[nabs-l] Skill Training and Reinforcement for High School Students

T. Joseph Carter carter.tjoseph at gmail.com
Tue Dec 2 17:18:03 UTC 2008

Hi Arielle,

1. I did not receive Braille because I came to the Oregon School for the 
Blind as a large print reader.  My vision is stable, if variable based on 
lighting conditions, so they figured I should continue to adjust the 
lighting and fonts to my preferences.  Other skill areas were taught to me 
at the school, but at the time I was there, the full benefit of those 
programs was not available to me until I was "closer to transition".  It 
turns out that I essentially transitioned myself at age 17, with a very 
incomplete skill set.

Prior to my arrival at the Oregon School for the Blind, Mid-Oregon Regional 
Program provided me with an O&M instructor and an itinerant teacher I saw 
usually about once a week at first, less later on.  These and other 
services are now provided in and around the Salem, Oregon area by 
Willamette ESD.  The ESDs are not part of districts--Oregon funds these 
things directly out of the state Department of Education budget.  This 
means when the state budget for education is cut, teachers of the blind and 
of the deaf are laid off.  There is of course a critical need for and 
shortage of such professionals in Oregon, but there's a decided lack of 
budget to pay for more.

2. I'll echo the sentiments of others: Go do it.  Few maintain memory of 
the Braille if they don't practice it regularly, and fewer still maintain 
the sensory skills needed without regular practice.  Remember, a print 
reader is considered fluent if they exceed 120 words per minute, and the 
expectation is that by the end of elementary school that a student can read 
at 200 words per minute or faster.  Can you do that in Braille?  Diabetes 
and neuropathy aside, yes you can, if you want it and put forth the effort.  

For cooking, start with something simple, figure out what's involved, and 
get someone to walk you through the process start to finish.  Just about 
anybody can help you do it, though there are a few non-visual techniques 
you're going to have to learn how to use.  If your mentor is sighted, it 
would help if they know what they are, but as long as you know, it should 
be sufficient that they believe you can learn to cook, and be safe in doing 
so.  The basic skills you'll need involve using a knife without watching 
what you cut while maintaining all of your fingers, and being able to tell 
when things like meats are properly cooked.

If you're like me, you're going to want that person to be RIGHT THERE to 
tell you what to do next.  I was totally clueless in the kitchen, and I 
know that food preparation is as much about timing as anything else.  This 
gave me high levels of anxiety, and Julee Mullen several gray hairs I'm 
sure.  (Sorry Julee!)

Oh yes, touching the top of the food to see if it's done cooking: Check 
with the cooking implement to make sure you're reaching in to touch food, 
not pan.  I didn't learn that one the hard way, but I have heard recently 
that someone else did.  Ouch.  Also, be mindful of how much lighter fluid 
you use on the charcoal if you're going to do some grilling.  And do keep 
in mind that the fumes from the lighter fluid are quite flammable, so you 
wouldn't want to close the grill before you light the charcoal.  That one I 
did learn the hard way.  Great story on that one, but I'll forgo the 
telling just now.

I'd say travel is like cooking, except you can't really depend on just 
anybody who thinks you can do it teaching you how its done.  Cars are a lot 
bigger and heavier than you are, and they're made out of tougher stuff.  If 
you and a car try to move into the same space at the same time, you're 
likely to wind up dead.

So, how do you do it?  Get a cane that is an appropriate length, first.  If 
you got one years ago and have done some growing since then, I can pretty 
much promise you it's too short.  The NFB's training centers recommend a 
nose-high cane, but I've seen people use shorter or longer.  The longer 
canes work best with your palm facing generally upward.  I had to develop 
my own technique because when I first started using the longer cane, I 
didn't have the muscle control for that particular position, and I did a 
lot of travel outside of travel classes.  You'll figure out what works for 
you, I'm confident of that.

The trick is that it has to be comfortable for you to use, and you want to 
keep the cane centered and walk in step.  If it's not centered, you'll be 
unprotected on one side.  Also, if your cane is centered and you're walking 
in step the way you've hopefully been shown, you'll tend to move in a 
straight line and tend not to veer off in one direction too easily unless 
you have some other disability that affects your movement.

I'll assume that guide dog users have their own techniques for such things, 
and I don't really know what they are in detail.  The best dog schools want 
you to have at least passingly good cane skills before you start, but I've 
seen what even GDB considers "good enough" cane skills, and I haven't been 
impressed with their minimum standards.

Regardless of mobility tools employed, you need to be able to get from a 
known point A to a known point B, without getting turned around in the 
process.  If you're blind, use your ears and listen to everything around 
you.  The air moving over a lot of parked cars sounds differently than it 
does through trees or over grass, and you can hear the difference even 
across the street.  Traffic noises can serve as directional cues, and you 
can hear surges in traffic at an upcoming traffic light long before you get 
there.  Eric Woods describes the difference between a good traveler and a 
great one as the distance at which they are receiving information.

Like I said, you can hear the traffic at an upcoming light long before you 
get there, so why would you ignore that information right up until you get 
there, then stand at the corner confusing drivers as to whether or not you 
intend to cross a street or not for two or three cycles while you figure 
out how the intersection moves?  You won't learn the skill with traditional 
O&M instruction, but you don't need permission from an O&M teacher to use 
your ears and your brain.

There are a set of guidelines for crossing a street safely.  Cross lighted 
intersections with the parallel traffic on your side of the street.  They 
may be next to you or across the street from you.  When in doubt, wait for 
the next cycle.  Cross with the beginning surge if you aren't sure it's 
safe to cross.  Just because the light's green or the walk sign is on (and 
possibly squawking at you) doesn't mean it's safe to start walking.  There 
are two-way stops, four-way stops, T intersections, and T intersections 
where a car can go straight into a parking lot.  There are specific 
guidelines for crossing each.  Circles, roundabouts, streets at odd angles, 
and intersections of more than two streets are all just more advanced 
versions of basic skills.

For crossing an uncontrolled intersection (two-way stops) where you can't 
reliably count on an all-quiet for crossing, you're going to have to learn 
how to determine how wide the street is, how long it's going to take you to 
get across, and how far away the cars you hear in the distance are from 
where you are right now.  Listen and time it.  Look and time it if you've 
got some vision to use.  It takes me about 10 to 11 seconds to cross about 
three lanes of traffic, and I move at a good pace.  Time it at some lighted 
intersections.  In short, if you don't know you can get across the street 
safely given the gaps in traffic, don't do it.

I live a block from a highway, and there are times I can cross its four or 
five lanes trivially, anywhere.  Sometimes while I'm waiting for a gap, 
someone will stop for me.  (That's annoying because the guys on the 
opposite side of the street might not.)  That said, there are times of the 
day that I'll walk several blocks out of my way to cross at a lighted 
intersection because there just isn't a safe gap for crossing five lanes of 
traffic--and I'm pretty confident that I'm one of the best travelers with 
or without vision you're ever likely to find.  Sometimes it just isn't safe 
to cross in certain spots.

You can practice the stuff that doesn't involve street crossings yourself 
or with someone else.  You can find some trusted person to walk with you if 
you know what the skills are and ask them to confirm before you step out 
into traffic.  If they know what you want from them, "Now?" is usually 
sufficient.  Hopefully, if they answer "No", they can tell you why not and 
you can factor that in to your next prediction.  The street crossing 
guidelines should probably come from someone who knows what they are--an 
O&M teacher, travel instructor, or some really good blind traveler if you 
aren't able to get one of the first two.

That's all the mechanical stuff.  It doesn't really cover how you get where 
you're going.  Every city has rules for which side of the street odd and 
even addresses can be found, patterns for addresses, central streets, that 
sort of thing.  Figure out what they are for where you're going to.  If the 
streets aren't too crazy (and even if they are), you should be able to 
start with an address and figure out how to get out there based on these 
patterns.  From there, you should be able to integrate information from 
your local mass transit system to figure out how to get close to the place 
you're going, and find your way from there.

Figuring out where bus stops are can be a challenge.  Your driver should 
know where the return stop is, and it can't hurt to ask.  If there's some 
common pattern to bus stops in your area, that can help too, but I've found 
that more often than not there isn't a solid pattern you can depend upon, 
other than if you find a covered bus shelter, something's likely to stop 
there sooner or later.  Possibly not what you want and possibly not any 
time real soon--particularly in the cases of limited service stops, but at   
least you know that it is in fact a stop for some bus, whether or not that 
is helpful to you.  *grin*

A GPS can help, but bad weather, tall buildings, being indoors, and the 
imprecision of address location data all combine to make the things less 
useful than you might think.  Sometimes your best bet is just to walk into 
the first establishment you can find and ask directions.  You'll be amazed 
what you find out doing that.

3. The Oregon Commission for the Blind operates a Summer Work Experience 
Program (SWEP) at Reed College in Portland, Oregon and at the Oregon School 
for the Blind in Salem for those students needing more support.  You live 
in a dormitory, are responsible for feeding and cleaning up after yourself, 
and you work in an internship position.  You earn a "paycheck" (really more 
of a stipend) for a part-time job at Oregon's minimum wage, and it's well 
more than enough to cover your expenses if you manage your money well.  It 
is a great opportunity, and I highly recommend it to people in the area in 
the 15-18 age range.

The Oregon School for the Blind also operates summer camps to do various 
interesting things.  I went to one where we did something or other out in 
one of Oregon's forests.  It was more than half my life ago now, so the 
details are a bit hazy in my mind.  *grin*  I just remember we were 
outdoors, doing something useful, and though I didn't generally like the 
whole outdoorsy thing, I did find someone there I really felt a connection 
to, which made it all worthwhile.  I've lost track of her over the years, 
sadly, but I hear she's doing some good work nowadays.

These kind of things were valuable experiences, no matter what I thought at 
the time.  I didn't get as much out of them as I perhaps could have, and 
that was kind of my own fault.  I was too busy being an angry-at-the-world 
angsty teenager with a disability to take full advantage of some really 
wonderful opportunities that were available to me.  I had been too jaded by 
previous experiences, so I kind of burned a few bridges when some chances 
came along to learn and grow.  That's why I'm 30 and still "transitioning" 
as it were.

Hopefully others can learn from my mistake and use what's available to them 
right now so that they don't have to spend their twenties figuring out all 
of the stuff they missed when they had the chance.

Sorry Arielle, this came out a lot longer than I expected it was going to.


On Wed, Nov 26, 2008 at 01:34:58PM +1100, Arielle Silverman wrote:
>Hello all,
>A while ago, I started a discussion on the list about skills that are
>important for high school students to master before transitioning into
>college, work, and adult life in general. Since then I have been asked
>to help write a page for the new NABS Web site  describing these skill
>goals as well as resources for high school students to use to sharpen
>their skills and confidence in preparation for transitioning after
>graduation. Of course, we will provide information about the summer
>youth programs at each of the three NFB training centers. But for
>those high schoolers who can't get to a training center or who want
>additional support during the year, I need your input about other
>practical ways that these students can work on building their skills
>while still in school. A few more specific questions for you guys:
>1. Did any of you receive Braille, travel, home management, etc.
>training from someone in your local area outside of your school
>district? If so, who was it and how did you find this teacher?
>2. What are some suggestions for things students can do every day to
>reinforce their skills in Braille, computers, travel, and home
>management after initially learning them? (For example, a Braille tip
>would be to try to read Braille books for pleasure as much as
>3. What kinds of  extracurricular activities, camps, etc. did you guys
>participate in that you feel contributed to your skill development?
>Please tell us about your experiences--I'm hoping to include as many
>ideas from the list as possible in this Web page.
>Thanks everyone for your contributions. You are helping to mentor and
>support the next generation of blind youth!
>Happy Thanksgiving!
>Arielle Silverman
>First Vice-President, National Association of Blind Students
>nabs-l mailing list
>nabs-l at nfbnet.org
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