I am often asked why it is that I insist my students get cane travel training under a blindfold (or sleepshades as I often refer to them). I thought I'd take a minute here to discuss this topic (which is a nice way of saying, rant about this subjec), which I will tell you, is a very heated issue in the field of orientation and mobility.

So here's where I stand...

I insist my students wear the blindfold throughout the ENTIRE duration of their training with me (which is often 5-10 months). At NO point do the shades come off during training, not even as they become more advanced travellers. I don't exactly have a fond relationship with my students when I initially tell them this. And I also don't get too fond of reaction when I talk to other professionals in the field. But the reason I insist on it is because I am blind myself, I do have some existing vision and yet my training under a blindfold...saved me!

I want to address some of the arguments I've heard (quite frequently) in a very straight-forward, no-bull kind of manner. Yes, my opinions are inserted quite frequently...but it's my blog, so there!

You are taking away the student's vision when you put them under a blindfold:
First, I am not nearly powerful enough to take away some one's vision if that were the case I'd get rid of mine. My intentions are not to take away anything, but to give them more. By learning skills completely non-visually you become so proficient without your, often inaccurate vision, that when the shades do come off, you have learned to trust your cane and you are not relying on your un-reliable vision. I myself, use my vision every day including when I'm using my cane, the difference is, I am USING my vision not RELYING on it. I am so much more proficient as a traveller since I learned to use more non-visual techniques, under a blindfold.

You have to teach your students how to use their vision:
First I'd like to know, how in the HECK do you teach someone to use their vision? Are we sat down as a toddler and given a lesson by our parents on how to see? The answer is No! We have vision and we use it, there is no learning process, you see what you see; we use our vision without there having to be a thought process involved. Learning things non-visually ultimately helps you to use your vision more reliably when the blindfold comes off. And when the blindfold comes off...the vision will still be there you will now know better when to trust it and when not to...O&M instructors DO NOT have the ability to teach someone to use vision...I think it's a ridiculous concept.

Now you know how I really feel.

"Some professionals believe they know what’s best for the clients because they have a degree in O&M and years of experience teaching blind people...but we need to let the client decide what's best."
I thought having a Master's Degree did make you an expert on a topic!?! I thought years of experience teaching, did give you a little expertise? DID I JUST WASTE A WHOLE YEAR IN GRADUATE SCHOOL!? I do feel like I know what's best for my students because I have put a lot of time into learning about this particular subject.

Roll with me on this one...

So I take my laptop to the computer fixer people (you can see how up on my technology I am) and you ask them to tell you what's wrong with your computer and how to fix it. They tell you and you say to them, "Well, I think you should do THIS to my computer, just cause you're a computer fixer guy doesn't mean you know the best way to fix my computer!" WHAT!?!?! Yes it does mean he knows how to fix my computer...I have no clue...he's an expert on the topic!

And yes...I'm in a position where I can insist my students wear shades and I would not make them do this if I didn't truly feel it was to their benefit in the end. I don't want them to do something crappy to their computer and have to keep coming back to me to fix it...let me fix it once (unless I do want your money...then that makes this a bad example). But, my point is, I do feel I am more qualified to talk to my student about what is best for them, I have a degree and I'm blind myself. This may sound cocky and arrogant but the truth is, when I go to a teacher, any teacher, to teach me something I would hope they are an expert in that area, not some joe-shmoe on the street corner.

Sleepshades are the most important tool (next to the cane of course) to truly gaining independence! I personally struggled in the beginning to use them, I understand my student's fears, but in the end I saw the impact it had on my life...and I want others to feel what I feel now...and I very much give a lot of credit to the "dreaded" blind fold!

So there's my 2 center, whether you wanted it or not!


Carrie said...

Is this really that contentious of an issue? Wow I had no idea. I always thought that the sleepshades were the best way.

Brian Wooten said...

I agree. I was a student trained under sleep shades and it was the best way to learn.

Becky said...

I agree. I have a small bit of very unreliable vision remaning and value my training with shades both with a cane and with a guide dog.

taj said...

Great info, I am in the midst of writing a paper on differences between Sleep Shade vs. old school o&M, and have found your blog to be a good read!