The Braille Monitor                                                                                               __May 1997

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The Blindfold as a Useful Instructional Tool for Seniors

by Chris Cuppett

From the Editor: Chris Cuppett teaches the alternative skills of blindness to seniors in Minnesota. The following speech is the one she gives to her students when they first come to the adjustment to blindness training program. She wants them to understand just what they are going to be doing and why, so that there will be no rude surprises. This is what she says:

I would like to welcome you to this introductory meeting of the Adjustment to Blindness Training Program. Many of you are here because you feel that you may have to give up many simple daily activities as a result of having lost much of your vision. You may have stopped pouring coffee, threading a needle, handling your money, walking downtown by yourself, or reading your mail. You may be experiencing more difficulty with cooking, grocery shopping, and leisure activities. Maybe you have some fears about how you will continue to manage in your home or apartment.

Most of us have relied primarily upon our vision to accomplish just about everything we do each day. Many of us believe that the only way we can carry out any task successfully is by doing it visually. This way of thinking is not surprising since the majority of us are visual people. If we have had our vision all of our lives, most of us will receive about 85 to 90 percent of the information we process through our eyes.

The human body can be compared to a wonderful and elaborate piece of engineering like a rocket ship. The main engine is our vision. But any sophisticated piece of engineering has backup systems that kick in when the main engine isn't working properly. Our classes will help you make full use of your backup systems, your remaining four senses--hearing, touch, smell, and taste--as well as your memory, imagination, experience, and ability to learn new things.

Maybe some of you have had difficulty admitting to others that your main engine isn't working up to speed. You may try to continue to make use of that main engine, even when you know the results aren't very satisfactory. Perhaps you have noticed that you are expending more energy and accomplishing less work because you are straining to see everything. You may be afraid to think about how you will manage if this main engine loses more power. Since you really can't determine how well your main engine will continue to function in the future, it is a good idea to learn several different ways of operating your machine. Then you can make an informed choice about when it would make sense to use your main engine and when it would make sense to use your backup systems. You may be surprised to discover that in many instances it will be wiser and safer for you to give your main engine a rest and to let your backup systems take over.

The best way we have found to help you learn to use your backup systems to the max is to give you a blindfold to wear throughout the class. By doing this, you deliberately shut off your main engine so you can train yourself to listen more effectively, to get more information through your sense of touch, and to improve your memory. You will have the opportunity to work out solutions to potential problems while you are in a safe and comfortable environment.

In the past we have found that, when we tried to teach people to use their backup systems without having them wear blindfolds, many of them automatically fell back on the familiar and continued to struggle to use their remaining vision. We also found that some people who had stronger main engines would not take certain aspects of their training seriously. They would say things like, "My sight is still
pretty good, so I don't need to learn this. But poor so-and- so over there in the corner should learn it because her sight is worse than mine." Some of our students have also been known to say something like, "I won't bother to use my backup system as long as my main engine is still working even a little. I will wait to use it when I absolutely have to." If they take that approach to their training, "when I absolutely have to" is usually too late. When the time comes, they feel panicky or discouraged and can't remember how to fall back on their remaining faculties. The blindfold acts as an equalizer for all of our students. You will all be given equal opportunities to learn to use everything you have.

At first you may feel uncomfortable, so we will be sure to give you several breaks and lots of encouragement. It may seem difficult to believe right now, but as you get further into your training, you will forget that you are wearing the blindfold, and you will be able to concentrate fully on whatever project you are doing. You will find yourself saying more frequently, "Hey, I really can dial the telephone or pour my coffee without seeing. I really can tell what things are by touching them. I really can walk safely and confidently with my white cane." You may find yourself thinking without panicking, "How could I work through this situation by using my other senses?" We hope and expect that the problems you encounter will begin to seem more like puzzles to solve instead of obstacles to fear. We also hope that learning to use your wonderful backup system will help you to continue to lead a productive and fulfilling life.

Advantages of Wearing a Blindfold:

1. I will learn to use my remaining four senses, my memory and imagination, and my reservoir of life experiences more fully.

2. I will not be constantly comparing myself to other students and feeling either a sense of superiority or a sense of despair about having more or less sight than others. We will all be learning to do things by using faculties other than sight.

3. I will have the opportunity to discover for myself that I can accomplish a great deal without relying upon my vision. It is much more empowering for me to discover this truth for myself than for someone simply to tell me that this principle is true.

4. I will have the opportunity to solve problems while I am in a safe and comfortable environment.

5. My instructors will become better at their jobs because they will need to explain concepts more precisely.