Braille Monitor                                                                  April-May 1985

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On the Road to Independence

by Steve Hastalis

(Note: This article is reprinted from the February, 1985, issue of the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois. Steve Hastalis is Secretary of the Chicago Chapter and Second Vice President of the state affiliate.)

A few months ago I was asked to volunteer my services as a travel instructor with the Guild for the Blind as part of its Full Service Center Program expansion. I knew that I could show blind people how to travel independently, having done so previously. I was excited at the prospect of working with blind people through an agency that has a truly progressive, forward-looking program.

During the summer and fall of 1984 I worked with two students-a middle-aged lady and an older lady. Both had become blind recently and wished to continue leading active lives with the aid of alternative techniques of blindness. I showed both women the basic cane techniques and took them outside to walk in their respective communities.

After the first lesson one lady took the initiative and walked about two miles and rode the bus in her community. The other lady practiced in and out of her home. During the second lesson both ladies worked on crossing busy streets with traffic lights. Both students did very well. In subsequent lessons I worked with both ladies on using buses, trains, and escalators so they would have the confidence and skill to travel independently. Their initial nervousness was quickly replaced with a sense of accomplishment. Upon returning from a trip, one student thanked me for showing her how to ride escalators. She told me she had managed very well taking her baggage with her on some fast escalators in the airport. She has since also ridden commuter trains alone.

My other student took a two-and-a-half month break in her instruction while she had surgery to replace an arthritic hip. Following a thorough recovery, lessons resumed and it was obvious she remembered the work we had done previously. She continued to make excellent progress.

When I learned to travel I was taught "pre-cane skills," which involved holding my hands out in front of me in a most unnatural fashion. When I was given a cane, I was made to endure several hours of indoor instruction. With outdoor travel came an hour of instruction on getting in and out of a car, a full hour of crossing railroad tracks, and two hours of instruction on boarding a bus, paying a fare, and taking a seat.

I knew that such methods of teaching travel were absurd, but I had no real experience with which to challenge them. Now I do. I showed my students how blind people travel in the real world, the way I travel every day, and, of course, it worked. I look forward to helping more blind people make their ways confidently and competently along the road to independence. I also look forward to the time when students I have taught will, in turn, teach other blind people to do the same.