[nabs-l] first O/M lesson

Ashley Bramlett bookwormahb at earthlink.net
Sun Jun 21 00:04:34 UTC 2009

Hi Jim,
Wow, what an experience you had.  My first thoughts are to politely discuss your goals with your instructor prior to the next lesson.  She is probably not used to someone with these goals.  Most low vision people will naturally want to use their vision and cane.  Its only those in the NFB that understand the value of learning nonvisually.  You're right there's no point in learning routes using visual landmarks when you may or may not see them later on when you're actually traveling to a destination.  Explain to your instructor you wish to learn nonvisually because your vision is not useful at night or dim lighting conditions.  Explain you have classes and events to attend at night and therefore its neccessary to learn nonvisually.  I think you have the right idea to insist you keep your sleep shades on the entire lesson.  
Generally clients recieving O/M instruction use their vision and cane skills.  To my knowledge only the three nfb centers and a few state centers modeled after NFB philosophy teach using nonvisual instruction.
Still if that is what you want they should work with you to meet those goals even if their university O/M courses said to use low vision and landmarks.
My advice is to be polite but upfront with your instructor and try and work with her.  If after two or three lessons you still are fighting her teaching style focussing only on visual landmarks you can do something.  Either get a new instructor if possible or teach yourself.  Is there someone skilled in travel in your nearby nfb chapter?  If so, ask them for some informal instruction.  Fortunately there's a handful of members great in travel at the two nfb chapters nearby.  I can practice with them or get advice.  I rarely do because we are all busy but its an option.
Is there any private agencies with O/M instructors you could try?  In my area there's the Columbia lighthouse for the blind.  I've gotten sufficient instruction through the department for the blind though.
I think you just had bad luck.  Many instructors while not following nfb philosophy, are at least a bit open minded!  
Here's a bit about my O/M background briefly.
Like you I have tunnel vision.  I have a real limited field though and nystagmus.  I recieved a cane in second grade.  I got a folding aluminum cane but in high school switched to a lighter folding cane because friends recommended it.  
I had an O/M instructor in public school similar to what you described.  We had lessons every other week.  She was heavily focussed on pointing out visual landmarks.  She did not encourage me to use the tapping method with the cane so I could hear echos from it.  She pointed out obstacles my cane could have come across.  

All she did with me was teach
me a root that I never used. Looking back on it the lessons were almost pointless.  I was able to practice crossing different kinds of streets wich was a good start to outdoor travel.  She also did a good job of orienting me to my classes in middle and high school.  I walked independely.  Its apaulling to me that I hear stories of aids escorting students from class to class.  They ought to be learning and then walking themselves!

However after public school when working with the department for the blind, a different better story.  I had two instructors.  One I just started with because the first one left.  It was much better.  My goals were to learn to navigate around campus, learn/practice crossing streets, learn about the layout and adress system, take buses, take the subway, and keep a better cane technique.  In public school I usually used the diagonal technique and sometimes constant contact.  That's sliding the cane in an arc.  Not much attention was given to walking in step or tapping it probably since I had vision.  I chose to use my vision and cane, but but clients can use sleepshades and instructors will respect that.

My instructor taught me routes to classes.  She taught me about the subway such as if the red line was upstairs.  Often blue and orange lines going to the capitol are on one level and those going the other way are on another level.  I learned that if the track has two lines they alternate colors, like a blue then an orange train.  But you have to ask a sighted person to know for sure.  We did a few bus lessons too.  She took me to a few stores and showed me where customer service was.  These skills of knowing the metro subway layout and using customer service were helpful and gave me confidence.  These skills were transferable to other situations.  She taught me about streets and described the layout using cardinal directions.  
My point being that there are good instructors out there and open minded to what you want.  
They will listen to your goals and help you achieve them if they're good instructors.
Its too bad you had a closed minded person set in their ways on route travel and visual orientation.  My instructor expected me to use tactile info from the cane and my sense of smell and hearing.  If I wasn't listening and paying attention she'd say something to me!  

My second instructor I have now teaches general skills and expects you to apply them to other settings.  He is open to helping the client learn what they want.  He will tell you the layout of streets with cardinal directions if you want to know.  He will use sleep shades if 1) the client wants to.  or 2) the client is losing vision.
I think my instructors after high school that I got after age 18 were much better and had higher expectations.  I learned more in a short time from them than I did in several years of lessons in public school!

Please keep us posted on what happens.  
As for sleep shades I don't think its neccessary to block out all light.  If your vision is blocked that's what matters.  So your idea of buying cheap sunglasses and painting them will work okay.


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