A New Sight

November 28, 2010

by Molly Bowman and Hilary Burgmeier

When you think of blindness, what comes to mind?  A pitiful person who sees only darkness?  Someone who is vulnerable and dependent?  Someone whose opportunities are limited because of his or her handicap? 

The staff at the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston has a different vision.  At the center, students are given the opportunity to work with specially trained instructors to overcome their handicap in order to live normal, successful lives. 

We entered the center expecting the dismal misconceptions that many people have about blindness.  Going through the center and seeing how the instructors transform the students was truly incredible.  The amount of trust that the students had in their instructors was immeasurable. 

“We really stress that everyone is an individual, where you are is where you are,” said Roland Allen, an instructor at the center. 

Founded in 1985, the Louisiana Center for the Blind started in a small house located on Bonner Street in Ruston.  Today, it is able to accommodate 30 students, since its expansion in 1996. 

Not every student at the center is completely blind. This is where the sleep

shades come in to use.  Sleep shades are strongly recommended to those students who have some vision because it forces them to rely on their other senses while learning different techniques and skills.

At the center, students learn how to undertake everyday tasks such as cleaning, cooking, woodworking, reading and writing skills. These everyday skills offer students the ability to be successful in the world without being dependent.

Students are able to express their creativity by learning to cook without assistance. They have the freedom of testing out different recipes on their own.  The kitchens that the students learn and experiment in have not been modified in any way to accommodate blind people. They are regular household kitchens.

One of the more exciting aspects the center offers is woodshop.  Students are required to complete a final project before they graduate from the center.   Some of the students have completed projects as small as a jewelry drawer to one as big as a grandfather clock.  Just as the kitchens aren’t modified for their use, the power tools the students use to complete their projects are not modified either.

“I want my students to adapt to the world, not the world to them,” Allen said.

In order to help the students prepare for the real world, learning how to read is a necessity.  HYPERLINK “http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Braille” Braille is used to enable blind students to read and write.  The system of Braille opens many job opportunities for the visually impaired.  A person has a major advantage by knowing Braille if he or she is blind.

“Only three out of 10 blind people have a job,” said Jerry Whittle, a Braille instructor at the center. “Only 10 percent of blind people know Braille and of the 10 percent, 90 percent are employed,”Along with the everyday skills that are taught at the center, the most important skills taught to the students are self-confidence and self-esteem. 

“That’s what they teach here– is to really be confident, to look confident, and to know what you’re doing,” said Danielle Fernandez, a student at the center.

One way the students learn confidence is through their cane travel class.  During cane travel, Allen teaches students how to travel independently and maneuver inside of the center.  Once the students have mastered the inside, they are taken outside and taught how to navigate by using traffic sounds and the position of the sun. 

When they have learned the ropes of cane travel, they are rewarded with fun experiences like white-water rafting, rock climbing, and going to Mardi Gras. “As blind people, we do the same things as everyone else,” Allen said.

The Louisiana Center for the Blind is a rare opportunity available to those who are blind.  This once-in-a-lifetime experience offers those who are visually impaired a chance to express themselves and to be successful while leading a normal life. 

“We teach our students to view blindness as one of many facets of you,” said Pam Allen, director of the center, “one part of who you are.”