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Fatos Floyd

Nebraska Orientation Center for the Blind

Celebrates Its Twenty-fifth Anniversary

by Fatos Floyd

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From the Editor: Rehabilitation of blind Americans is profoundly different today from that practiced at mid-century. The development of Richard Hoover's long-cane technique for travel has certainly had a significant impact, and the evolution of computer technology has certainly altered the content of the skills training offered today. With the exception of high quality Braille instruction, which is all too often missing today, almost all modern rehabilitation is far superior to that our blind parents and grandparents received. But the single most profound change in rehabilitation has come about as a direct result of the emergence of the organized blind movement.

The impact the NFB and its philosophy have had is much greater in some programs than in others, but even in the poorest ones the influence can be seen. Virtually every agency doing blindness rehabilitation today gives lip service, at least, to the notions that blindness alone need not stop a person from living a full life, that self-confidence is a key to success, that poor public attitudes about blindness cause massive complications in our lives, and that nothing about blindness is shameful. Even in their most watered-down formulations, these are concepts that have flowed directly from NFB philosophy into every cranny of the blindness field.

Some centers and programs, of course, embraced these ideas and the programs that inevitably arise from them sooner than others. The Nebraska Orientation Center is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this month. Fatos Floyd, wife of NFB of Nebraska President Mike Floyd, now directs the center, and she recently sent us this brief history of the program and what it celebrates. This is what she says.

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For more than thirty years October 15 has been proclaimed White Cane Safety Day in the United States. It is an occasion for Governors to call attention to the capabilities and contributions of blind persons. In 1999 the blind of Nebraska will have special reason to celebrate the day. Twenty-five years ago Federationism came to the State service system for the blind with the establishment of a genuine orientation center for the blind.

In 1973 Dr. Jack Anderson, director of the Nebraska state agency that included Services for the Visually Impaired, was persuaded by Richard Parker, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska, to visit the Iowa Commission for the Blind in Des Moines and its director, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. Dr. Anderson was so impressed with the philosophy that guided the Orientation Center in Iowa and the dynamic leadership of Dr. Jernigan that he agreed to take steps to change the direction and the philosophy of services for the blind in Nebraska. He challenged Mr. Parker to find a qualified candidate to direct the state agency for the blind who shared the same philosophy.

With the assistance of Dr. Jernigan, Dr. James Nyman was contacted and accepted the challenge, starting in May, 1974. Dr. Nyman, who served for nearly twenty-five years as director of Nebraska Services for the Visually Impaired, established and maintained the highest standards for quality in rehabilitation of the blind. Under his leadership the Orientation Center, as it is now known, was developed and became recognized nationally as an example of excellence in the field. Today the tradition begun by Dr. Nyman is being vigorously continued by his successor, Dr. Pearl Van Zandt.

In 1974 a part-time center existed in Lincoln, but one that operated on the basis of skill training without any coherent philosophy to guide it. Several months after assuming the directorship of Nebraska Services for the Visually Impaired, Dr. Nyman persuaded Sylvia Johnson (now Sylvia Speed) to come from Washington, D. C., to bring coherence and philosophy to the Orientation Center. Ms. Speed had been a travel instructor in the Orientation Center in Iowa and understood what excellence in a Center meant.

It was not long before staff members of the period like Barbara Beach (now Barbara Walker), John Cheadle, and Rosemary Lerdahl pulled together as the first cohesive Orientation Center team under Ms. Speed's philosophical leadership. Despite her short stay the foundations of a sound orientation program were laid. Michael Adams was chosen to succeed Ms. Speed. The Orientation Center continued to develop under his leadership and that of his successors, Barbara Walker, Sheila Byrd (now Sheila Wright), Deb Robinson, Rosemary Lerdahl, Susan Miles, Linda Chilcott, and its current director Fatos Floyd.

Perhaps nothing illustrated the new confidence in blind people more than the insistence that the critical skill of travel could be effectively and safely taught by a blind instructor. The orientation-and-mobility profession had institutionalized the belief that only the sighted could perform this vital service. Jim Walker from Michigan, possessing the philosophy and skill that commended him to the consideration of Services for the Visually Impaired, was recruited in 1975. He became the model of a blind person effectively teaching travel and embodying the Federation philosophy in his personal and professional life. Fred Schroeder, now Commissioner of the U.S. Rehabilitation Administration and blind himself, succeeded Mr. Walker as cane-travel instructor in the Orientation Center. Mr. Schroeder wanted to become certified as an orientation and mobility instructor by AER; however, even with his academic qualifications, the orientation-and-mobility establishment prevented him from obtaining certification, claiming his blindness as the reason. Another person well known to Federationists, Christine Roberts (now Christine Boone), followed Mr. Schroeder. Others who have served in this capacity are Michael Floyd; Larry Mackey; and Jeff Altman, the current cane-travel instructor.

The Federation and Federationism continue to play a vital role in the formulation and conduct of training at the Orientation Center in Nebraska. Without the support of the organization and the guidance of its philosophy, an orientation center becomes a hollow exercise in skill training. Those Centers that cultivate both skills and beliefs in the capabilities of blind persons can instill the motivation to pursue life goals in the mainstream of society. This is the truth and the proud history that will be celebrated on White Cane Safety Day, 1999, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Orientation Center in Nebraska.

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