Past Career Experiences: Enhancers to or Detractors from the Adjustment to Blindness

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

Justin Mark Hideaki Salisbury is an Orientation and Mobility Therapist for the State of Hawai‘i, Department of Human Services, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Services for the Blind Branch (Ho`opono), Adjustment Section, located in Honolulu, Hawai‘i.

Abstract

The keystone of the blindness rehabilitation process is the emotional adjustment to blindness. Such an adjustment involves building confidence and self-efficacy, comfort with one’s identity as a blind person, feelings of first-class status in society, and an overall willingness to greet the world with pride. Students bring with them to training a culmination of life experiences, including previous employment experiences. This article tells stories of a handful of students, whose previous employment experiences had varied impacts on their emotional adjustment to blindness.

Keywords

Blindness, structured discovery, emotional adjustment, rehabilitation, training

Introduction

Adjustment to blindness training is an important part of preparing for employment (Omvig, 2002; Tigges, 2004). Some research has examined the relationship between adjustment to blindness training and employment. Bell and Mino (2015) found that blind people who had attended Structured Discovery residential training programs were employed at a rate of 60%, earning $49,300 in comparison to blind people trained in vision-centered programs, who were employed at a rate of 47%, earning $38,100. Since this disparity exists, it is meaningful to attempt to tease out the causal relationship between attending a Structured Discovery program and succeeding in employment. Multiple studies have also found that blind people who are members of the National Federation of the Blind fare better in employment than blind people who belong to other consumer organizations or do not affiliate with other consumer organizations at all (Bell & Mino, 2013, 2015; Bell & Silverman, 2018). Consumer organization involvement is an important part of the adjustment to blindness process, as outlined by Omvig’s (2002) discussion of the importance of the National Federation of the Blind.

In Structured Discovery programs, students wear sleepshades, which helps them to focus on nonvisual stimuli and overcome emotional challenges associated with low expectations and misperceptions about blindness, both internal and external. First, students begin with basic perceptual and motor skills learning in a way that is not scientific but rather based in common sense and intentional simplicity (Hill, 1997). If these skills and techniques are practiced until they become automatic, thus reaching the point of automaticity, the blind person’s attention is freed up so that he or she can focus on other cognitive tasks (Maurer, Bell, Woods, & Allen, 2006). Eventually, even problem-solving algorithms become automated (Maurer, 2011). Sleepshade training needs to last long enough that students do not only have the initial experience of struggling under sleepshades but actually begin to experience a rhythm of success in order to have productive attitudes about blindness (Silverman, 2015). Students gradually transition from being the freshman student for whom every classmate is a role model to being the senior student who must serve as a role model for every classmate (Omvig, 2002; Tigges, 2004). Training generally requires six to nine months on a full-time basis because it takes time to emotionally adjust to blindness, which is the keystone of the blindness rehabilitation process (Salisbury, 2017). This emotional adjustment largely includes the development of self-efficacy, which requires mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, learning to manage stress or physiological arousal, and social persuasion (Bandura, 1977, 1997). Additionally, students need to come to think of themselves as first-class members of society (Salisbury, 2018). Wang, Silverman, Gwinn, and Dovidio (2015) discussed the need for blind people to find ways to decline unwanted and patronizing forms of assistance, hopefully without being judged as behaving inappropriately by declining that unwanted help.

Learning and using braille is an important part of the adjustment to blindness. Ryles (1996) found that blind people who could read braille had higher employment rates and educational levels, were more financially self-sufficient, and spent more time reading than blind people who had to read print. Silverman and Bell (2018) found that braille literacy was associated with a higher employment rate, as well as greater well-being and self-esteem for legally blind adults. Braille literacy may support the development of positive disability identity, even for those blind people with partial vision. Bell and Silverman (2018) found that blind people who used braille at least once per week had a higher employment rate than those who used braille less than once per week or not at all. Bell and Mino (2015) found that blind people who read braille on a daily or weekly basis had a significantly higher employment rate than those who did not, and the mean earnings of braille readers were $11,000 higher than the mean earnings of non-braille readers. Bell and Mino (2013) found that blind people who read braille on a daily or weekly basis had a significantly higher employment rate than those who did not and had mean earnings that were $11,000 higher. Schroeder (1996) investigated attitudes about braille and identity as a blind person as they related to success. Braille literacy helps blind people to think of themselves with a positive disability identity, as whole blind people, rather than defective sighted people. The ability to perform a task is nothing without the ability to think of oneself as a first-class member of society. Crabtree, Haslam, Postmes, and Haslam (2010) explained that people who identify with their disabilities may be less likely to internalize negative stereotypes about their disabilities. This may explain why Bogart (2015) and Nario-Redmond et al. (2013) found that a positive disability identity was associated with higher life satisfaction and self-esteem. It is important for blind people to feel a part of the blind community (Omvig, 2002; Salisbury, 2018; Tigges, 2004). Schroeder (1989) explained that the problem of decreased braille literacy was tied to negative attitudes about blindness and inadequate training for teachers and rehabilitation professionals. To be effective, teachers and rehabilitation professionals must have deeply rooted positive attitudes about blindness (Altman & Cutter, 2004; Hill, 1997; Omvig, 2002; Riccobono, 2010). Thus, the emphasis on braille in Structured Discovery training is an important part of facilitating and substantiating the emotional adjustment to blindness.

Fletcher, Shindell, Hindman, and Schaffrath (1991) wrote that comprehensive blindness rehabilitation programs can dramatically increase the independence and productivity of blind people. Functional implications of vision loss can be related to the types of activities that the blind person previously engaged in and his or her emotional reaction to vision loss. The stereotypical blind personality is false and inappropriate. “This stereotype is usually described as consisting of frequent depression, passivity, dependence, chronic anger, and immaturity as a result of adjustment issues relating to the disability and a higher incidence of suicide, substance abuse, and divorce. No study supports this myth,” (Fletcher et al., 1991, p. 554). Out of those blind people who are employed, many are underemployed based on their qualifications because they have less vocational mobility compared to their sighted counterparts. Since it is so difficult to secure employment in the first place, many blind people choose to stay with one employer even though they may be dissatisfied with pay, advancement, or some other part of their jobs. Mobility and communication, two major problems for many blind people, require adjustment training and commitment to overcome barriers and achieve goals, both vocational and avocational. Residual vision does not have a positive linear relationship with psychological adjustment; people with partial vision do not have fewer adjustment problems than people who are totally blind (Mehr, Mehr, & Ault, 1970). People with partial disabilities, like those on crutches and blind people with substantial residual vision, have more problems with adaptation because they present an ambiguous social situation for others. Most members of the public do not know how to react to a person with a partial disability and feel anxiety about such encounters. They tend to avoid people with partial disabilities in order to avoid the anxiety which can be induced by those interactions (Mehr & Mehr, 1969). Fletcher et al. (1991) also found that, as a result of friends and family disengaging as they avoid their anxiety, these blind people tend to develop an ambiguous self-image. This avoidance often comes from fear of doing the wrong thing and upsetting a person they assume to be emotionally fragile, but their disengagement is harmful. People with substantial residual vision may also feel guilty about not being disabled enough to deserve rehabilitation opportunities. They often attempt to pass as non-disabled to avoid losing their jobs or putting too much strain on existing relationships. They can also react in the opposite manner, reducing the use of their vision further to prepare for more vision loss or to reduce others’ expectations of them. People with substantial residual vision must learn coping skills to evaluate and address anxiety and misperceptions of others. Adjustment to blindness training must address the holistic person and his or her needs, and training must heavily emphasize creative problem-solving.

Altman and Cutter (2004) explain the egalitarian approach that is so important in the Structured Discovery model of adjustment to blindness training. Structured Discovery instruction focuses learning on the student's perceptions, self-awareness, responsibility, learning capacity, and problem-solving skills. Instructors select real-world instructional environments with conditions representative of the types of challenges that students will encounter after training. Students are encouraged to learn through intrinsic discovery, monitor themselves, and correct their own mistakes. Practitioners of Structured Discovery do not assume that students come to the learning process with pre-requisite experience or conceptual knowledge. Instead, the knowledge that the student brings to the training process serves as the starting point for learning and guides how the instruction will be individualized. Practitioners recognize that, with the proper training and experience, each individual can learn to understand and assess new situations and apply these transferrable skills once training is completed. Structured Discovery Learning theory is anchored in a consumer-driven approach to rehabilitation services and the collective experience of blind persons (Morais et. al, 1997; Mettler, 1995/2008). The rehabilitation process should begin with encouraging the blind person to consider blindness to be one simple personal characteristic among many. Like any physical characteristic, blindness includes certain limitations that make it more advantageous to use certain types of techniques versus others (Jernigan, 1995). Mettler (1995/2008) described the Structured Discovery Learning approach in terms of cognitive psychology, emphasizing that the focal point of instruction should not be on how instructors teach but instead on how students individually learn. Blind people should be viewed in a holistic manner. Blind people have knowledge and experience that can be drawn upon as needed, and they have the same cognitive capacities for learning and adaptation as their sighted counterparts. A blind person should not be viewed as a deficient sighted person (Schroeder, 1995). Structured Discovery has also been called a “Blindness model,” because it recognizes that non-visual functioning can be as effective as visually based functioning and that blindness does not hinder the human ability to adapt (Olson, 1982). The Cognitive Paradigm for adjustment to blindness training is an asset model, focusing on human ability to employ existing knowledge and skills, to gather new information, and to assess new situations (Mettler 1995/2008). After Structured Discovery training, blind people can effectively evaluate any given situation, problem solve, strategize, and achieve the desired outcome.

Structured Discovery training is more personally relevant because it allows students to experience the learning through their own worldview rather than second-hand through the instructor’s worldview. Salisbury (2017) discusses the role of worldview in perceptual learning. Perception is the process through which we gather first-hand information about the world around us (Gibson, 1969). Perceptual and cognitive skills are necessary to retain skills and make them transferrable, and they are also necessary for problem-solving (Dodds, 1985; Mettler, 1995/2008). Perceptual learning enables competent travelers to devise strategies of encoding, processing, and retrieving environmental information (Kitchin & Blades, 2001; Koutsoklenis & Papadopoulos, 2014). Blind people can use their nonvisual senses to perceive spatial information and then use cognitive techniques on that information to travel successfully (Guth, Rieser, & Ashmead, 2010; Koutsoklenis & Papadopoulos, 2011a, 2011b, 2014). The student’s perception is more important than that of the instructor in Mettler’s (1995/2008) cognitive paradigm of cane travel instruction. Dodds (1984) described the Structured Discovery Learning experience to be one where the student is encouraged to interact with his or her own environment first-hand rather than being the recipient of a stream of second-hand wisdom passed down from a sighted instructor. Omvig (2002) explains that repetition and experience are necessary in the process of developing the types of perceptual skills that blind travelers need. Mettler (1995/2008) employs Gibson’s (1969) definition of perception and explains that perception is a process which results from learning over time. People need to learn how to perceive their environment from direct, first-hand experience; it is impossible for anyone else to tell them how to experience it. Instructors in adjustment to blindness training are looking for perceptual learning, which is an increase in the ability to extract information from the environment.

Cultural group memberships provide the context for an individual’s construction and deconstruction of a perceptual field known as reality (Constantine, 2002). Individuals put together insights, ideas, and images through the construct of imagination in order to derive understanding and approximate truth (Parks, 2000). As opposed to fantasy, imagination is a process of discovering what is real in the most personally significant ways. Tisdell (2007) explained that imagination, or the process of deriving meaning, is based on a person’s socially constructed experiences. For blind students in training, the ability to use imagination to perceive situations is likely to link their worldview with their progress in rehabilitation training and the overall adjustment to blindness. A person’s perception of anything is a function of that person’s unique life experiences, including past work experiences. Thus, past work experiences shape a person’s worldview, which is his or her filter for assessing reality, thus impacting a blind person’s experience in adjustment to blindness training and the broader adjustment process.

During adjustment to blindness training, instructors gradually come to learn more and more about their students, which includes personal histories. Omvig (2002) wrote that training centers for the blind should have a family atmosphere, with a sense of closeness, trust, and spirit. One orientation center director insisted that he would fire any instructor who refused to get to know their students on a personal level. Getting to know the students on a personal level allows instructors to help them in many ways. The following stories have been gathered through personal experience with these students over the author's years of working in adjustment to blindness training programs in multiple states. The personal history information is conveyed largely as it was self-reported by the students. The names have been changed to preserve confidentiality.

Healthcare Careers

One student, whose name will be Jamie for this article, was a nurse for about thirty years before she became blind. She worked in the neonatal intensive care unit at a hospital for women and children, one where blind parents had been threatened with the loss of their children due to prejudice about blindness. She was a caring person, but she did not have productive expectations for blind people, including herself. She routinely referred to the five stages of grief and loss outlined by Kübler-Ross and Kessler (2005) and assumed that blindness itself would trigger and automatically railroad her into those stages. She wanted to consider her blindness to be a medical problem rather than a social problem, but she did eventually adjust. The nursing profession has begun looking more and more at social and behavioral determinants of health, which adjustment to blindness training and vocational rehabilitation address. In an effort to return to the nursing profession, she knew that she would face much scrutiny from her professional community based in low expectations. She feared the process of re-entering the job market, but she was diligent in training and got results.

Another student, whose name will be Kimmy, was an audiologist. She, too, was attached to the medical model of disability at first, including those five stages of grief and loss. She continued to mourn her blindness throughout training and even after graduation, even though this problem should be largely eradicated before a student graduates. She had a lot of belief in the potential for what someone can achieve with their hearing, but she had also learned to fear what was out of bounds for someone who had experienced sensory loss. As an audiologist, she had learned to feel like she had failed if she could not make someone hear better. Once she became a blind person, she had to confront all of those ideas about sensory loss and had to find a way to be successful afterward.

A third student, whose name will be Daniel, was an emergency medical technician before he became blind. He was very bright and had the ability to think critically, as well as problem-solve quickly. He also was able to withstand a lot of stress and pressure. These things helped him in his adjustment to blindness training because the development of nonvisual problem-solving skills is a major part of adjustment to blindness training (Mettler, 1995/2008; Mino, 2011). He also had experience with activating more automated problem-solving routines, which a more advanced cane traveler must be able to do (Maurer, 2011). Daniel had a hard time giving himself a break when he made mistakes; he was often too hard on himself. In his career as an emergency medical technician, his mistakes could have cost his patients their lives. As a part of the emotional adjustment to blindness, students need to be able to process their mistakes, and they often make many of them. In the Structured Discovery model of adjustment to blindness training, students routinely encounter situations where they make mistakes and where their instructor helps them to learn through those mistakes. Students need to be open to the idea that they will make mistakes and need to be able to move on past their mistakes without dwelling on them as if they have ruined the day. This student had to adjust the way that he looked at mistakes.

Special Education and Rehabilitation Careers

Eve was a student who became blind during middle age as a result of diabetes. She had previously worked as a paraprofessional in a public school, and she had specifically worked under the direction of a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) who held low expectations for blind people. She believed that her supervising TVI cared about blind people but struggled to help them function at high enough levels. In this particular school district, there were fewer TVIs than schools, so each TVI served multiple schools in the district with many students. Since no single TVI could attend to each student full-time, Eve had been there to reinforce the work of the TVI. As the paraprofessional, Eve had been responsible for making sure that the elementary school students would put their canes away upon entering the classroom and then trail and shuffle their feet, possibly clicking their tongue for echolocation. When Eve became blind herself, she naturally thought that these behaviors would become her future, and she did not want people to look at her the way that others had looked at her students. In her adjustment to blindness, Eve struggled immensely with shame about her cane and about being identified as a blind person. She had previously spent her entire career, for about 25 years, teaching children to try to not look blind, even though behaviors like foot shuffling, tongue clicking, and trailing did not help them blend into mainstream society, either. As a blind person, she relied heavily on her residual vision when she was not wearing sleepshades and had trouble trusting nonvisual techniques. She frequently reverted to trailing, so her cane travel instructor had her carry his ukulele in its carrying case in her free hand everywhere she went during cane travel class. This required her to not use that free hand to trail the walls. She also had a caring heart and always wanted to be helping others around her. Sometimes, she would want to use her residual vision to help classmates who were struggling to perform a task, but this does not contribute positively toward either party’s emotional adjustment (Altman, 2012). Eve had learned a little bit of braille in her work as a paraprofessional, but she did not have the level of mastery that she needed to function as a blind person. If she had been given the proper support to learn braille during her years of working with blind children, she could have had more positive feelings about blindness. Schroeder (2010b) outlined the need to provide better professional support and rigorous competency testing for those working with blind children, especially with braille. Such competency testing may include the National Certification in Unified English Braille (NCUEB) (Bell, 2016). By not providing her the proper professional support to work with blind children, Eve’s previous employer had given her an emotional handicap in her adjustment to blindness process. This example should not be interpreted to mean that all TVI and paraprofessional beliefs and experiences will be similar, but the theme continues: that Eve’s past work experiences had an impact on her adjustment to blindness process.

Marian was a Certified Public Accountant who had previously worked in the subminimum-wage sheltered workshop system, even serving as a Chief Financial Officer. She lived alone in, and owned, a luxurious high-rise condominium overlooking the ocean. At about sixty years old, she suddenly became blind. She had no family and quickly began depending on volunteer senior companions to take care of her as a blind person. She had plenty of money but made a frugal point to use only volunteers, even once she began training as a commuter student at a residential adjustment to blindness training program. Once inside the proper vocational rehabilitation system as a blind person herself, she was now a member of the minority which she had exploited for many years in order to amass her personal fortune. Schroeder (2010a) explained that the blind are a minority group and have been confined to a lesser, passive, and subordinate role in society by misinformed beliefs about blindness, which assume the blind to be unable to learn, work, and live as the sighted. Omvig (2002) insisted that an adjustment to blindness training center should never be housed with a sheltered workshop because newly blind people are likely to notice and identify with the blind people in the sheltered workshop who have been beaten down by the system, validating their fears about blindness by serving as negative role models. Sheltered workshops contradict adjustment to blindness services and vocational rehabilitation (National Council on Disability, 2018; Taylor, 2005). Since the training center was located close to one of the sheltered workshops where Marian had previously worked, she would occasionally encounter her former boss and coworkers. As a team, they had looked down upon people with disabilities, but now she was blind. Marian had to confront the fact that what she had been doing in her career was harmful to people and that she would need to go through an entirely different process in order to become optimally empowered herself. She resisted almost all of the instruction being provided by the training center staff, often anchoring herself to her own initial ideas of how she wanted to do things. Like Eve, she, too, instinctively wanted to trail often, even if she was following an edge with her cane rather than her hands. She was an expert at putting herself into a public situation, looking helpless to become a magnet for help, and then telling that Samaritan exactly what to do to help her. When she needed information, this was one of her strengths. She was confident in conversation and felt very much entitled to whatever information or service she needed. She also had a tendency to rebelliously prioritize her personal desires over the program requirements, often choosing to smoke a cigarette and hang out in the designated smoking area instead of attending class or program meetings on time. It was difficult for her to believe in her heart that she could become fully independent and functional again. Marian did not reach the level of progress that most students make in adjustment to blindness training.

Nicole had a long career as a guidance counselor at a public high school in the same county as her adjustment to blindness training center. She slowly lost her vision until she finally decided that it was time to retire. Blindness was hereditary for her, and her father had lost his vision from the same disease. Since he had lived with her and her family, she watched her father convalesce and struggle as he refused to accept his blindness. In her house, the walls developed a line that hovered at about the same height, moving from room to room. It came from the dirt and oils on her father’s—and, eventually, her—fingers as they trailed the walls to navigate through their house. Since she had been a high school guidance counselor, she had much experience conducting her own independent reviews of existing literature and resources. She had previously employed these skills to read literature about blindness. Specifically, she had read literature which promoted a medical model of disability and low expectations for the blind. This literature led her to feel like functioning as a blind person would be difficult and complicated, even though blindness training should be simple and based on common sense (Altman & Cutter, 2004). Nicole had been reading manuals that broke down the steps for doing simple tasks into even simpler, robotic steps, which made her think of blind people as profoundly incompetent. She came to training fearful of how much danger might dominate her life, and she was extremely anxious, to the point of clinical anxiety. She had not used a cane much before training because she was too ashamed. Since she stayed living at home and commuted to the center daily for the residential program, she had to face the shame she had felt with her blindness if she ever encountered her old coworkers or acquaintances. She continued to read low-expectation articles about cane travel and tried to employ those techniques during her Structured Discovery training, so her instructors had to address the unproductive literature. Her progress mirrored the limited results offered in the low-expectation literature that she read, but she did advance significantly beyond that point in her ability to talk about the capacity of generic blind people.

Jill was a sighted person who came to adjustment to blindness training as part of her professional experience as a rehabilitation counselor. She had previously worked in a general, non-blindness vocational rehabilitation agency and was transferring to the blindness rehabilitation agency. In her previous work, she had pitted herself against people with disabilities and come to look at them in an adversarial way. She approached the rehabilitation process as a battle, where it was her job to protect the taxpayers’ money from the leeches known as people with disabilities. She had an obsession with feeling power and control over people with disabilities, and her immersion training under sleepshades forced her temporarily into the class of people she typically kept under her thumb. She had previously had sexual encounters with some of her agency’s consumers as part of her eternal quest for power and control. Immersion training forced her to walk in their shoes. Jill had immense fear of looking foolish, making mistakes, and getting hurt. Her cane travel instructor found situations where she was insecure and put her into them, using them always as an opportunity to help her learn to trust herself and to become more emotionally adjusted. She struggled to relinquish control and put her faith in the ministrations of a blind instructor after spending so many years working to control people with disabilities. The instructor, however, wanted to use his control to teach her to be in control of herself and to teach her to self-monitor. Since she had been blocking people with disabilities from reaching their own empowerment, she had to undergo tremendous cognitive dissonance in order to allow herself to reach some empowerment during immersion training. Again, this example should not be interpreted to mean that all rehabilitation counselors will have these attitudes or experiences, but the theme prevails: that Jill’s past work experiences and her attitudes related to them had an impact on her adjustment process.

Transportation Careers

Eddie had worked as a cab driver and a short-order cook prior to becoming blind. He had worked as a cab driver prior to the days of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, so his previous job required him to learn how to find a business based on the address. This is a major tool for a blind traveler, and he was already an expert in the conceptual part. He also had much experience with cooking techniques, some of which are used by mainstream sighted cooks and are already nonvisual. He had a head start in some of his training classes, but he was afraid to take risks and make mistakes. His past careers demanded speed and accuracy, and he struggled to allow himself space to make mistakes. Eddie frequently cheated by lifting his sleepshades to try to help keep himself from making mistakes. He often made mistakes because his vision was not dependable. One day, he returned from cane travel with a huge bloody welt on his forehead from walking into a street sign pole. He said he had been using his cane correctly, but he obviously was not; the pole was in its normal upright position. He insisted that the cane was not good enough to protect himself from obstacles like street signs.

Another student, Jerry, had previously worked as a tow truck driver. He also made a side business, where he made a lot more money, as a car thief. Upon learning this, his instructor quickly assumed that he would have excellent problem-solving skills and enjoy the challenge of creative problem-solving; this did not turn out to be completely true. After becoming blind, he still had the problem-solving skills that helped him to steal cars, but he was resistant to certain kinds of new ideas. Because he would only steal cars in certain ways, he had not actually felt like he was taking many risks or trying new things. He was shown how to get into the cars as a part of his profession as a tow truck driver, and then he used those skills in order to steal cars on the side. In adjustment to blindness training, students are frequently put into unfamiliar areas or situations as a part of building their self-efficacy and supporting their adjustment to blindness, but he resented these experiences and avoided them as much as possible. This attitude limited his success. His previous career was one where driving was a necessary job function, and he knew that he would most likely have to change professions to go back to work. He struggled with the search for a new career since he did not have the luxury of simply returning to the old job after becoming blind. After training, he decided to pursue a GED class and hopefully college thereafter. He came into training thinking he would open a bicycle repair shop, but he left training with the understanding that his horizons were much broader than he had previously realized. He learned that blind people statistically are more successful if they have a college degree (Bell & Mino, 2015; Bell & Silverman, 2018), so he decided to go back to school.

Bertha worked for almost forty years in the commercial airline industry after dropping out of college. She was a bright woman, but one of her business school professors had advised her that she could be equally as successful in business without a degree and would therefore be wasting her money by finishing her degree. She stayed in an entry-level position for decades despite being so bright, and it wore on her self-esteem. She did, however, become highly skilled at the job that she did. Simply put, she organized and arranged itineraries by connecting appropriate flight paths to help customers get where they wanted to go. This skill employed cognitive processes that proved useful when learning to travel with a long white cane. It also helped her to be able to plan out her schedule and sequential activities, such as the different steps involved in cooking during her home management class. In cane travel, she could mentally map quite easily, in areas that were either familiar or unfamiliar. Since she was so bright and so attuned to transportation systems, she already had a detailed visual mental map of most parts of the city where the training center was located after living there for many decades. It was difficult for her instructor to find training settings where she did not have an existing visual map. Students need the opportunity to learn how to non-visually assess their environment in settings where they do not already have a visual concept of where they are in order to prove to themselves that they can learn a new place as a blind person. One remedy for this challenge was to assign her more drop routes than the average student so that she would not know where she was as she assessed the environment.

Sales Careers

Bob was a car salesman and manager of car dealerships before he lost his vision. He was a smooth talker, outgoing, and charismatic. For many students, training involves the challenge of becoming comfortable going out in public and interacting with people as a blind person. In other words, many blind people are ashamed or otherwise insecure about their blindness; or, perhaps, they never were comfortable approaching people they did not know. As a blind person, it is occasionally most efficient to approach someone with a question, which is true for sighted people as well. Bob never had any fear, discomfort, or shame about going up to people to ask them for directions or information. In fact, he was too quick to approach people, so his instructor often had to reign in his desire to go talk to people. For example, when finding addresses, an instructor may insist that a student approach the buildings and find the doors to then go inside to ask what the address is. Bob would sometimes recruit a pedestrian on the sidewalk to tell him the numbers on the buildings near him. This would help him find those individual addresses, but it would bypass the development of other meaningful skills that were also important parts of these lessons. Additionally, since he was crafty in his interpersonal skills, he would find ways to lead people to offer him information that he did not technically request. For example, if he was looking for 1001 Main Street and he walked into 922 Main Street, he might say, “Oh, see, I was looking for 1001 Main Street,” thereby prompting that person to offer him clear directions on how to get to 1001 Main Street, even though the lesson was to figure that out for himself. In some ways, it appeared that he made a game out of getting people to do things for him for the pure enjoyment of it, not in any direct act of rebellion. He had to relinquish his attraction to this slick game in order to develop the full range of skills and emotional adjustment possible for him in training. Thus, the instructor would have to be specific with him about which skills he could not bypass with assistance from members of the general public.

Darren had been a drug dealer and security manager at an illegal game room prior to losing his vision while in federal prison. He was released from prison in order to attend adjustment to blindness training because the criminal justice system did not know what to do with him now as a blind person. He would occasionally have to take calls during training from his probation officer, which created a distraction for him and for his classmates. He did not find training to be very stressful, and he shared this fact with his classmates and instructors. He had endured many stressful situations, and he had daily conversations with his probation officer about the status of his freedom versus incarceration. He also helped his classmates to stay composed, and he was particularly talented at telling his classmates what they needed to hear. Some conversations are most appropriate for an instructor to be having with a student, but some other conversations are better handled by other students as role models if they are available and up for the task. Darren would identify these opportunities organically, without prompting, and respectfully give his classmates straight talk when they needed it. When it came to cane travel, Darren knew the streets very well because those were territories where he or other drug dealers used to do business. He could occasionally describe a certain house or building as he passed them because he had sold drugs to the residents or employees in those buildings. His previous work experience gave him a lot of street smarts, and it also gave him some knowledge of certain parts of town. His cane travel instructor could then choose whether he would send him into a more familiar part of town or a more unfamiliar one.

Maintenance Careers

Sam had worked in multiple custodial and groundskeeping jobs, even serving as a supervisor in one of those jobs. He had gotten used to spending all of his time working in order to support his family, and then he suddenly stopped when he became blind. He had a lot of shame about losing his ability to provide for his family, but he came to adjustment to blindness training. He had developed a strong work ethic, but he did not enjoy or appreciate being asked questions or being pushed to think critically. Since most of the problems faced by blind people are not inherent to blindness but come instead from low expectations and misperceptions which exist in society, adjustment to blindness training programs appropriately address these issues with frank discussions about blindness. Sam resisted most of the social constructs, including oppression and discrimination, which were largely uncomfortable or unfamiliar themes for him. Students from typically more intellectual backgrounds tended to fare better with these themes, but Sam had not even been literate as a sighted person. When it came to cleaning up after home management or woodshop class, however, he was diligent and able to showcase his talents. He was also very skilled with the handwork that came into those two classes. When students needed to work as a group independent of instructors on cleaning tasks, he was occasionally put in charge because he had professional experience supervising the cleaning process.

Implications for Practitioners and Families

It is important not to attribute all phenomena in the adjustment to blindness process on a person's past work experiences because it is still necessary to get the person over any hurdles and along the path to empowerment. Furthermore, it is important to avoid assuming that all students with one common characteristic will function or react the same way to a given event or experience. What is useful, though, is to acknowledge that the past career experiences of a student carry with them into adjustment to blindness training and impact the way that they respond to it. Instructors and other rehabilitation professionals can investigate these preexisting strengths and weaknesses and use that knowledge to help empower the students.

Implications for Future Research

Previous career experiences impact a person’s adjustment to blindness. A blind person with no work experience will still have an adjustment to blindness process, so future research can investigate the impacts of a lack of work experience in that adjustment. Furthermore, work experiences are often used as a part of the adjustment to blindness, whether in programming for job readiness for transition-age youth or as a part of an adult rehabilitation training program. It would be valuable to investigate the impacts of that work experience on the adjustment to blindness. It may be possible to profile certain occupational classifications as predictors of better outcomes in adjustment to blindness training, but an occupational identity is only one slice of a person’s identity. Since the spirit of Structured Discovery allows for true focus on the individual student and allowing each student to utilize their own unique worldview, putting too much weight on one characteristic may be counterproductive.

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