Braille Monitor                                                                               June 2006



A Review of Education and Rehabilitation for Empowerment

by Kathleen M. Huebner

From the Editor: Dr. Huebner is a professor and associate dean of graduate studies in vision impairment at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry. We recently invited her to review Education and Rehabilitation for Empowerment, a book just published by Dr. C. Edwin Vaughan and James H. Omvig, both longtime NFB members. Here is her review:

Dr. Kathleen Huebner

This book is a volume in a series of publications about Critical Concerns in Blindness. It is authored by C. Edwin Vaughan, University of Missouri, and James H. Omvig, a former member of the advisory board, Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness, Louisiana Tech University. The target readership includes both educators and rehabilitation professionals who teach and work with individuals who are blind. The foundation on which the book is developed and built is a positive philosophy of blindness as introduced in the teachings of Newel Perry and Jacobus tenBroek and expanded upon by Kenneth Jernigan; it maintains that most education and rehabilitation programs for individuals who are blind could and should be more effective.

The book includes an introductory chapter and seven thematic chapters. It is less than two hundred pages in length. The second chapter presents the authors' perspectives on the development of the United States rehabilitation system and human culture as an emergent quality. Rather than taking a chronological approach, the authors embark on history from the perspective of "some of the problems and issues related to consumer responses to rehabilitation services." (p. 16) This is true throughout the book, as each chapter provides some historical perspectives with a focus on problems, issues, and controversies. Mention is made of prior social histories of blindness, and prominence is given to Ferguson's 2001 publication, which applies to blindness Michel Foucault's archeological approach to institutional history. The chapter highlights accreditation using the example of decades of disagreement between the National Accreditation Council (NAC) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The chapter then turns to a sociological perspective and the concept of culture as an influence in social change.

Chapter 3 is titled "Ingredients of Empowerment," which is the underlying philosophy of the book. The authors describe what they consider the essential ingredients for the empowerment and ultimately the power of individuals who are blind. They present a historical perspective to support their conclusions along with an explanation of the importance of "informed choice" in the process of including the customer (client) as a "full partner with the blindness professional" in the rehabilitation process. The chapter further discusses the ingredients of informed choice, empowering organizations, and organizations that empower, and a consumer model for empowerment.
"The Professional Worker and the Road to Empowerment," the topic of the fourth chapter, provides strategies by which empowerment can result in an equal playing field between blind consumers and rehabilitation professionals. The authors present a sociological perspective on professionals and professional organizations outlining the history of what has led to the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER), the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving Persons with Blindness and Visual Impairment (NAC) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The chapter also provides a brief history of legislation and federal appropriations related to rehabilitation.

The authors describe their perceptions of AER's structure and relate it to larger sociological concepts of colleague control and hierarchies within a profession of elites comprised of higher-level administrators/researchers and lower-level professionals, who defer to "the pronouncements of elites." This makes for interesting reading and reflective pause, including the comparisons to other professions (such as the medical and legal professions) and other organizations, including consumer organizations. This reader, being a member of AER since its inception and prior to that a member of AAWB [American Association of Workers for the Blind] and AAIB [American Association of Instructors of the Blind], which merged to become AER, sees AER as a membership organization with an elected board of directors which governs its membership much like that of NFB. The authors describe AER in the subsequent chapter as an organization which operates "on a traditional, bureaucratic model." (p. 80) The chapter concludes with a response to the question, "Is something wrong with the way science is used?" The question is prompted by the authors' observations about research-based articles published in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness (JVIB).

In chapter 5 the authors discuss some of the differences between rational bureaucratic and collectivist organizational models. The authors have long and rich histories in rehabilitation, and it is from this that they draw and present the organized blind view of the key factors required for and those which contribute to an effective state rehabilitation agency for the blind. These factors are "an independent structure, a specific defined philosophy of blindness, a committed board, a knowledgeable and committed staff, advocacy for its customers, and a quality adult orientation and adjustment center." (p. 82) Sections of the chapter are devoted to each of these factors. The defined philosophy of blindness is presented largely from Omvig's fundamental truths as presented in his 2002 book, Freedom for the Blind: The Secret Is Empowerment. The authors also present their view and describe a list of major components for model orientation and adjustment centers, which includes general guidelines and philosophies for location and facility; attitude; seminars and language; curriculum and white cane; sleepshades; Braille; etiquette; evening, weekend, and peer support; duration of training; and an interference-free environment.

The importance of socialization and the need for blind individuals to blend into the sighted world is the doctrine presented in chapter 6. The authors are vehement in their belief the "blind students must be held to the same standards as other students, such as courtesy, punctuality, dependability, and personal appearance." (p. 5) This chapter recommends that students "be separated temporarily from society to undergo immersion training to master the skills and attitudes of blindness." (p. 105) The authors ask, "Can one be immersed in the community of blind people and still be fully integrated into the mainstream?" (p. 105) They answer their own question with an unequivocal "yes." This chapter is rich with actual experiences of individuals who are blind that demonstrate the importance of understanding and using nonverbal communication skills such as eye contact and gestures. There is also a section on the social effects of presenting a well-groomed, clean, and neat appearance as well as an explanation and strategies to prevent, modify, or eliminate blindisms. The chapter concludes with a section on the importance of presenting a good impression, not just for the benefit of the individual, but for all blind persons.

The seventh chapter's focus is on communication skills, particularly the written communication skills of Braille. The authors clearly introduce the importance of all types of effective communication skills. They go on to describe the history of Braille in Europe and America and present their perspectives on the teaching of Braille to children, referencing Ferguson's 2001 work. The authors believe that "attitudes about blindness, attitudes about Braille, teachers with minimal training in Braille, and overreliance on and confidence in technology converged into what many leaders within the blindness community refer(red) to as the crisis in literacy for blind children. (p. 129) They present their theories of the effects of events and developments which they believe had a negative impact on the degree to which Braille has been taught to blind and partially blind students in recent decades. Other than Ferguson's archeological research, they do not support these theories with scientifically based research. Advances in Braille technology, the successful Braille bill movement led by the NFB, and other technological developments and their role in customer empowerment are also addressed.

The last chapter addresses mobility as a crucial ingredient of effective rehabilitation, which ultimately leads to customer empowerment. Brief histories of human guides, child and adult guides, dog guides, and long cane travel are presented. The structured-discovery approach is briefly explained, and the organized blind position on environmental modifications and electronic guidance systems is presented, including some minority views. Some of the controversies and differences in methodologies between the conventional and the structured-discovery methods as well as those between the Certification in Orientation and Mobility and the National Orientation and Mobility Certification are also presented.

The authors are articulate and make the book easy reading, but reading that requires thought, reflection, and consideration of the messages imbedded throughout each and every chapter. This reviewer always enjoys learning from those who have a talent for writing, application of concepts from one field to another, and an indefatigable philosophical perspective; these authors have all these qualities. While the book is rich with historical citations from the literature, conference proceedings, citations from the Braille Monitor, their own previous works, and otherwise generally untapped historical resources, the authors make it clear throughout that they are writing from "the experience and perspective of the organized blind movement (NFB) in the United States." (p. 83)

Empowerment is the thread that is woven throughout, regardless of the chapter. The authors have infused the importance of strategies and the potential outcome of consumer empowerment throughout the book. The thread is a prominent color--a strong and vibrant texture that not only pulls all the other themes together but results in a complex yet unified design.