Future Reflections Fall 1992, Vol. 11 No. 4



By Doug C. Boone

[PICTURE] Doug Boone regularly attends NFB Conventions with his wife Christine. Both are long-time members of the Federation.

[PICTURE] Charles cheadle demonstrates the use of power tools to state legislators during an event sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind Maryland

Editor's Note: Doug Boone has a degree in Industrial Arts Education from Wayne State College and has been certified to teach at the Secondary level (grades 7 through 12) in Iowa and Nebraska. For the past 14 years, he has worked in the field of blind adult rehabilitation. In the course of this work, Mr. Boone has taught woodworking and welding and has served as a consultant to numerous employers and educational facilities in this capacity. Mr. Boone has also been a cane travel instructor, a vocational rehabilitation counselor, and director of human resource development.

When the time comes for children to enter junior high or middle school, the entire structure of their school day changes. They no longer spend most of the day in the same classroom but move from class to class for each new subject. In addition, there are different subjects introduced which add diversity to the curriculum such as home economics and wood shop. While these courses are mandatory for sighted students, they are often declared off limits to the blind or visually impaired student. This is particularly the case where Wood Shop is concerned. After all, it is worrisome enough for sighted youngsters to begin using power tools, but for a blind child to do so is beyond comprehension for administrators, teachers, and even parents. But wait, could there be a real advantage in making shop class accessible to blind students? Is such a thing possible? What about costly adaptations, added liability for the teacher and the school? On the other hand, separate is not equal! If a blind child is to receive a truly equal education, shouldn't he or she have the opportunity to take the same classes as his or her sighted peers? If parents want their children to take wood shop and to be safe while doing so, where do they begin?

Let us start by examining the advantages to be found in enabling the blind middle school student to participate, along with his or her sighted peers, in industrial arts classes. First we must uncover the rationale for offering such courses to the general student body.

Young people gain a number of skills and abilities while participating in the shop experience. In the planning and development of a project, they will use their creativity and artistic talent. Learning to use hand and power tools enhances psychomotor skills while also instilling discipline and restraint as they learn to respect the tools and to follow appropriate safety rules at all times. As they put the finishing touches on their projects, students learn patience and attention to detail. The sense of accomplishment in turning out a finished product of their own making fills youngsters with a sense of pride and greatly increases their level of self-confidence. Finally, it is in this environment that many youngsters experience what it means to work and be accountable for what is produced.

In looking over this rationale, it is obvious that each of these skills and abilities is at least as great a benefit to blind and visually impaired students as to the sighted.

The teenage years are difficult for any child. As they enter adolescence, they have a tremendous need to gain acceptance among their classmates. They are trying to fit in, to find their place in the world and the more experiences they can have during this time, the better equipped they will be in determining their likes, dislikes and future plans. Unfortunately, during these critical years, the blind teenager often experiences isolation and ridicule rather than acceptance and opportunity. They feel their difference acutely as sports, wood shop, and many extracurricular activities are prohibited because they are too dangerous or because someone says "I just don't see how you could do it!".

It is within our power to change these attitudes! Blind and visually impaired students have every right to participate fully in ALL areas of education, including: industrial arts, physical education and home economics. No, there is not an added risk when a blind person operates power woodworking or machining equipment. In all of my years of teaching NONE of my blind students has ever had an accident in my shop or, to the best of my knowledge, in the shops of those instructors whom I have trained to teach wood working to blind individuals. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by offering woodshop and other industrial arts curricula to blind students. They will gain tremendous self-confidence, and their fellow students will see them as equals! An overwhelming number of today's successful entrepreneurs have one thing in common: they participated in vocational education (and specifically industrial arts)! According to ERIC, The National Education Information Network, Digest No. 118, "Most entrepreneurs came from trade and industrial education, followed by agriculture, and then business education."

If you have a blind or visually impaired youngster who is in middle school, junior high, or high school and who has been denied the opportunity to take industrial arts courses, I can help! With training, your school's shop instructor can easily become competent to instruct your blind student. It has been my experience that most shop instructors are extremely receptive to the idea of having blind students in their classes after they see how the alternatives to vision are applied.

Blind students must follow the same safety rules as those observed by any sighted woodworker. The difference is that safety distance is checked tactually rather than visually. The following describes one operation of the radial arm saw: During the basic cross-cut operation, after the board measurement is obtained (using a tactile ruler) the student clears the work table. Next the student pushes the saw all the way back on the over-arm.

At this point in the operation, a sighted student is instructed to look down to assure that the left hand is approximately six inches from the blade of the saw. The blind student should also maintain this margin of safety but will use alternatives to vision to comply with this important safety requirement. The blind student will place the little finger of the right hand against the left side of the stationary saw blade (approaching the blade slowly to avoid jamming a finger against a tooth of the blade). Next, the student will spread out the fingers of the right hand and touch the thumb of the right hand to the thumb of the left hand. The right hand is now removed from contact with the stationary saw blade and the space between the left hand and the saw blade is maintained. Just as in the case of a sighted student using the radial arm saw, if the left hand moves prior to initiating the operation, the margin of safety must be reestablished to assure safety for the left hand. From this point forward, the right hand will remain in contact with the over-arm of the saw or the handle (depending on the phase of the operation) and the left hand shall not move until the machine has come to a complete stop, which can be confirmed by tactile contact of the right hand with the auxiliary shaft of the saw motor. Now this example is not complete, but anyone who has used a radial arm saw should get an idea of how some of the alternate techniques work to allow for safe operation! This method of instruction is so successful that it is actually preferable to the visual method in many instances because it requires the student to be an active participant in the compliance with safety rules.

A trained instructor will allow your blind youngster to participate in all areas of woodshop, from the planning, cutting, and gluing, to the sanding and finishing of the project. Cost for tool modification or specialized aids for blind students, in the case of woodworking, falls under $100.00.

Involvement in this area of education is just one more vital step toward achieving equality for the blind.

If you would like more information about this exciting opportunity for your child, I would like very much to talk with you. Please call me at (505) 271-1925 or write to:

Doug Boone
Boone Consultants
10517 San Gabriel Road, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM 87111
FAX (505) 271-1925