Future Reflections                                                   Special Issue: Low Vision and Blindness 2005

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When the Light's Not Right

Editor’s Note: Does your partially sighted child or student avoid traveling after dark, or does he or she hesitate and seem lost or confused when he or she steps into a hall flooded with glaring sunlight? Traveling independently under poor lighting conditions is one of the ninety-plus travel situations Willoughby and Monthei examine in detail in their book, Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Students Who are Blind or Visually Impaired: Preschool Through High School. The following excerpt from that book is so useful, we are reprinting it for a second time (see Future Reflections, volume 23, number 3). The excerpt is also a good example of the style, approach, and content you will find throughout this excellent resource and teaching guide. (Information about how to order the book is at the end of the article.) Here is what Willoughby and Monthei have to say about promoting independent travel even under poor lighting conditions:

Module 8
Poor Lighting Conditions:
Independence at Night
In Dim Light and With Glare

OBJECTIVE: The student’s independence will be consistent regardless of lighting conditions--including glare, inconsistent lighting, dim lighting, and day vs. night.

AGE OF STUDENT: All ages (Note: Ages are mentioned in relation to circumstances given in a particular Example--e.g., recess in an elementary school. Concepts and techniques apply to all ages. Manner of presentation would be altered according to the student’s maturity.)

Attitudes toward blindness
Understanding vision and partial vision
Detecting step-downs or drop-offs
Flexibility and confidence
General travel

Finding a person
In a crowd or a line
Finding a seat
Responsibility and citizenship
Weather and temperature

SEE ALSO (Other Modules):
Inclement Weather
Visually Confusing Appearance
Walking Independently While Following Someone
Unexpected Drop-Off or Step-Down
Auditorium or Theater

TEACHER PREPARATION: Inquire about present level of independence in dim light and in extreme glare. Look for situations and times when the student could encounter these conditions during lessons.

REMARKS: Many persons with partial sight travel fairly well in normal daylight, but have significant difficulty at night or under glare conditions. A person may use a cane at all times, yet continue to rely mainly on the eyes for certain things--e.g., finding doorways or watching for traffic. Or, he may decline to use a cane in daylight at all, believing he “doesn’t need the cane unless the light is bad.”

The remedy is consistent reliance on good cane technique.

First, the student must learn techniques thoroughly while wearing sleepshades, not using sight at all. Outside of lesson time, he may supplement the cane with the use of sight when it is convenient. However, the cane remains in use at all times, and alternative techniques are relied upon whenever sight may be unreliable or inconvenient. (See Handbook, pp. 182-185.)

(Primary Grades)

“Mrs. Brown tells me that coming in from recess has been hard for you. People have been helping you find your coat hook and find your seat. Would you tell me about that?…

“Thank you for explaining. So, it’s very bright on the playground, and then the hallway seems awfully dark. It takes awhile for your eyes to get used to the change…

“Mrs. Brown tells me that you have your cane with you when you’re coming in, and we’re glad you’re remembering. I’m going to help you get the cane to work even more while you’re coming in, so that you won’t need extra help.”

Proceed with the following practice:

(Middle School or High School)

Problem: The student travels well under sleepshades in various environments. At school, however, even though he has his cane with him, he tends to run into people in the west stairway and the north hallway. He has great difficulty finding a seat in a classroom if the lights are off for a film.

You note that the north hall and the west stairwell are rather unevenly lighted. You say, “I’d like to tell you about an unfortunate high school student I once knew. Although he didn’t see well at all, he refused to use a cane at school. One stairway, especially, was rather dimly lighted. One day he was going down in a hurry and ran into another student--hard.

“The other student thought he had done it on purpose, and slugged him. The blind student hit back, and they both found themselves in the principal’s office. As an added complication, one of the young men was White and one was African-American; each thought the other was racially motivated.

“They were both suspended for three days.

“Now, I am pleased to point out that you are not making that other student’s biggest mistake--not having a cane at all. If he had had a cane, it’s very likely that the other student would have given him space, or at least would not have thought he ran into him on purpose. There probably would not have been a fight. Just having a cane with you provides identification and prevents a lot of problems, as we have said before.

“But I think maybe you sometimes have part of the same problem: you may not be using your cane consistently here at school. I think sometimes you rely on your eyes and your memory, and just sort of carry the cane. Then when the light is poor, you run into people or can’t find your way. What do you think?…

“It’s been quite awhile since we’ve had an actual lesson here at school, since you’re doing so well downtown. I think we’ve been neglecting certain points, and I’d like to do some work here…”

Proceed with the following practice:

(Middle School or High School)

Problem: the student never walks independently at night. In fact, he dislikes going anywhere at all at night. He travels quite well in the daytime, and while wearing shades during lessons; however, at night he hangs onto someone else.

Talk about daytime travel vs. evening travel. Emphasize that travel under sleepshades trains a person to use techniques not requiring any sight. Even if a person uses partial vision to some extent in daylight, he should easily be able to change emphasis at night and place more reliance on the alternatives.

“Imagine you are wearing sleepshades,” you might say. “You get along fine when you are really wearing them. Try imagining that you do have them on.”

Depending on circumstances and the student’s abilities, arrange experiences such as the following:

First, practice as usual with sleepshades in situations which particularly bring out the value of the cane: crossing streets, meeting unexpected step-downs, etc. Then continue with comparable practice as a special extra lesson without sleepshades. Urge the student to “imagine the shades are still on” and rely mainly on alternative techniques. Disregarding visual input is wise when it is unreliable or so incomplete as to be confusing.

The above practice (first wearing shades, and then immediately practicing in a similar way without shades in poor light) may be done without the travel teacher being actually present. A mature student may practice alone. Parents or others may assist. But the helper must really understand that alternative techniques are superior to the attempt to rely on inadequate vision.

In time, the student will learn to integrate the use of his vision with alternative techniques in the way most advantageous for him individually. But, especially at first, it is often good advice to say, “Never mind what you see with your eyes.”

It may be helpful to time activities with a stopwatch, record the number of hesitations, etc., both with sleepshades and without.

REMARKS: A student may comment, “I get along fine in good light, even if I’m not really using my cane. Why can’t I just leave it--or use a folding cane and keep it folded--in the daytime? I only need it at night!”

The Handbook discusses this question in detail. Essentially, these are the main points:

Willoughby and Duffy, Handbook for Itinerant and Resource Teachers of Blind and Visually Impaired Students, pp. 157-198.

Richard Mettler. Cognitive Learning Theory and Cane Travel Instruction: A New Paradigm, pp. 66-106.

Editor’s Note: Published by the National Federation of the Blind, Modular Instruction is available for $20 plus $9 shipping and handling. Readers may place a credit card order with the NFB Materials Center by fax at (410) 685-5653 or by phone at (410) 659-9314. Checks made payable to the NFB may be mailed with a request for Modular Instruction for Independent Travel for Students Who are Blind or Visually Impaired: Preschool Through High School (order number LSA01P) to NFB Materials Center, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230. This information applies to print orders within the continental USA only. For information about alternative formats or the cost for shipping to Alaska, Hawaii, USA territories, and to other countries, please contact the NFB Materials Center by mail, phone, fax, or by email at <[email protected]>.

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