Mentors: A Key Component to Understanding Blindness

Kristen Sims grew up in Ruston, Louisiana, home to the Louisiana Center for the Blind, yet she didn’t know about the exciting careers in the field of blindness.

“I didn’t see blind people as any different,” she said. “To be blind and independent was normal. I just didn’t notice them unless they walked in front of my car, and that almost never happened!”

Her introduction to the field, much like the training that she would later complete at Louisiana Tech, came through a mentor. At first, that person was Joe Cutter.

“In the video we saw in class one day, he instructed this little, infant girl that was blind,” Sims recalled. “He had her on the floor, doing some independent mobility by hitting the floor to echo locate and get around. I just felt like not only was that an adorable video, but it was truly inspiring thing to see that, without even needing any assistance, this child was going to get around. She was going to make it happen. She just needed the parent to provide the stimuli. That was inspiring.”

Sims later enrolled in a master’s program to teach blind students, and only then did she realize that, despite having the best intentions, she clung to “sighted bias.”

“When I thought about blindness and myself being blind, I thought about all the things that I’d miss, and that made me sad,” she said. “When I got into the program, I realized that I wasn’t missing anything.”

Throughout her six-month immersion training, she learned to travel, use computers, and read braille from other blind people who also served as her mentors. Most importantly, though, Sims came to understand that not seeing something didn’t mean that she wouldn’t appreciate the experience just as much.

“What sets Louisiana Tech apart from other programs is that you’re learning about blindness from blind people, by blind people, surrounded by blind people and you don’t look at them as ones you’ll educate one day but as people who are educating you at the time,” she said. “So i think the big difference is that a lot of TVIs know about blindness from a book, but i know what it’s like firsthand. My training was individualized, just like we’re supposed to teach our kids. It allowed me to feel that way because I look at blind people as my peers and teachers…not as people i’m going to help.”

Sims said that mentoring and immersion training surrounded by competent blind people has led her to be a better teacher.

“I know exactly what I want my current students to be like when they’re eight, 18, and 21,” Sims said. “I want them to be like the mentors that I look up to who are blind, independent, and who have good social skills. I want my students to be better at life than the person who is teaching them. I’m a parent and I want my daughter to do better things than I did. I want my students, despite whatever characteristics they have, to be better than their parents.”

Above all, Sims said she graduated knowing that her role was to be a mentor for her students.

“i’m an educator of braille, not a helper of blind people,” Sims said.

What experiences led you to be the teacher that you are today? What do you wish that you’d learned before teaching your first group of students? Keep the conversation going in the comments below.

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Corbb O'Connor
Corbb, a blind entrepreneur, coordinates the outreach and marketing efforts for the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University as an independent consultant.

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