Braille Monitor March 1985
The following letter was written by Michael L. Roberts to Dr. Richard Shutz, head of services for the blind in Kansas. It underscores widely-held attitudes about many of the rehabilitation centers, and it raises troubling questions. If an individual becomes blind in America today, where can he or she go to find adequate, substantive training? Simply calling an institution by a given name does not make it that or insure that that is what it will be.
Kansas City, Kansas
January 1, 1985
Dear Dr. Shutz:
I am addressing my concerns today to the Services for the Blind Rehabilitation Center at 2516 W. 6th Street, Topeka, Kansas.
I would like to start my complaint by saying that this would not have to be written if the head of the administration could listen to my concerns, which I have brought to his attention without results.
I am not here to do anything but to restore and rehabilitate myself. I spend seven hours a day, four days a, ¦.feek, plus a half day on Wednesdays. In that thirty-two hours a week I would venture to say that only sixteen hours a vseek are actually spent in earnest training for clients rehabilitating themselves. Some clients do consider this a wasted amount of time in training.
Unfortunately they think that complaining would not get any results; so they don't do anything about it. They also feel that because they are blind they can't speak out for their rights. As clients we are supposed to have our needs complied to; not to comply to the instructors' wants or needs. Some instructors have told me that I need not use my white cane in the Rehabilitation Center or in the dorm. Contrary to this I do not, and will not, give up my cane I came to the center with.
As a taxpayer, I see much wasted time in certain areas of training for certain people. Clients should be able to decide what is best for them. Unless you ask for a staffing, it's my understanding that the instructors decide what you should take. It is a bit difficult to ask for a staffing if you are not aware that you can ask for one. Here are some areas I feel are not used to their fullest and a lot of time wasted in them:
1. Orientation Class--The first month you are there is a month-long class designed to orientate you with the difficult safety devices in the Rehabilitation Center and dorm. It also explains to you the different laws about blind people in the state of Kansas. I believe the amount of time in orientation could be cut to one week.
2. There are presently one and a half mobility teachers in the program. The administrator says they can't afford any more mobility instructors for the program; but yet they have one full-time and one part-time secretary. Half of their time is spent reading magazines and books. My mobility instructor (who, by the way, is very good) has not had adequate amounts of time to spend with me because of circumstances.
3. Also, one instructor worries more about her guide dog, and treats it like a pet, than she shows attention to her clients. She also takes care of her personal business on client's time.
4. It has come to my attention that the blind people cannot use power tools. All power tools are used only by instructors. I am a totally blind individual, and I have used power tools by myself in the past. I feel that with some instruction I could use other power tools also. It is my understanding that no blind person is supposed to touch or use any power tools at the center. With proper instruction blind people can and do function in society with jobs using power tools. As for the manual arts class offered at the center, you can make a number of beautiful items, but as for the actual instruction as to how to use power tools properly, there is no instruction. The tools I am referring to are power saws, router, sabre saws, band saws, and others.
5. Techniques of Daily Living does have some good advantages for blind people. I have been concerned about this class from the first day I went into it. There are certain aspects that are very demeaning and a waste of time to all clients now in the program. I consider dialing a telephone, setting a table place setting, and listening to a tape about stress to blind people very demeaning. If I needed to know about stress, I would see a clinical psychologist.
6. Other wasted time and also demeaning to blind people is the Wednesday afternoon fun time. Instead of taking time off during the day we could be in our regular classes working on something constructive. The fun time could be used in the evenings, going bowling or other activities instead of sitting in the dorm all evening long, because you can't leave the center on your own until you have been cleared for travel by your mobility instructor. This would give you fun time and more mobility training. I feel we could finish the program in half the amount of time required. The program would run smoother and would work much better. You would have people finishing the program earlier, and they would never have to come back for a second go-round.
I get the impression from my stay here that the blind people are to please their instructors and nothing is ever to be said. You are supposed to accept what you see and go along with it. Another thing which I don't understand is the curfew time at the dorm. I understand the security aspect of it, but having to be told when I can come and when I have to be in is unrealistic. Every client that is at the dorm at the present time is of legal age, and therefore should be treated as an adult. I might add that the administration's contention is that if any client should get injured or hurt off campus, they feel a moral responsibility for that person. It is my contention that if a person chooses to leave the campus, they are therefore responsible for their own actions.
We are now in the process of trying to come up with a solution to let the clients be allowed to have keys if they plan on staying out passed curfew time. I am on the committee to come up with some good suggestions. I might also add that nearly all the exercise equipment at the dorm is so old and broken down that it is hardly safe to use. If they want your stay at the dorm to be comfortable, the exercise equipment should be updated and replaced.
In closing I would like to say that having been a businessman before I went blind, if the center were in the private sector and run the same way, it would go broke in a short amount of time. I am not ready to accept, after two months of training, the conditions I have received thus far and would hope that something constructive might come from this letter of complaint. I would be happy to talk about this problem privately with you at any time. Also in closing, I would like to say that some of my complaints for myself have been changed, but the other clients' situations have not changed. I believe that possibly being more educated about blind people would make the center run more efficiently.
Michael L. Roberts