through eight a rewarding four-week summer experience that participants long cherish. In addition to learning the alternative techniques of blindness, students enjoy activities like waterskiing, camping, bowling, roller-skating, and horseback riding.
Because of a lack of positive role models and society’s negative stereotypes about blindness, many blind children have misconceptions about themselves. Unlike other summer programs for blind children, the Buddy Program is directed and staffed by competent blind adults. Cane travel classes instill independence and self-confidence. Mastering Braille enables the blind child to compete equally with sighted peers in the classroom and provides a solid background in spelling and other grammatical skills. Computer literacy classes expose a blind child to available adaptive equipment. Classes in daily living skills promote equal participation by summer participants in age-appropriate household duties such as cooking, shopping, and cleaning. In short, involvement in the Buddy Program helps blind children realize that not blindness but the negative attitudes and misconceptions about blindness can prevent their reaching their potential.
Since 1990 the STEP program has introduced blind teenagers to positive blind role models and provided participants with summer work experience. Students learn alternative techniques in blindness and then work fifteen to twenty hours a week at a local business earning minimum wage. This eight-week summer program is open to high school students seeking to build their blindness skills and enhance their résumés through work. In addition to taking classes in Braille, adaptive technology, cane travel, and independent living skills, program participants attend seminars on job-readiness, interviewing skills, and résumé writing. STEP participants also get to attend the annual NFB national convention, exposing them to a week-long conference where adult blind role models grapple with contemporary issues of blindness. The combination of work experience, intensive instruction in blindness skills, and fun-filled activities such as swimming and adventuresome field trips fosters self-confidence and increased independence in these blind teenagers.
LCB’s Career Center reflects the center’s commitment to helping graduates of its comprehensive adult training course identify and find personally rewarding employment consistent with their skills and abilities. The Career Services staff believe that blind people should not be relegated to jobs generally thought to be especially well suited for blind people.
In order to achieve this goal, the Career Center program enables graduates of the six-to-nine month comprehensive adult rehabilitation program to return to the LCB for concentrated instruction in one or more classes in which additional training will enable them to retain or secure a particular job. For example, graduates of the LCB rehabilitation program from the late eighties and early nineties have recently returned to get updated adaptive technology instruction since Windows-based programs did not exist during their original training. In addition to a customized blindness skills program, participants in the Career Center program may also receive career counseling, including one-on-one instruction in résumé writing, job interviewing, and principles of general job-readiness. While not regularly used or needed by center alumni, the LCB Career Center program does provide for flexible training solutions to support the long-term interests of those who do require additional training to find or keep a job.
The Techniques for Living Confidently (TLC) seniors program at the LCB is an initiative especially targeting legally blind people age fifty-five and above. Aware that age-related blindness affects the lives of a growing number of seniors, the LCB has created a program to help newly blind seniors fully participate in the social and spiritual lives of their communities by teaching them the alternative techniques of blindness that allow them to resume normal life. Wendy Ortego, TLC coordinator, along with several other TLC consultants and LCB faculty as needed, host concentrated week-long senior retreats three or four times a year, in which participating seniors are taught to cope with vision loss, master basic skills of independent living, and learn introductory techniques of cane travel. Recently spouses, adult children, or close friends have been invited to attend these retreats with the blind senior to observe what is being taught and to learn how to be supportive and constructive once they return home. TLC participants also undergo a low-vision assessment to determine what other simple techniques or technologies might help them live comfortably and adjust to their blindness. The NFB philosophy shared during these busy training sessions powerfully resonates with the participating seniors, enabling them to return to their homes and communities full of optimism and prepared to live confidently and more independently.
The programs described here appeal to one degree or another to
blind people at every stage in life. The common element that they share is the
simple but profound philosophy about blindness that characterizes and animates
every undertaking at the LCB. From children to adults to seniors, the can-do
message of the LCB—as articulated through the fifty-eight-year history of the
NFB—shines through. For further information about any LCB program, visit its
Website at <www.lcb-ruston.com> or call (800) 234-4166.