Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Selectively Handicapped

Hi Friends,
Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving/Hanukkah holiday. I was loving the turkey dream and ate a great feast. Hope you did too!  This week I am happy to let one of my favorite guest bloggers, mobility instructor Dave Ferland, write another insightful post.

Selectively Handicapped
by Dave Ferland, COMS

The first time I was here I wrote about ABS (Adorable Blind kid Syndrome) during which cute blind kids (no cuter than any other kids!) are treated like public petting poodles. This treatment gets in the way of independent mobility and reinforces a false picture of the real world. Visual people learn incidentally and experientially that there are consequences to not paying attention and not asking for appropriate help. For example, they look stupid or don’t get where they need to be on time and then get into trouble. Adorable Blind Children learn incidentally and experientially that if they stand around looking clueless then someone will eventually take pity and bail them out. Almost every time. They don’t pay attention to the environment around them and they don’t ask for help. Why should they? They are Adorable Blind children and someone will solve their problems for them.
Something else that reinforces helplessness was called to my attention recently and now I am noticing it more in the community of families with blind children. Have you ever experienced that? Something has been going on in plain sight unnoticed and now you can’t not see it? This phenomenon which I can’t ignore is the use of handicapped parking placards by the parents of blind children. Not blind children with physical disabilities affecting mobility. Just regular kids who happen to be blind. I went back and forth on this. Is this really important? After all, I don’t have a blind child. Can’t I just let it go? What’s the real issue here?

On a practical level, we know that blind children often get an incomplete picture of the world and how it works. We want to be careful that things don’t “magically” happen for our students, that they understand the process and work that goes into all daily living tasks. I think we all know that parking lots are not the safest places to practice independent travel. But they are great places to use sighted guide while listening and identifying potential dangers. What are the sounds when a car is about to move? Why do cars pull in and back out? Or vice versa? Why is it harder for a driver to see while going in reverse? Can we tell where other people are going? Can we listen for an opening in traffic to cross to the door? Once across, can we stop sighted guide and have the kids listen for clues then walk to the entrance or to the shopping carts? Finding the entrance is a great skill for real life. These are just the little things that add up to real experience and a full picture of the real world. Better to practice now with supervision then to have no clue later on.

More crucial is the message being sent loud and clear to the kid and to the public: “Blind people are handicapped!” The corrosiveness of this message is clear when I talk to independent and successful college students or adults who are blind. They usually tell a different story: “My parents never treated me like I was handicapped. I folded laundry, did chores, made plans with my friends, walked to the neighbors by myself, arranged rides, took the bus. I was forced to ask a lot of questions. We looked for ways, for modifications, to function in the real world. My parents didn’t change the rules for me. They did not make me handicapped. They did not allow me to be handicapped.” That’s the real issue here. It’s dangerous to overplay the blind card in order to make life easier and more convenient. Do blind kids need modifications and techniques to get ready for the real world? Yes, of course. Are blind kids handicapped? We all want to say, “No! Of course not!”. But we need to model and reinforce that answer whenever and wherever possible.

1 comment :

  1. You got a really useful blog I have been here reading for about an hour. I am a newbie and your success is very much an inspiration for me.

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