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A class in etiquette

February 16, 2012

Emily Weidner, a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, is a visiting student at Tech this quarter. –Photo by Sumeet Shrestha

Appropriate ways to interact with blind students at Tech

 

REBECCA SPENCE
Associate Editor

 

More than a dozen visually impaired students are enrolled or visiting in classes at Tech this quarter and more than 30 can be seen roaming the campus either in training or just strolling.

 

In Ruston this is normal for most students, but before enrolling at Tech many students have not been exposed to blind or visually impaired people on a daily basis. Some students such as Barbara Baldwin, a junior kinesology and health promotion major, did not have any visually impaired student in their high school.

 

“I came from a very small school,” Baldwin said. “I don’t think I ever interacted with a visually impaired student before coming to Tech.”

 

The transition from a high school with only sighted people, to a university with a growing blind population could be confusing in the interaction.

 

“It is hard to know when to help because you want to help someone if they seem to be in need,” Baldwin said. “However, it is a tricky situation because you do not want to embarrass or offend an individual if they do not need help.”

 

Stacy Lolley, coordinator of disability services, agreed that the blind students who come to the testing center do not need very much help aside from the programs they offer that aide in reading the exams. Lolley said the homework and class material is worked out with their professors so that the visually impaired students can learn the information with the same opportunities of a sighted person.

 

“The students come here to take exams by using screen reader programs, listening to the exams or getting the exam’s font enlarged,” Lolley said. “We provide a way for the students to complete their schoolwork, and then they can take it over from there.”

 

Visually impaired students are  on the same grading scale as sighted students and have the same entrance requirements for gaining admittance to Tech.

 

“The Institute on Blindness also offers a Master’s program for visually impaired students,” Lolley said.

 

“There are also classes that train visually impaired students to become mobility instructors.”

 

Roland Allen, a cane instructor at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, is what the Institute on Blindness trains individuals to become. Allen said this program teaches visually impaired or blind people how to navigate around Ruston and on campus by using canes.

 

“You may see some people around campus in that (mobility instructor) program because it takes two to learn how to do that,” Allen said. “There are quite a few blind people around campus right now.”

 

Allen also said that blind people sometimes lose focus or get a little disoriented if they are new in their training, and that this is the time that you can offer, but never force help upon these students.

 

“It is OK if you go up to them and offer them some assistance, but if they say no, it is important for you to leave,” Allen said.

 

If this tactic does not seem like enough help in your own mind, Allen said to still respect the person’s space and trust him, because most of the time if he is just directed in the right area, he will know how to travel there.

 

“To verify, I may repeat the directions back to you and point in the directions of the places,” Allen said. “If I have them right, then that’s it, and I’ll be on my way. I don’t need any more help after that.”

 

There are certain techniques used, such as shore lining, for when blind people are walking on streets without sidewalks. Shore lining is when a blind person and his cane stay as close to the curb as possible. Allen said if you see people shore lining, you should not be startled or worried because they know what they are doing. He said sometimes people’s minds wander or they become unfocused, and this is when it is vital to help.

 

“When you see a blind person in the middle of the street, it is ok to say to them, ‘you are in the middle of the street, you may want to go to the right,’” Allen said. “Even if they say they don’t need help, it is never OK for people to be in the middle of the street.”

 

Allen also said the manner in which you direct a blind person is important. Blind students are just like every other student, except they cannot see and Allen wants Tech to be aware of that.

 

“A blind person doesn’t want to be touched just as much as a sighted person doesn’t want to be touched,” Allen said. “Grabbing me by the shoulders and turning me in the direction of a place is unacceptable.”

 

There have been cases where people have grabbed Allen’s cane and tried to drag him toward his destination.

 

He said this is  distasteful and even dangerous for the person with the cane. Tree branches, bikes parked in odd places and uneven sidewalks are some of the things that aid in disorientation. Lolley said Tech tries to prevent potentially dangerous situations as well.

 

“If these things are in the way, it can just make it a little bit harder on them getting where they need to go,” Lolley said. “If a bike is parked on the stairs, it could be hazardous and cause a student to fall down the steps.”

 

Tech and Ruston both have been working on making the campus and downtown area more pedestrian friendly, which, in turn, will make it easier for visually impaired or blind individuals as well. Tech is working on putting Braille signs in all of the new buildings that are being built on-campus, as well as curb cuts. Curb cuts are the yellow square pads at the end of sidewalks with raised bumps in them so that blind people will know the sidewalk is ending.

 

Things that are beneficial to pedestrians as a whole, sighted or blind are good investments, but Allen said changes specifically for blind students are looked down upon by most blind people.

 

“We don’t want any modifications to the campus or to the street; we don’t want any modifications at all,” Allen said.“We don’t want the world to adjust to us; we want to adjust to the world.”

 

Allen said if money is going to be spent on something for blind people, it should be something substantial, for life after graduation from the Center for the Blind or Tech.

 

“If money is going to be spent, we want it to be spent on training for jobs, so people can be employed when they leave here,” he said. “Here at the Center we train people to travel without using those things.”

 

Because many blind people are so independent it is easy for sighted people to be amazed at their daily accomplishments. But Allen said the largest hope for blind or visually impaired people is that they will not be treated differently from anyone else. He hopes that students at Tech will not stereotype, because they are just as diverse as sighted students.

 

“We like sports, we like watching football, baseball, we go on trips, we talk about politics, we are just like anybody else,” Allen said. “Blind people are not amazing, we are just out there doing what is necessary to live our lives.”

 

Email comments to res022@latech.edu.

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