Don’t Miss the Forest at AER International’s O&M Conference

The place is a pinewood situated in the town of Nettuno, Lazio, a region of Italy. It is famous between Rome runners and the particular thing of this place is that thanks to its position respect to the sun and to its thickness, during sunrise is completely full of sunrays like in a fable.

Welcome to Louisiana, the home of delicious Cajun cuisine, outstanding music, and warm hospitality!

I am excited to attend the upcoming AER International O&M Conference because there is always room to grow and learn, no matter how long we have been in this field. At the Louisiana Center for the Blind, we see stories of transformation every day, but we do not always capture them…so, sometimes, we get lost in the day-to-day teaching of skills qnd philosophy that we miss out on the reasons why we are in the field.

One recent student, like many of those who come to LCB, had some residual vision. He is bright, inquisitive, excited, industrious, and eager to learn. For the first few weeks of training, I remember him saying, “I’m so scared and so excited.”

Because some of our students fight against using a cane or practicing braille, it is always exciting for me and encouraging to other students when someone is ready for the challenge.

“Before coming to the center,” this 20-year-old said during our annual rock climbing trip to Arkansas, “I wondered if I could still enjoy nature without seeing it. Now I know that I can.”

Before one of our holiday breaks, as usual, we talk about integrity and commitment. We try to prepare students for what it will be like when they return home to their families and friends who are not used to seeing them use a cane or assert their independence. I distinctly remember when this particular, committed student texted his O&M teacher with these powerful few words: “It feels so good to be me again.”

He later told us that he discovered how much stress he had been putting on himself without even realizing it. The stress of trying to see, he said, was so great that using a cane was just easy.

As we prepare for the conference this week, the most important aspect of our work is in the attitudinal change that we impart to our students, young and old. Yes, the techniques of travel are important, but—as the saying goes—we must not focus too heavily on the trees that we ignore the forest.

Just like every teacher, we see students who struggle with orientation, mental mapping or memory. Rather than spending nine months teaching the right cane arc to a student with a traumatic brain injury who may never remember yesterday’s learning, we need to focus on an individualized definition of independence. Just because a student cannot master the ability to hop a cross country bus, navigate to a job interview and return home does not mean that he or she should not travel. Under those circumstances, the student can learn to find stairs, safely navigate a store, and identify items in the produce section. It is just as important to that student that we focus upon his attitude toward blindness as we do celebrating the victories of a confident, blind naturalist.

Photo credit: Moyan Brenn, on Flickr.

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Pam Allen
Pam Allen serves as Executive Director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, a residential training program for blind adults and children in Northern Louisiana. She is worked as an Early Intervention counselor with blind and low-vision children, as a program administratorand—most recently—as the President of the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana.
Pam Allen

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