Walking in the Footsteps of the Visually Impaired
May 15, 2004 11:58 AM
Envision walking from the corner of 19th and Holloway avenues across the street towards MUNI, wearing a blindfold and using a cane. A professor explains the path and the noise and warns of the speeding traffic and horns.
This is the reality for students enrolled in Special Education 823, Methods in Orientation and Mobility IV.
The class takes students out onto the campus with blindfolds and canes so they will be able to experience visual impairment for themselves and learn techniques that they will someday teach their students. Most of these students hope to enter the medical field specializing in helping the blind with issues of mobility and orientation.
“OM (Orientation and mobility) is choreographed chaos,” said Dr. Sandra Rosen, professor and coordinator of the OM program explaining how each session is explained ahead of time but still unpredictable.
“San Francisco is the perfect environment, with the buses, trains and MUNI for teaching this kind of program,” Rosen said.
The OM program is the second oldest in the country, having been started in 1966, and it is one of the only programs that teaches students to work with both the deaf and blind from childhood to adulthood.
Every Saturday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., the methods class meets in Burk Hall 149 to discuss the day's coming paths. The students then spilt into groups and go outside to tackle the chaos of a campus with lots of open space.
“Traversing the campus can be a daunting task,” said Gina di Grazia, an occupational health therapist at a San Francisco hospital.
“This class is important because people with visual impairments don’t have their needs fully attended to,” said di Grazia, who plans to open a vision rehabilatation services center after she graduates.
Nancy Mitcher, a master’s student, understands why the methods class is a vital part of the education training.
“We’re simulating an advantageous life situation,” Mitcher said, relating all the training to the reality of those who are visually impaired.
“It’s part of understanding what blind students go through,” she said. However, not all students became part of the program out of a current career or goal.
Kate Bolton-Schmakler was a fifth-year senior in college when she was listening to Stevie Wonder and it dawned on her that he was both creative and blind.
“They don’t enter your world, you enter theirs,” she said.
That foray into a different way of sensing the environment is exactly what Rosen wants to teach each of her students.
During the class on Saturday, May 8, Rosen quizzed each student in her group as to which clues will help a visually impaired person realize their position on campus.
“The noise at the Plaza is a clue,” said Rosen when addressing her students.
Rosen than repeated a statement that her students should remember when they are training their future students.
“University campuses are the easiest place in the world to get lost and lose your orientation,” said Rosen.
Students who go through the program and graduate with a master's degree in special education (specializing in OM) and/or the California clinical rehabillative services credential in OM are 100 percent employable said Rosen.
The federal government needs 10,000 people and all the programs in the country put together only produce close to 200 people a year said Rosen.
“People are desperately wanted for this program,” Rosen said.
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