For a few years now staff members of our National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute have conducted Transformational Seminars that are designed to recalibrate the expectations community leaders have of the abilities of the blind. The goal is to empower these leaders with education and a positive perception of blind people, with the hope that they will go back and spread this mindset with others in their community. The primary participants in these seminars have come from the members of the Greater Baltimore LEADERship group, an annual leadership training program that boasts Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, Rosy Carranza, and President Mark Riccobono as past graduates, and Anil Lewis as a member of the current class.
The transformational experience begins with a human guide activity where the participants are led under sleep shades to the conference room where the seminar will take place. The goal of this is not to simulate blindness, but to make them understand that this activity can only give them the experience of losing sight, not the experience of living with the loss of sight. We briefly discuss their perceptions, their assumptions, their fears, and their altered self-concept.
This is where we begin the transformation, substituting their fears with our experience.
Over the next three hours participants are exposed to the training that would be essential for them to regain their independence: cane travel, Braille, access technology, home economics, and a simple woodshop experience. We stress that, in addition to skills development, our goal is to teach problem-solving skills and to build self-confidence. We describe our structured discovery and immersion approach to training and explain that our adult rehabilitation training programs usually last from six to nine months.
The cane travel, home economics, and woodshop activities are conducted under sleep shades to demonstrate that it is possible to perform these tasks without sight. We do not use sleep shades for the Braille and access technology activities because we want the participants to gain a true understanding of the effectiveness of these tools regardless of their finger sensitivity or keyboarding proficiency. Each activity is conducted in a different location throughout the Jernigan Institute, providing the participants an opportunity to tour our world-class facility.
Throughout the entire process we provide an education about the National Federation of the Blind, encourage candid conversations about blindness, and promote our philosophy of independence and full participation. We bring the experience to a close by providing lunch while facilitating a free flowing discussion about the experience and answering any questions they may have about blindness.