Cultivating Feelings of First-Class Status

By Justin M. Salisbury, MA, NOMC, NCRTB, NCUEB

Justin M. Salisbury is an Orientation and Mobility Therapist for the State of Hawai‘i at Ho`opono Services for the Blind in Honolulu, Hawai‘i.


Adjustment to blindness training involves both skill acquisition and emotional adjustment to blindness. Part of the emotional adjustment to blindness is coming to consider blindness a normal characteristic and identify oneself as a first-class member of society. Rehabilitation practitioners must cultivate feelings of dignity in their blind consumers, which must be consistently incorporated into staff and student decision-making. A training center should be a contemporary, professional setting to help students understand emotionally that blindness does not prevent them from blending into such an employment setting. Although funds may be scarce at a training center, care must be taken to ensure that the facilities and technologies are current and well-maintained. Simple skill acquisition may not require these investments, but emotional adjustment to blindness may require capital improvements. Students must come to think of themselves as valuable contributors in society and understand that the claim to equal rights requires equal responsibility.


Emotional adjustment, blindness rehabilitation, first-class status, dignity, Structured Discovery


Training at a residential training center is the core of any well-functioning state vocational rehabilitation program for the blind; these centers can be run by state agencies or non-profit organizations (Jernigan, 1993; Omvig, 2002). Training centers offer training in the alternative techniques that blind people use to compete on terms of equality with their sighted counterparts (Tigges, 2004). This training should be prevocational, meaning that it is focused on preparing students for employment, whether they go right into the workforce or pursue further education afterward (Davis, 2008). It is beneficial to maintain a sense of continuing unity between staff, students, alumni, prospective students, and community members, which one training center supports through its quarterly alumni newsletter and annual orientation alumni day (Tigges, 2004). Another training center hosts an alumni reception at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind (Wunder, 2016). Thus, students come to identify themselves as part of a legacy. The average blind person requires six to nine months at a residential training center to adjust emotionally and master enough alternative techniques to be competitive (Omvig, 2002). Simple alternative techniques and problem-solving skills may not require so many months to learn, but the emotional adjustment to blindness, the glue of the entire rehabilitation process, necessitates this time (Salisbury, 2017b). Part of the emotional adjustment to blindness is coming to consider blindness a normal characteristic and identify oneself as a first-class member of society. Since vocational rehabilitation agencies are always looking for ways to save money (Pierce, 2003; Shevlin, 1999), it is necessary that this dimension of empowerment remain a priority.

Wirth (1945) defined a minority group as "a group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination." Any person who exhibits the characteristics of a given minority group involuntarily receives the status implications that come with membership in that minority group and receives the same general treatment as other members of that minority group. The blind are, in every sense of the word, a minority (Jernigan, 1997). There exist barriers to the full integration of the blind that can and must be removed (Jernigan, 1997; Maurer, 2008; Schroeder, 2010b). There is a bias against braille and in favor of print, but, if we assume that blind people will compete with their sighted counterparts, then a reading medium completely unrelated to vision is superior (Schroeder, 2010a). The blind have collectively decided that the different means of performing tasks, which blind people use, shall be called “alternative techniques,” at least in part because they are not inherently inferior (Jernigan, 2005; Omvig, 2002). Schroeder (1996) explained that learning and using Braille helps develop a sense of minority group identity with the blind community. The blind, as a class of people, have the right to define their own membership (Jeang, 2014). A person may properly be called a blind person when he has to devise so many alternative techniques to do efficiently those things which he would do if he had normal vision that his pattern of daily living is substantially altered (Jernigan, 2005; Omvig, 2002, 2009). Nonetheless, blind people are normal (Omvig, 2002), and blindness is a normal characteristic (Jernigan, 1963, 1999).

Taylor (2005) describes the evolution of sheltered workshops. Students in schools for the blind desired training in "blind trades," such as tuning pianos, caning chairs, assembling mops and brooms, and weaving rugs. Nineteenth-century blindness rehabilitation professionals observed that blind people with strong handwork skills were not accepted in the job market and concluded that the blind needed more intense training in handwork skills. They established workshops with jobs where blind people could be sheltered from the risk of the competitive job market. The employees frequently earned only a few pennies per hour performing menial tasks, but the blindness professionals could report helping blind people achieve employment. Originally, sheltered workshops for the blind were established on the campuses of residential schools for the blind so that students could transition directly from the school for the blind to the sheltered workshop. Unfortunately, this arrangement has produced poor results for a few general reasons. Generally, sheltered workshops perpetuate the notion that blind people cannot compete in the mainstream job market with their sighted counterparts. These well-intentioned enterprises tend to compromise in their support of the blind, and essentially none of the blind participants reach their full potential. Sheltered workshop employees certainly do not receive all that the rehabilitation system can offer. Because these blind people tend to function at substandard levels in society, the sheltered workshops perpetuate low expectations of the blind. Omvig (2002) explains that a training center should never be housed within a sheltered workshop because newly blind people will observe and identify with the blind people in the sheltered workshop who have been beaten down by the system, validating their fears about blindness and serving as negative role models. First-class members of society enjoy the freedom to make their own choices, including their profession, and Schroeder (2005) described how vocational rehabilitation should give consumers informed choice in their profession. If students are constantly exposed to a sheltered workshop, the power of suggestion environmentally limits their ability to envision themselves working outside such a workshop and thus limits their informed choice.

Omvig (2009) describes five essential ingredients in the proper rehabilitation training of a blind person. First, a blind person must come to understand at the intellectual and emotional levels that independence and self-sufficiency are possible for him or her. Second, the blind person must master the alternative techniques that he or she needs in order to be competitive with his or her sighted counterpart. Third, the blind person must learn how to cope productively with the misinformed attitudes about blindness which pervade the general public and the mistreatment that he or she will receive due to those attitudes. Fourth, the blind person must learn how to blend in with the general public so that he or she is accepted in social and professional settings as a first-class participant. Lastly, as a blind person makes significant progress in these other four ingredients, they enable the fifth: giving back. In every society and culture, a person cannot be completely whole and achieve first-class status unless he or she demonstrates the ability to give back and contribute positively to the lives of others.

Uline, Tschannen-Moran, and Wolsey (2009), as well as Uline, Wolsey, Tschannen-Moran, and Lin (2010), explored the relationship between facility quality and school climate, focusing on the effects of facility conditions on student and teacher attitudes, behaviors, and performance within schools about to receive renovations. Variables evaluated included aesthetics, play of light, flexible and responsive classrooms, elbow room, and security. These characteristics were analyzed in their relationship with four school climate variables: academic press, community engagement, teacher professionalism, and collegial leadership. Counterbalance and equity were significant to staff and student engagement with their current facilities. Social, political, and fiscal circumstances influence decisions about investments in the design, construction, and maintenance of schools. These same dynamics also influence how people assess, or fail to assess, the outcomes produced. Students, teachers, parents, and community members can either thrive in learning centers marked by form and purpose, or they can struggle in substandard learning environments. As school administrative bodies make facility decisions that balance community priorities and budgetary constraints, they must address social, emotional, and aesthetic needs. Aesthetic aspects of the physical learning environment are vital in creating and sustaining a productive learning climate. School administrators have become focused on meeting written national or state standards, but, eventually, they must face the condition of the environments where education will either thrive or struggle. Training centers for the blind, as education facilities, share these tradeoffs. Students in adjustment to blindness training benefit from knowing that their training centers are as classy as leading centers of education and industry.

Social Normalization

Nirje (1969) describes the normalization principle in the rehabilitation of the disabled and its many components. Normalization for the disabled means a normal daily rhythm, such as eating meals with a family or peer group and going to bed at a time normal to one's able-bodied counterpart. Freedom to make individual choices and break away from groups is necessary. The location of training and work activities must be in a separate location from the disabled person's home. While some training programs may operate in their own specialized facilities, it is also important for students to be using the facilities in society open to the public. People with disabilities must develop the ability to deal with spontaneous situations without panicking (Avedon, 1967; Chigier, 1967; Nirje, 1967). Normalization involves experiencing the normal rhythm of the year, especially holidays and annual family and community events. Vacations help any person to refresh mind and body, and people with disabilities need this, too. Normalization requires embracing normal life-cycle developmental experiences; thus, normal levels of stimulation must exist in a person's environment. Rules which apply to able-bodied adults, such as not typically living in an institutional setting with children, must also apply to disabled adults. Contact with able-bodied people is necessary to calibrate social rules. Normalization requires that disabled people have the ability to decide what they do in their free time. Normalization requires living and learning in a co-educational environment because the world is co-educational. In addition to the lack of isolation from the opposite sex, co-educational practices in learning and leisure activities, to the same extent as in normal life, offer extra incentives for full participation. Normalization requires normal economic privileges, including the opportunities to possess, manage, and spend money; the same is true for any other compensating economic security measures, such as personal pensions, minimum wages, and child-related allowances. Disabled adults should develop a practice of paying for their own housing and food, but they should have a normal amount of pocket money for private use for two reasons: to support realistic social training and to help cultivate independent decision-making. A vital part of the normalization principle is that physical facility standards should match those typically applied in society to the same type of facilities for the majority group, which, in the case of blindness rehabilitation, means sighted people.

The concept of normality is highly subjective, and more recent scholarship in the field of disability studies has pushed back against this term as potentially ableist. Schweik (2009) discussed a series of laws aimed at keeping socially deviant bodies, which included but was not limited to people with disabilities, out of public view. These laws generally refer to a crime of ‘unsightliness,’ and have introduction dates spanning roughly 100 years, with the last of which being introduced in Columbus, Ohio, in 1972. The laws in many places forbade the exposure of parts of the body which were deformed or otherwise abnormal. They also placed limitations on the solicitation of alms. Krieger (2011) explained that disability became a weapon to oppress ethnic minorities, as scientific outlets and popular media became flooded with papers and reports that focused on disability and biological differences between different racial groups, showing the white subjects as superior. The discourse of the unsightly beggar attached the concept of loitering and loafing to people with disabilities (Mobily & Rudzinski, 2017; Schweik, 2009). President Franklin Roosevelt did not want to be shown in his wheelchair because it marked him as being not physically competent for the role of president, even though his health was better than the eventual fitness-branded president John F. Kennedy (Clausen, 2005). President Clinton decided to include Roosevelt’s wheelchair in the construction of his national monument even against his wishes because the prejudice of his day should not interfere with the decisions of the present day.

Mobily and Rudzinski (2017) discuss a binary concept of work and leisure and its consequences for labeling, stereotyping, and stigmatizing people with disabilities. Nielsen (2012) explains that disability is frequently marked by shame and isolation, which have been woven into the fabric of institutions and laws throughout United States history. Brown (2013) writes that disability-related shame and isolation are usually associated with a stigma. Devine and Wilhite (1999) explain that stigma depends on social context, a subject’s class or a subject’s category of undesirable behaviors. Mobily and Rudzinski (2017) contend that one source of labeling, stereotyping, and stigmatizing people with disabilities is a binary concept of work and leisure, which often excludes people with disabilities because of their inability to function without alternative techniques. Stigma is a tool to maintain an existing social hierarchy, a means of controlling certain segments of the population to ensure that power is difficult to exchange (Brown, 2013).

Because anyone can become disabled at any time, disability is a threatening category to the privileged unlike a subordinated race or sex; thus, people fear becoming disabled (Emens, 2013). Hunt (1966, 1998) explained that people with disabilities represent the fragility of life and remind the dominant culture of tragedy, loss, the dark, and the unknown, which dismantle everyone’s sense of invincibility. Schweik (2009) explains that the alms houses and poor farms, as complements to the Ugly Laws, kept the painful reminders known as people with disabilities out of the mainstream to protect the larger society from those reminders.

The disability studies literature relating to mental illnesses appears to criticize social norms as inherently oppressive to people with disabilities. Hamer (2011) found that, in the case of people with mental illnesses, they felt forced to conform their behaviors to social rules and norms by hiding their disability and shaping their behavior in order to be included. Donley and Buckley (1996) argued that disability movement participants with mental illnesses have embraced their disabilities as part of their social identities to validate them rather than accepting them as a category of social oppression.

Siebers (2010) contends that genius is inherently an exception to normality and that exceptions to normality carry unique contributions. Thus, people with disabilities should not be rejected. Disability aesthetics touts physical and mental differences as inherently valuable rather than embracing aesthetic tastes which prescribe normality. In fact, it directly rejects aesthetic standards and tastes excluding people with disabilities.

In the case of the blind, there are different methods of functioning, known as “alternative techniques,” which do make a blind person noticeably different from the sighted (Jernigan, 2005), but these alternative techniques do not prevent a blind person from blending into society. Schroeder (1996) explained that blind people who try to cover their blindness or pass as sighted can forestall the alternative techniques necessary to be successful as blind people. A blind person need not demonstrate self-marginalizing behavioral patterns as a consequence of blindness. Furthermore, blind people carry the full spectrum of behavioral traits (Maurer, 2011). This natural, cross-sectional variation need not prevent blind people from being first-class members of society. If the concept of normality is to be discussed at a training center, there are a few considerations which might be helpful. First, it could be that the idea of normality is rejected as ableist. Alternatively, staff at a training center could have frank discussions with students and any other audiences about the nature of inherent ableism in society and the importance of blending in as a matter of playing by social rules but recognizing that the hierarchy of sight is pure sophistry. Sophistry is something which is clever and plausible, but false and misleading (Jernigan, 1984). Blind people can learn to blend into society.

Equal Rights and Equal Responsibility

Silverman (2014) discusses the impacts of special privileges for the blind on emotional adjustment and first-class status. A blind person’s self-respect can be undermined by accepting special treatment. Accepting extra help encourages dependency and hinders growth. Blind people who are always getting help never find out if they can handle the attempted tasks independently. Part of the adjustment to blindness process is learning to decline help in order to figure out how to do something independently. Learning how to decline special treatment helps blind people become responsible and competent contributors in society. For example, students at one Structured Discovery program do not use blindness as a reason to sit in special handicapped seating areas on buses (Salisbury, 2018). Sleepshade training must last long enough to get students in a rhythm of declining unnecessary help and understanding what they can really do independently. While it may be less expensive for a training center to take advantage of the lower prices on disability programs, such as housing or bus passes, it drastically reduces the quality of the program by contradicting the message of empowerment offered by the rest of the program. Omvig (2002) explains that the blind must understand that it is impossible to truly have one’s cake and eat it, too. Additionally, program leadership should not attempt to justify offers of low pay by encouraging blind employees to take advantage of these special disability discount programs. Program leadership should recruit employees with professional expertise (Bell & Mino, 2011), and students should understand that their training is important enough for skilled professionals to make a career providing it (Hoover, 1967; Riccobono, 2015; Salisbury, 2016).

Maurer (2008) explains the interplay between rights and responsibilities for the disabled, with strong emphasis on tenBroek’s (1966) analysis of disability in tort law. TenBroek (1966) explained that a proper understanding of the reality of disability requires the full integration of disabled people into society. The disabled who are being integrated have certain obligations; integration will only be achieved if the advantages gained via integration outweigh the burdens associated with it. If a population of people wants to achieve true inclusion in society, that population has to demonstrate enough value in order to justify being included. Society should offer the blind an equal opportunity for participation, not necessarily equal participation. Maurer (2008) recommends a policy of integration with all accommodations necessary to achieve it, including access to information, physical locations, and the programs within them. The blind must evade consideration as objects of charity or as victims. Victims are not first-class contributors, so the blind must be able to command recognition as the people they are. In order to have this kind of presence, students at a training center must develop feelings of empowerment and first-class status.

Jernigan (1997) explains that civil rights is a process preceding integration, but the two are not the same. Civil rights makes integration possible, but full integration is achieved when the minority gives to others as much as they expect others to give to them. Students at a training center must learn to expect to contribute as much to society as they expect to gain from it. Students must also come to learn that, if a blind person is trying to exploit their blindness to try to gain an unfair advantage, the blind community must stand behind the system or person who is being violated. The blind must consider other blind people to figuratively be their brothers and sisters, but the same view must also be taken of the sighted. If the blind want true integration, they must also make possible the kind of trust and understanding between the blind and sighted that facilitates integration. Students at a training center must come to trust that sighted people will not inherently be their enemies or roadblocks but might actually help them on their journeys.

Real Estate and Equipment

The training center, as a physical environment for growth and learning, must be professional. The students need to come to see themselves as belonging in a professional space. The training center real estate could be modern or antique, but it must be a setting worthy of a competitive business open to the public and be dedicated to the functions of the training center (White, 1972). When an educational institution is characterized by disorder or physical risk, basic educational processes and goals are jeopardized (Plank, Bradshaw, & Young, 2008). Additionally, no blind-proofing of the building should be done. Physical building conditions directly influence teacher attitudes (Leigh, 2012), which carry premier importance in the empowerment of blind students (Omvig, 2002; Schroeder, 1989). Accessibility under federal regulations is valuable and should be followed but not exceeded. The center has an opportunity to role model the kind of inclusivity and adherence to federal regulations that the organized blind desire of centers of industry and higher education. The training center must not begin to look like a daycare facility with the adult blind equivalents of child-proof locks on cabinets and child safety gates at the tops of staircases. Omvig (2002) wrote that, if a training center falls in a jurisdiction of a policy requiring, for example, detectable warnings at the top of steps, the training center’s leadership should make every effort to have the center exempted from those requirements. The students at the training center attend it, at least in part, to learn to obtain needed information about steps or other obstacles using their white cane. Signage on or around the building should meet normal standards to help the center blend in and appear normal. If signs appear on offices or classrooms, they should be accurate; otherwise, visitors and students are likely to conclude that correct signage does not matter because the students are blind. Signage in front of the building should not include signs telling drivers to watch out for blind pedestrians because such signage would perpetuate low expectations, contradicting the work of the training center (Chong, 1996; Fukunaga, 2018; National Federation of the Blind of Hawaii, 2016).

The state of the art is never truly achieved; it is only a current point of innovation and a foundation for the next step of innovation (Riccobono, 2010). Computer hardware and software can never truly be state-of-the-art because new products are constantly emerging, but hardware and software at a training center need to be current. The same is true for other types of technology, such as braille displays and notetaking devices. Though the tools used in technology class are likely to be innovated the most quickly, the tools used in other classes should be kept current, as well. This concept extends to all class areas, including, but not limited to, kitchen equipment for home management and power tools for industrial arts classes. Students need to be confident with their skills on current technology because the modern workplace demands it (Friga, Bettis, & Sullivan, 2003). In general, if students are using out-of-date equipment, they will recognize it as a manifestation of how much program leadership values their training.

The training center must be a place worthy of being toured by the public and by prospective students. The grounds must be maintained for morale and safety. If a center has low-hanging tree branches where someone might hit their head or some other environmental hazard, it is valuable to remedy the situation. In addition to obvious safety reasons for anyone, blind or sighted, a potential incident can damage a new student’s confidence development and overall emotional adjustment, which is the most important part of training (Jernigan, 1993; Omvig, 2002; Salisbury, 2017b; Tigges, 2004). Items which detract from the sense of professionalism should be swiftly removed from the training center. It can be valuable, though, to retain artifacts which tell the history of the training center and the progress it has made. For example, some training centers are housed in former sheltered workshops, sweatshops for the blind, where items such as brooms and mops were manufactured (Grupen, 2008; Miller & Trujillo, 2006). If a training center is housed in such a former facility, it may be meaningful to keep the relics of the old sweatshop, such as a stack of unused broom handles, as a reminder of the progress that the center has made.

Omvig (2002) explains that a training center should be located in an active, urban area so that it is truly in society. If a training center is to be located in a small or rural town, it should be seated in a vibrant part of town, and it can also help if the staff coordinate trips to nearby urban areas often enough that students become comfortable in such settings. Historically, many training centers and schools for the blind have been located in secluded areas to protect blind people from the dangers of society and also excuse the public from the burden of dealing with the blind (Crockett & Dease, 1990; Shackel, 2008). The ideal training center, however, should be located close to public places, like movie theaters and restaurants. Just by living their daily lives, the students should be out and about, interacting with the public. To be even more specific, the training center and its student apartments should be located in a decent part of town, not a depressed slum. If students commute through a depressed area each day, they will come more and more to see themselves as belonging in that kind of environment and it will hurt their morale and development of feelings of first-class status. A training center should never be housed with a sheltered workshop for the blind because the segregation therein contradicts the efforts of the training center to empower its students (Gersuny & Lefton, 1970; Gill, 2005; Schuster, 1990). Additionally, being located in a busy urban area also allows the training center to play a role in the local community, simply by offering tours and actively or acquiescently participating in local activities just like any other business in the same location would do. The training center could be rented out by local community organizations or clubs for evening activities or even be a popular stop on a parade route, giving back to the community but also helping the community to see the training center as a normal part of society.

Opportunities for privacy must be enabled by the training center facilities. First-class members of society have the opportunity to partake in private conversations (Warren & Brandeis, 1890). Instructors, especially cane travel instructors, must have private spaces where they regularly debrief with their students. Such spaces should have solid walls and doors, thus sealed for sound, so that instructor and student have full confidentiality (Mlinek & Pierce, 1997). When students debrief with instructors at the end of a cane travel lesson, it is necessary to be in a private space in order to naturally facilitate the exploration of deeply emotional topics. This is often true because cane travel puts students in situations where they must face their fears and insecurities. Students should not need to ask to enter a private space to speak privately because this creates a barrier to the natural disclosure of that information.

The training center must have normal lighting. Since the training center is teaching students how to function non-visually, no special vision-enhancing light fixtures should be installed. Some training centers choose to black out the instructional spaces in order to make cheating by peeking around one’s sleep shades more difficult. Blacking out a room can prevent a student from using his or her vision, but it comes with a deficit. Students who learn to operate in dark places may develop a sense of abnormality or the abnormal habit of functioning in the dark. A lifestyle free from blindisms is important to prevent the reinforcement of negative stereotypes (Miller, 1969; Omvig, 2009). Sighted people tend to fear blind people who function in dark spaces (Taylor, 2000). Students can learn to remember to keep lights on to develop productive habits to retain or achieve normality. It is possible to balance peeking prevention and integration by teaching students to be light-conscious, meaning that students should be taught to be conscious of whether the light is on when they enter a room. For example, an instructor in a given room can choose a student to non-visually verify that the lights are off at the beginning of each class. This way, the students are functioning in a dark room to prevent cheating but still learning to be light-conscious. In such an arrangement, the lights would likely only be turned on during class hours if a tour is coming through the training center.

The training center should not appear to be a medical facility but rather appear to be one associated with education and training. Medical services are provided to treat patients each time they experience a problem, which does not inherently disincentivize recidivism, a sign of ineffectiveness in rehabilitation training (Bell & Mino, 2015). Educational services exist to teach people a transferable skill so that they can continue to apply that skill independently as desired (National Research Council, 2013). White walls cause detrimental psychological effects (Grube, 2013) and are commonly associated with medical interventions, especially mental health interventions, which are not the kinds of services that blind people need from a training center (Omvig, 2002). Students must come to understand that blindness is more of a social problem and less of a medical problem (Jernigan, 1976). Housing a training center within a hospital or other medical facility subliminally contradicts this message. It may be useful for the sake of referral for the training center to develop relationships with and offer education to local medical facilities (Greenblatt, 1988; Hoover, 1967), but the public image of the training center should not be tied to the medical facilities.

Mixture of Sighted and Blind Community

Instructional or not, all staff are likely to be identified by the public and students as blindness experts, so they should be appropriately trained. This includes administrators, clerical staff, custodial and maintenance staff, and, if the training center is a part of a larger agency providing any kind of disability-related services, all other professionals who work on the premises. Omvig (2002) explains that all vocational rehabilitation staff must have the capacity to examine and improve their own understandings of blindness. Blind staff must be living role models who have achieved the emotional adjustment to blindness which enables them to live normal, productive lives. Simply by living their lives, raising their families, and performing everyday tasks, these blind staff can demonstrate to students that it is realistic for blind people to live normal and productive lives. Sighted staff, on the other hand, can also serve a unique role. Sighted staff can serve as members of the majority who truly consider blind people their equals (Morais et. al, 1997). For many blind students, a sighted instructor at a training center can be the first sighted person who ever truly expected them to be a first-class member of society. Employees who belong to the majority must identify minority employees as valuable contributors (Thomas, 1990). Sighted staff must not custodialize blind staff; the collective staff must role model healthy and productive relationships between sighted and blind people.

By going out and being active in the community, students come to see themselves as being a part of it. One of the benefits of having the training center located in a busy urban area is the plethora of opportunities for students to get involved in the community. Over time, members of the general public in the area of the training center can come to learn to expect blind people to function normally, often leading to a sense of greater dignity and equality. The general public will also be less likely to interfere with cane travel lessons while genuinely intending to help because they will have more exposure to the training center and the kinds of expectations that one should have of a blind person. Initially, the students will only know the people affiliated with the training center, but they will gradually have opportunities to expand their social networks. Bell and Mino (2015) found that blind people who were members of the National Federation of the Blind fared better in employment than blind people who were not affiliated, demonstrating that a blind person’s peer group within the blind community is related to their success. The students can also come to identify sighted people from their community interactions as their peers. As a minority comes to identify members of the majority as their brothers and sisters, that minority comes ever closer to full equality (Jernigan, 1997).

Taking Ownership

At an ideal training center, students learn to take ownership of the center and, more broadly, of their entire rehabilitation process. In the glory days of the training centers in Iowa and Alaska, students were given keys to the building, one of many ways that they were trusted and treated as adults (Omvig, 2002). It is important to establish a culture where students feel responsible for maintaining and advancing the training center. This can come in the form of giving tours, taking ownership of one’s own training experience. It boosts morale for the entire training center and rehabilitation process. It can come in the form of students taking care of the facilities and pushing each other to be the best they can be. For example, at a training center, students can take care of an herb garden, which then pays dividends in home management class when they use the herbs for cooking. Such stewardship cultivates positive employment behaviors in students (Cotton, 1993; Pierce, Rubenfeld, & Morgan, 1991) and constant improvement of the center. Overall, it teaches students to take charge of their own rehabilitation process, career preparation, and life.

In industrial arts class, students can build things for the center. It can be difficult and costly to ship projects home from the training center, and some students just do not have strong needs or desires for something material for themselves. Some are motivated more by the benefit of others. If they can learn to give back and feel like an important part of the training center’s legacy, they are taking ownership of their training and also reaching toward first-class status. From that point forward, new students at the training center and visitors on tours can learn of the contributions that those former students made and then feel empowered by vicarious experience (Bandura, 1977, 1997) to step up and contribute to the community, as well. The same can be true of contributing to the broader community around the training center, such as building something for a local preschool or reading books to the children in braille.

Taking Initiative

Sometimes, blind people struggle to be assertive and take initiative because they do not believe that they have as much right as their sighted counterparts to request something or be somewhere. There are multiple types of orientation and mobility training which exist, but the most empowering is cane travel. At a training center, it is important for students to study cane travel. Using a cane instead of a dog bears many benefits. Dogs can serve as simple catalysts for social interactions (McNicholas & Collis, 2000). When blind people use guide dogs, the dog can serve as a bridge to social interactions with the sighted (Warnath & Seyfarth, 1982), which takes the responsibility to take initiative to bridge any social gaps off the blind person. If there is no guide dog present, the responsibility will more clearly lie on the blind person to take initiative. A blind person must learn how to approach others or make oneself approachable. This puts first-class responsibility for the interpersonal interactions on the blind person; nobody else is responsible for ensuring that the blind person’s needs are communicated.

Using a one-piece cane teaches students to not hide or feel ashamed of their blindness, which helps them actualize first-class status. If the characteristic of blindness needed to be hidden, then it would not be something that they could show so obviously in public. Although many blind people tend to feel embarrassment about techniques they use which make them stand out differently from sighted people (Brolin, 2017; Deshen & Deshen, 1989), the one-piece long white cane prevents students from hiding their blindness anymore (Bickford, 1993). Instructors at a training center should also be discouraging students from apologizing every time they find something through their cane; instead, students should be encouraged to use less guilty rhetoric, such as “pardon me.” Someone who constantly feels the need to apologize is likely to be hesitant around other people instead of taking initiative.

As first-class members of society, blind people have the right to have their own priorities. A sighted person who attempts to determine a blind person’s priorities for him or her is distracting, disrespecting, and disempowering that blind person (Hoover, 1967; Salisbury, 2017a). If a sighted person begins puppeteering a blind person to try to direct that blind person toward a destination or around an obstacle, the blind person is not fully in control of his or her own movement. Students must learn not to let people grab them or orally dictate their exact motions. They must take initiative to ask if they need something but also be able to decline unwanted help (Omvig, 2002). Furthermore, they must learn how to decline unwanted help in a respectable manner in which they serve as a good ambassador for the blind community (Jernigan, 1993).

Implications for Practitioners and Families

Rehabilitation practitioners have a duty to develop feelings of first-class status and dignity in their blind consumers, which they must remember when making programmatic decisions. All staff must consistently demonstrate belief in the normality and dignity of blind people. Students must come to identify blindness as a normal characteristic whose associated problems are social, not medical. A training center should be a typical, contemporary, professional setting to help students understand emotionally, as they prepare for employment, that blindness does not prevent them from blending into an employment setting of that caliber. Although funds may be scarce at a training center, care must be taken to ensure that the facilities and technologies are current and well-maintained. Purely teaching blind people alternative techniques may not require these investments, but helping them emotionally adjust to blindness may require capital improvements. Students must practice bearing equal responsibility in order to maintain equal rights. Students must come to think of themselves as valuable contributors in society, with the right to make their own decisions and take initiative. The center must be a participating part of its surrounding community in a vibrant area. Students must not feel ashamed or embarrassed about their blindness but also should be pushed to avoid exhibiting blindisms. Students should learn to take ownership of the training center and their broader rehabilitation process.

Implications for Future Research

In the twenty-first century, adjustment to blindness training centers are now encountering new phenomena and future research can document these phenomena, their implications, and ways to influence them. As student bodies at training centers become more diverse, including students with multiple disabilities, the center staff must find ways to ensure that misperceptions and low expectations for those other disabilities do not interfere with the center culture or training experience. As student bodies involve more ethnic diversity, such as students from non-western cultures, there may be varying views of independence, which must be balanced simultaneously. Structured Discovery training centers include a philosophy class where students support each other while discussing common experiences, and further research can document the components of such a class, its benefits, and strategies for how to facilitate such a class effectively.

Intertwined with much of the content of this article is the idea of teaching students in adjustment to blindness training the art of independent and appropriate decision-making. Such a topic is important but broadly-reaching and complex. For many blind people, this art must be specifically taught. This need may often arise because of the tendency for well-meaning sighted people in a blind person’s social support network to underestimate his or her abilities and even intellect, leading them to attempt to help the blind person in disempowering ways. Future research can explain ways of intentionally teaching decision-making skills in a training center.


The author would like to thank John Zamarra, Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist, also of the State of Hawai‘i, Ho`opono Services for the Blind, in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, for serving as a sounding board and for suggesting and providing scholarly resources during the preparation of this publication.


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