Gingerbread Houses and Cane Travel ?

I had what I’d consider a “brilliant idea” a while back. Unfortunately, I’ve not yet had the opportunity to implement said idea, but I hope to at some point. My brilliant idea: Make Gingerbread houses to help teach principles of cane travel (orientation and mobility).

This could be a really fun activity to do with young children around the holidays. Okay, so maybe we’re not actually talking about the real nuts and bolts of cane travel, i.e., how to arc a cane, use echo location, locate landmarks, cross streets, etc., but there are some great foundational pieces which you could introduce through play, a.k.a., constructing a gingerbread house which are just as relevant to cane travel as the afore mentioned skills.

Concepts of Parallel and Perpendicular: These concepts will come up in multiple ways as you place walls, a roof, and other elements on your structure. You can also discuss how in neighborhoods, sidewalks usually run parallel to the houses and the street, but there may be smaller side walks which run perpendicular to the main one or to the street which lead to the entrance of the house. You can also talk about how things like grass or mailboxes can be found along the sides of sidewalks or driveways which sometimes serve as useful landmarks when one is trying to orient him/herself to an area.

Cardinal directions: Cardinal directions are often tricky to teach to children, but this could be a fun way to help instruct a child on how to use cardinal directions. Some people don’t really understand the value of cardinal directions, but here’s a quick explanation which might help you see how they can be useful. Imagine you are driving down Main Street and you live on Smith Ave. The way you are driving right now on main street means you will have to turn left on Smith in order to reach your house. Now, let’s say you are giving a friend directions to your house. She is driving the opposite direction on Main Street. If you told her to turn left on Smith Ave like you did, she would end up driving away from your house. So, even though left and right can be helpful things, they vary in their use depending what “direction” we are facing at the time. But, if you know that when you are traveling north on main street, you will need to turn west on Smith to go to your house, or east if you are going south on Main street, directions can be a lot more useful. . Knowing whether you are traveling north, south, east, or west can be very useful tools in using directions when you can’t always rely on looking for landmarks like a sighted person would do. . . These directions can also help in areas like schools or businesses to help a blind individual orient him/her self to a place. For example, if you enter a store and you are heading north, you can mentally map which direction you are walking while in the store. Then, when you are ready to exit the store, you know that you have to make your way back to the south to locate the exit. This, along with other environmental cues can be very helpful in traveling in different environments.

While constructing your house, you can help give your child directions like, “Should we put the door on the east side?” Or, “If the front door is on the east wall, what wall do you think we should put the back door?”, or “Oh, it looks like you put a tree on the west side of the house.” AS you use this kind of language, you can explain what these directions mean, and how your child can determine which direction is which.

Understanding Structural Concepts: One other idea you could teach your child is about building structure. Often, we take for granted some of the things sighted children learn just by visual observation such as what different stories on a building look like, or how roofs are designed, how doors or windows look in relation to a building’s face, or what different materials such as brick, stone, or siding look like. These can be important concepts for our blind and low vision children to understand too, but unless they experience it in a way that is meaningful to them, and/or we teach them about these things, they may not fully “get” these concepts. This is where a lot of “hands-on” learning is useful and essential. Looking at realistic models is especially valuable, or the real thing” when available, but the idea of making gingerbread houses can be a fun way to reinforce these ideas or concepts in young children. So, for example, when making your house, you can talk about how the mini Hershey bar you are using for a front door should probably not be in the middle of the front wall close to the roof, but instead may be better placed toward the bottom of your wall, or lined up with the ground or side walk like a door usually would be. Or, if your child wants to make a brick house, she could line up small square candies (like caramels or mini candy bars) on her wall, or use chocolate chips for a stone house.

Lastly, here are a couple of quick ideas for fun, easy, gingerbread houses:

  • Use a large, flat piece of cardboard covered with tin foil as your base on which to construct your house/neighborhood (size may vary depending on how elaborate you and your child want to get, but a 1’x1’ sq. piece would work well.)
  • Use graham crackers to serve as walls and roof material
  • “Royal” icing works really well. You need the really thick kind of icing, not the kind of frosting you find in the cans in the baking isle. You can usually order the icing from your local bakery or ask there for the right stuff. You want it to be really thick so it will hold your house up.
  • You will want to have a variety of candy on hand to construct different elements of your house and neighborhood or property around your house. I recommend some of the following : mini candy bars, small round candies like M & M’s, caramels, hard round candies, licorice ropes, chocolate chips, sprinkles, Hershey’s kisses, Lifesavors,candy canes, gum drops (both large and small),and pretzel sticks.
  • Remember to have fun and be creative!

One last idea, covering a pretzel stick in icing makes a great white cane and would look really cute in the hand of a little gingerbread boy or girl out front of your house.

If any of you implement this idea, I’d love to see pictures to post with this post in the future to show off your creations. Let me know how it goes!

Blindness Skills, Uncategorized

When Santa Lost His Eyesight

When I attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, LA, (the best blindness training center in the country in my humble opinion) I remember seeing a presentation of a short humourous play at one of our Christmas parties there in which Santa goes blind and comes to the LCB for training. I’d forgotten about it until I saw this post in a blog written by a friend of mine. I thought this was a fun read and have reposted it here for you. Some of your blind children out there might enjoy hearing about a Santa with whom they can identify. Just to give you a little background, the original play about Santa losing his eyesight was written by Jerry Whittle, the former Braille teacher at the LCB. Mr. Whittle is known for his plays in which he always shares some kind of story of an individual’s journey to overcome his/her blindness through training and gaining of a positive attitude towards blindness. These plays are usually performed at local and national conventions of the National Federation of the Blind. This post came from a post in the blog “Slate and Stylish”,found on blogspot, and one of my favorite blogs I follow which is written by a friend of mine, Deja Powell. I hope she won’t mind me sharing this. I hope you enjoy reading it too and that it brings you a little Christmas joy.


Posted: 18 Dec 2012 10:03 AM PST

*This is a cute little story written by my good friend Alex Castillo adapted froma play from one of my heroes, Jerry Whittle. Enjoy!

When Santa Lost His Eyesight

Santa winking/

By: Alex Castillo

Most people know about Santa Claus. He’s the Jolly old fellow who along with a team of flying reindeer and tireless elves, work year round so that on one night out of every year, they can bring presents to children and adults all over the world. What many people are not aware of, is that one year, Santa began noticing that his vision was not what it used to be. Of course, he did not want to admit it to himself, but driving that sleigh at night, and being up there in the sky with all of those airplanes zooming by, made him feel quite unsafe.

It was no surprise when news started being gossiped about in the North Pole that Santa had gone blind, and that he was quitting the holidays. He became depressed, and without his work, he lost his sense of purpose in life. The man was a real sad mess. On one of those special Holiday nights, everything started going downhill and Just got worse and worse. The naughty and good lists were becoming a blur, and he handed out the wrong toys to more than 1 billion people. I know what you might be thinking at this moment, If Santa had gone blind, you would have surely heard about it. I’m not saying this is all true, but was there one year in which you received absolutely the most unlikely gift ever? Well, if the answer is yes, then this story might make a little sense.

After getting home that night, Santa could do little more than lock himself up in his office at the toy factory, and no matter how hard anyone tried to cheer him up, he could do absolutely nothing for a very long time. This is the story I heard last year when I was visiting friends in Ruston, Louisiana. They say that one year after he had lost his vision; Santa came down there to receive training at their blindness center. “He could barely even see Rudolph’s nose,” they said, “He had lost about 75 pounds when he had first arrived, and wouldn’t even touch a cookie.” “he’d get real close to ya when he was talking,” they would all whisper, “Couldn’t tell north from south even if he was holding a compass: bless his heart.” And apparently the entire town knew about this phenomenon. So well-known was the story down there that a writer by the name of Jerry Whittle wrote a play about the whole ordeal, and everyone in town came to see the production.

When I asked how come Santa didn’t choose Nebraska to come and train, after all, we have an awesome center right here, and it would seem the familiar choice with all the snow we get, howling winds, and freezing weather, the answer I received was: “well, Nebraska? With all that snow up there? He’d be recognized in a heartbeat if he stepped outside dressed in all red in his Husker gear. “They said: “Down here, he’s just another blind guy with a beard.” The more I thought about the story, about this blind and depressed Santa Claus, the more sense it made. Often when people start to lose their eyesight, they feel ashamed, and even worthless. People find themselves almost transforming from a productive and contributing member of their family, or community, to just sitting passively, watching life and everyone else pass them by.

We often confuse the inability to do, with the inability to see. And all that it would take for us to get back into our routine, or even find a more exciting and challenging one is to simply understand that with some blindness training, many doors can open up with the promise of opportunity. Training centers do not create Santa Claus’s. But they can help Santa figure out how he can do his job as a respectable blind person non-visually. As I recall, the play ended with Santa making the decision to keep the toy factories open and to stay in the Job as Santa Claus, and arriving at the North Pole to continue his yearly duties, with some new blindness skills and alternatives. It was a true happy ending. But the people in Ruston tell a different story. They say that he didn’t go back to the North Pole right away. “Oh, he had some trouble with the training,” they said. At first, he was always lifting those sleep shades. They said he would use the excuse of being overheated to lift them and peek during every class. He didn’t like travel very much, they said: “Oh, Santa, Santa, you would see him just hiding when it was time for travel class,” But what surprised me the most was when they told me: “the first time Santa stepped into the wood shop and heard those live blades running, he almost fainted.”

One would think that someone who has been working with factory machinery their whole lives would be able to handle an arm saw. As time went by, he settled into the center and became an excellent student. But, after training, he didn’t go back to the North Pole right away. He wanted to try out a new career. He went to work at this Cajun restaurant as a cook in the next town. During training, Santa had discovered that he had let Mrs. Claus do all the cooking their entire marriage, but he actually enjoyed working in the kitchen. “Could you imagine that?” they said, “Santa as a cook in a Cajun restaurant?” I suppose he just felt like he wanted some independence.

Like many people after they finish blindness training, he must have felt a bit rebellious and must have wanted to prove to anyone that he could go far beyond the common expectations for a blind person. It wasn’t until the Mrs. Threatened to come and get him that he decided to go back up north. Sometimes the path to independence isn’t obvious and clear. Sometimes, like Santa, we need to figure ourselves out for a little while. Sometimes, blindness gives us an opportunity to learn and make decisions which vary greatly from our past, and that we would have never thought possible if we had not lost our eyesight. And sometimes, we just get a stronger sense of who we are.

But, The first step toward independence, and starting your life, or getting it back is recognizing when it’s time to receive training, and then going through that training in a program that will allow you to fully realize yourself as a respectable blind person. After all, this is our life, and we live through our choices. As for Santa, You can decide to believe this story or not, but the children and grownups are still receiving presents on time and without any strange mix-ups. Polls show that he’s been doing a better job year after year. And just the other day, I read a review about some new restaurant opening up on the North Pole which specializes in southern cuisine. Note:

This Story was based on the play written by Jerry Whittle.

Link: http://nebraskacenterfortheblind.blogspot.com/2012/12/blind-santa-goes-back-to-work.html

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Pages from the Hartle Playbook: Sharing a Testimony

Sharing a Testimony
“Pages from the Hartle playbook” are posts usually designed to share a little about me and my family as well as our experiences in dealing with blindness on a daily basis. But this post is going to be a little different. While I share insights to my thoughts and personal life in these posts, I’ve aimed to make this blog more of a resource than just a personal “about me” one. But, I hope that you will indulge me with this post as it is something I feel very strongly about.
This past week at church we were issued a challenge to
Have a “missionary” experience during the upcoming week. “Missionary” experiences are moments when we take an opportunity to share with someone not of our faith our testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, something about our church, and/or our religious beliefs. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often known by its nickname of “The Mormon Church.”) I have to admit that I’m not very good about sharing the gospel with people not of my faith. I know and love what I believe, and am willing to share my beliefs with others, but I guess I am reluctant sometimes to invite others to learn more about my faith—mostly because I am afraid of offending others, or having others mock what I believe and hold very sacred. In any case, I was thinking about how easy it is for me to go up to people I see who are blind and start telling them about my philosophy about blindness and high expectations for blind people and yet something that is far more important to me, (my testimony of Jesus Christ and my religious beliefs) is really hard to speak openly about with others not of my faith. So, I wanted to take this missionary challenge and thought maybe I could use this blog post as a vehicle for that today.
I would like to invite any of you reading who may be curious to know more about “The Mormons” to visit http://www.mormon.org or http://www.lds.org to learn more about our beliefs. I would also welcome any personal questions which I will do my best to answer.
This next part is where it gets hard for me as it’s not perceived as “cool” in our society to talk about God sometimes or to share our religious beliefs openly without being thought of as a fanatic or “ultra-Christian” (which usually has a negative connotation), , but here goes. I want to let you know that I have a very strong testimony of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I know he lives, loves us, and knows each of us individually. I’ve seen his hand in my life and been blessed in more ways than I could ever imagine. I know that he came to earth and suffered for our sins thus making it possible for us to return to live with him and our Heavenly Father again. The atonement is something I know I only understand less than a fraction about, but I continue to see its power in my life on a regular basis. I believe this is his gospel restored to the earth today as he taught during his time on earth, complete with all the keys and principles he instituted. I have a testimony of the Bible as a sacred, inspired book of scripture. I also have a testimony of the Book of Mormon and believe it to be another testimony of Jesus Christ written for our day to be a companion book of scripture to the Bible. I have read it and prayed about it and know for myself that this is true scripture from God. I believe that we do have living prophets today who still receive direct revelation from God for us and our world today. I believe that Joseph Smith, a prophet, was called of God to restore Christ’s church to the earth and to bring about the Book of Mormon. I think a lot of people believe that we worship Joseph Smith, and not Jesus Christ, so I want to clarify that we respect Joseph as a prophet, but believe in Christ as our Savior and Redeemer. I also have a very strong testimony of prayer and know it works and that our Father in Heaven hears and answers our prayers—maybe not always as we want, or when we want, but he does hear us and bless us, and he loves us.
So there you have it. I hope that none of you will take offense at this or stop reading my blog as result, or even ridicule my beleifs. This took great guts for me to post this. Instead, I hope you will receive this in the light that it was meant. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share something of great importance to me.


Pages from the Hartle Playbook: Oh Christmas Tree

I recently saw a question on a listserv for blind parents asking how one decorates a Christmas tree as a blind person. A pretty reasonable question I thought. Sadly, she had never had the opportunity to help with this before, or been shown or figured out any alternative techniques for herself. She was concerned about safety issues as well as aesthetics. So, since this is something that we as blind people do, I shared with the list a reply to her post. I thought some excerpts from my post may be of interest here in showing some alternative techniques we’ve used in doing this.

WE actually have a pre-lit tree, just because they are so convenient whether you are blind or not. But, I used to have a regular tree and my husband who is also blind, and I would put the lights on ourselves. It’s really not that difficult to decorate the tree as it’s all hands-on. Usually, we can just feel the branches and decorations to make sure they are placed correctly. But, there are a few things I’ve found that can help.

Hanging Lights and Garland:

When we used to put lights on our tree, my husband and I would pass a coil of lights between ourselves with either of us on a side of the tree. You want to make sure the strands are evenly spaced out, which you can do by feeling where the strand is running. You can put the strands back deeper in the branches close to the trunk of the tree (or pole if it’s artificial) so that the strands aren’t showing that much. Before you put the lights on though, run you’re hands down the strands to make sure there are no bare wires exposed no fraying, and no broken bulbs. It is probably a good idea to have a sighted person check the strand before too if you can’t see the lights just to make sure the light bulbs are all working and that none have burned out. Sometimes you can run your hand across each bulb and feel if they are hot, but this takes a lot of time; or if they are small lights, sometimes the heat from the lights on either side can make a burnt out bulb still feel warm. It can also be a pain to keep the strands from becoming tangled during this process,(which even sighted people struggle with) so having someone look at the whole strand briefly to make sure it is working can be helpful.

When putting the strands of lights on the tree, just make sure you space each strand out and move it up the tree a few inches at a time. You can do the same thing for garland. Just go back around after you’ve wrapped the tree either with lights or garland and make sure you weave the strands in and over and under the branches some with your hands so that it doesn’t look like you just tied the tree up. You want the lights and garland to look more draped or looped over the branches.

You may want to use your arm or hands to measure how far apart each of the strands of lights around the tree are separated from each other—so as to keep them more evenly spaced apart.

Hanging Ornaments:

These are a lot easier to put on the tree than the lights and garland in my opinion. With these, I usually divide the tree into sections and decorate a section at a time. This way you can make sure not to over decorate a part of the tree and make sure your ornaments are evenly spaced out. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but this seems to help keep our tree from looking really crowded in one place and bear in another. I tend to divide my tree into four sections like a front, back, right, and left side. I then work from the top to the bottom in each of the four sections. I’ve even divided up my ornaments so that I have the same (roughly) amount of ornaments in each section. WE tend to have bulbs and then some specialty ornaments, so by dividing the ornaments into piles or groups first, I then have better chances of distributing them evenly around the tree. I then decorate one section, like the front for example, with one of the groups of ornaments. I tend to put our favorite or most special ornaments that I want to be seen better into the pile that is going on the front of the tree–the part of the tree that is facing out to your living room the most, or wherever most people will see. If you are displaying your tree in a window where your neighbors will see it, you might want this to be your “front” section. Anyway, this strategy has seemed to work well for me. Then, as I’m decorating each section, I can feel where I hang ornaments and then place them a few inches apart. It’s not a perfect measurement, but I spread my hand out like as if I was making a hand print, and then touch one of my outside fingers to an ornament and then where the other outside finger is is where I place the next ornament. This way, I can kind of guide my placing of ornaments down the tree. I start at the top and work down to the bottom rather than just randomly hanging the ornaments so that I don’t miss a spot or put too many ornaments in one place. If it’s helpful, you can even place a chair or something around the tree to use as a border to mark off your sections while you are decorating so that you don’t go over a section while you are working on that section. AS you are also hanging the ornaments, you want to make sure that the ornament isn’t resting against a wire from the lights, or a light bulb so that you can minimize your risk of the ornament melting or causing a fire–worst case scenario. Same thing with garland. It’s pretty easy to check around to see if anything is touching your ornament before you finish hanging it. I hope that makes sense. I actually haven’t put garland on our tree for a few years—mostly because I haven’t found one I liked yet—so instead, I’ve been using this idea I got from a craft store display tree where they draped long ribbon down the tree instead. This design has also proven to be helpful in decorating our tree as it provides a marker or divider on the tree itself which I now use when decorating to divide the tree while I’m hanging ornaments. I have four curled strands of thick Christmas ribbon coming down from the top of the tree and cascading down the tree. Basically, it is two long strands of thick ribbon (the kind with the fine wire on the edges so you can shape it) which I divide in half. Where the fold in the middle is, I make a loop and place it around the tip of the top of the tree (where your tree topper/star/angel/etc. will later go. Then, I drape one side down the front, and one side down the back. I do the same thing with my second strand of ribbon and put it on the left and right sides. When I hang ornaments, I used these ribbons as my dividers. Then, when we put our tree topper on, the ribbon kind of looks like a bow on a package, except the bow is the tree topper. It looks pretty good apparently as I’ve had complements on using the Christmas ribbon instead of garland.

Since our tree is pre-lit, there are so many lights that I think the garland could look cluttery anyway if not done the right way. Using the ribbon is really easy too. It’s kind of hard to explain but I hope this makes sense. I just mentioned this as one way you could divide your tree. Again, I did this because visually it looks pretty, not to help me decorate though, or to get out of using garland which can be hard to space around a tree nonvisually. .

Since Christmas trees are supposed to be visually appealing, it may be helpful to have a trusted friend or family member check out your tree when you’re finished decorating it just to make sure things look visually pleasing –ornaments are spaced out well and wires are hidden, etc. I’ve even Skype called my mom before and showed her the tree to get her opinion and have her point out any things I need to fix to make it look better. AS far as safety issues, I think if you are proactive and checking where you place things as you go, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Good luck. !

So, there you have it. Not a perfect science, and I’m sure other blind people out there have other, even more effective techniques, but hopefully this at least illustrates that it can be done. . On a slightly related note, this year since it’s our first year in a house, we are thinking of hanging up outdoor lights in our yard and on our house. I have yet to figure out how to do this initially, let alone as with any alternative techniques (if necessary); but if we can find some for a reasonable cost, and if I can convince my husband that decorating is fun, and if I can just figure it all out, then I’ll hopefully have a post for you on that too.

Merry Christmas!


What is Structured Discovery Cane Travel Exactly?

What is Structured Discovery Cane Travel Exactly?

I remember a question on one of my exams for a course in orientation and mobility during my training to be a teacher of blind students. It read something to the effect of: “_____ leads to independence.” There is more to the context, since this was a direct quote from one of our texts, but the answer was “movement”. I never forgot this, partly because I got that question wrong, but primarily because of how profound of a statement this is. With respect to blindness, movement really does lead to Independence. Think about it for a moment… a blind child learns about his/her environment by moving and exploring it. No movement=no discoveries made. Sure, we as parents and teachers can bring certain aspects of the world or our child’s environment to him, or take her to it, but so much more learning takes place when a child learns how to make these discoveries on his or her own. For example, if a child learns how to walk down a sidewalk with a cane by investigating it himself rather than someone walking along side of him telling him what is in front of him, or when to move around something, or even guiding him, he’s not only learning just the mechanics of how to follow the pathway of the sidewalk, but he is learning how to problem-solve as he maneuvers around obstacles in the middle of the sidewalk, solidifying concepts he may have been taught before such as what parallel and perpendicular mean (streets or grass often are parallel to sidewalks, while other pathways or obstacles may be perpendicular to a sidewalk), he is learning how to recognize landmarks to orient where he is(like counting driveways or looking for a certain walkway on which to turn), learning how to recognize different textures or sounds with his cane to get different feedback, and so much more. Figuratively speaking, he is learning how to “make it on his own playground.” All of these skills are taught through an ideology of orientation and mobility (cane travel) training known as Structured Discovery Learning. I could go on for pages about how to implement structured discovery learning to our blind students whether it’s in general orientation and mobility training, or just helping to teach them about basic concepts. But for the sake of this post, I want to just introduce a basic understanding of what structured discovery Cane Travel is.

The following is a response given by Dr. Edward Bell from the Professional Institute for Development and Research in Blindness at LouisianaTechUniversity to some questions asked at a recent AER conference on orientation and mobility.


At the request of Kevin Hollinger, Chairman of the AER O&M division, we prepared the following responses to questions they posed at the last conference. This is now posted at www.pdrib.com

A Q&A about Structured Discovery Cane Travel

A number of interesting breakout sessions were held at the Orientation and Mobility conference that was held September 29—October 2 in Richmond, Virginia, sponsored by the Southeastern and Central O&M Associations,. One of those sessions was a discussion about Structured Discovery Cane Travel (SDCT) ™ methods and principles, led by Maurice Peret, Jennifer Kennedy, and Joanne Laurent. During this session, the moderators asked the audience to submit questions regarding myths, assumptions, and rumors they had heard about SDCT practices. The goal of this exercise was not to compare and contrast SDCt and traditional training, but rather to provide an opportunity to gain a more accurate understanding of a training methodology with which many are not familiar.

What follows are the questions and responses which we were not able to get to because of limited time. These are not in any order other than how they were submitted. We fully anticipate that in answering these questions, many more will arise, and we welcome the opportunity to participate in future exchanges of information and strategies.

Q: What is the written or working definition of SDCT?

A: In short, Structured Discovery Cane Travel (SDCT) ™ is defined as the consumer-based model of orientation and mobility instruction that is derived from the collective knowledge, experiences, attitudes, and expectations of blind men and women. A full and complete description of the methods and principles that comprise SDCT take months to convey as graduate students or those pursuing an apprenticeship will attest. SDCT is not simply a strategy that can be incorporated into lessons being taught by those conventionally trained because it is a “whole paradigm” and to adopt only specific elements negates its entire premise.

Q: If one is discovering how can it be structured? Is “structure referring to chaining or a scope and sequence of instruction?

A: The “structured” in SDCT refers to the instructional practice in which guided methods are introduced from the beginning of the learning process while continually shifting towards independent discovery and self-monitoring. Through methods such as Socratic questioning, the instructor leads the student to “discover” orientation and mobility concepts. In a very simple example, on the first day of instruction, an SDCT practitioner uses guided instruction to teach cane technique and how to walk in-step. Rather than directly telling the student when he/she is not arching the cane correctly or when he/she is out of step, the instructor might simply ask, “Do you feel that your arch is wide enough?” or “Are you walking in step?” The student will instantly learn the internal dialog that is necessary to develop self-monitoring skills which is a crucial concept for independent travel.

Q: Is SDCT possible with a 60 minute session per week?

A: Yes. Structured Discovery Cane Travel is not specifically time-dependent although regular and consistent instruction is always the best practice. SDCT has more to do with the approach of the instructor and the length of the actual lesson is beside the point.

Q: How does a blind SDCT instructor teach in a novel environment to them and to the client?

A: Through mutual awareness and collaborative discovery, when you understand SDCT, you know that each travel lesson is built around the concept of learning mobility principles through experiences in novel situations. This is to say, that the SDCT instructor continually works to introduce new environments to the student, and whenever possible, it can be very beneficial when a lesson can take place in surroundings which are also not familiar to the instructor. The student not only has the opportunity to study how an experienced blind traveler can synthesize non-visual information, but he/she can also contribute to their pooled observations and equally participate in the travel experience.

Q: What is the preferred way to offer assistance to a person who appears to be an SDCTist?

A: There is no difference in the way assistance should be offered to someone who has been trained in the SDCT model.

Q: What language does one use not to offend?

A: Use normal, polite regularly spoken language. What offends are notquestions, but rather assumptions stemming from misconceptions.

Q: Do you offer assistance at all?

A: It is always polite to offer help to anyone if it appears that they may be in need of assistance. But sometimes if there is no imminent danger, it may be best to hold back and to allow someone to use his/her own skills. Obviously it depends on the situation, but remember to listen to the person’s response. Do they need “help” or just information.

Q: Do you wait for a person to ask for help?

A: It depends upon the circumstances. Always observe first. If the person seems to be doing fine, they likely don’t need assistance; however, it is always polite to say “hello” if your paths are crossing. If the person does need help, then your acknowledging their presence can be the conversation starter for them to take the initiative to request either assistance or information.

Q: How is SDCT sequenced in terms of instruction?

A: SDCT is sequenced in terms of instruction from guided towards self-initiated, independent movement commensurate with the students’ abilities and capabilities. In the beginning of instruction, considerable guidance is provided in teaching cane technique, basic concepts, and street crossing information etc. This should sound entirely similar to the conventional or traditional approach. Where the fundamental difference lays is in the gradual shifting of the responsibility for self-monitoring and environmental awareness to the student.

Q: Why such a long cane? If SDCT promotes staying “in-step” and “in-time” but cane tip is beyond stepping area, how is coverage ensured?

A: Walking in-step with the longer, white cane provides for adequate coverage when the person is walking with his/her back straight and effecting a normal gait. Experience has shown that walking at an individual’s natural walking stride while using a short cane all too often results in not enough reaction time to stop before overstepping a drop-off or hitting an obstacle. Hence, the length of the cane allows the person to walk at a normal pace and to have the confidence that he/she will have sufficient reaction time to respond to changes in the environment.

Q: How do you teach street crossings using the SDCT method?

A: Very similarly to the way it has conventionally been taught. The main differences are that very early on the student is expected to independently learn how to identify the type of intersection, traffic patterns, and when it is safe to cross. The instructor would only intervene in cases of imminent danger. For example, if a student veers but is not in danger, intervention is not warranted and the student would be instructed as how to recover his/her line of travel. Also, through questioning by the instructor, the student would analyze why the veering occurred and possible ways to avoid doing so in the future.

Q: How do you deal with someone who is intensely afraid or refuses to wear a blindfold?

A: The instructor takes the time to communicate with the student and to identify the basis of the fear. Also, because the instruction builds upon itself, the student is given opportunities to experience success and develop confidence before they are challenged to go beyond their own personal comfort zone; for example, mastering walking in a straight line in front of their house before learning to cross the street. This is not significantly different than a traditionally trained instructor might do with any fearful student, but because blindfolds are only used intermittently, if at all, the fear is sometimes reinforced rather than conquered. In situations in which students experience a great deal of fear, it is also extremely beneficial for SDCT instructors to share any past experience in overcoming their own misgivings about their ability to travel as either a blind person or when they first began cane travel instruction with sleepshades. The ability to perform as a role model is essential in the SDCT approach. Fear and apprehension over the use of blindfolds has more to do with lack of exposure and once the safety and efficacy of blindfold training is modeled and confirmed, fear and apprehension dissipate very quickly.

Q: Can a person use residual vision in SDCT?

A: SDCT instruction functions fundamentally from the non-visual perspective and our training is conducted with the use of blindfolds. It is not reasonable for students to learn to trust their cane when their faulty sight gives them contradictory or only partial data. It is also undermining if students believe the use of their residual sight was the key to their success and not their ability to synthesize correctly perceived non-visual information, their developing problem-solving skills and their capacity to monitor their own safety as they progress through various environments which may or may not be familiar to them. Mastery of SDCT techniques has often been shown to result in more efficient use and integration of residual vision after training.

Q: What are the basic philosophic differences between COMS and NOMCs?

A: It is probably safe to say that the fundamental philosophical similarities between NOMC and COMS is the desire to ensure that all consumers can travel independently, efficiently, and safely to the best of their ability. Each school of thought has been influenced by those who develop its techniques and principles based on beliefs, attitudes, and expectations. SDCT methods and philosophy are born from the actual experiences of blind individuals who felt that traditional training was often not sufficient to allow them to gain the necessary skills to fully engage in society. The roots of SDCT go back more than 50 years ago and it is fair to say that the philosophical premises regarding blindness are shared with those embodied by the National Federation of the Blind.

Q: Can a sighted person effectively teach SDCT?

A: Yes, there are a number of sighted instructors who have learned to train consumers using SDCT methods and they are as effective as their blind counterparts. Because all instructors must possess an unwavering belief in the skills they impart, sighted instructors must also “walk the walk” and demonstrate that they too can travel efficiently and safely in familiar and unfamiliar settings while wearing a blindfold. This is obviously not the case at all times while teaching, but acting as a role model is an important aspect in SDCT and many sighted instructors utilize their own use of blindfolds as a valued tool in their teaching.

Q: How much information does an instructor share using the top-down program?

A: Most “top down” instruction occurs very early on in the teaching of cane technique and concepts. However, the role of the SDCT instructor is not to transfer information, but rather to ask the questions that will allow students to gather the information for themselves. Again, the fundamental goal is to immediately begin shifting the responsibility for self-monitoring and environmental awareness to the student until the instructor is no longer a part of the process.

Q: What is your view on Sighted Guide?

A: Although there is nothing inherently wrong with Sighted or human guide, SDCT instructors strongly promote self-initiated, independent mobility and its use undermines this goal. Any time we lead a student, or allow them to use a human guide during the instructional process, we are robbing that person of an opportunity to learn and we are relegating that student to play a passive role and neglecting our responsibility to teach independent movement. Certainly, all blind persons in their private lives may use a guide (be they sighted or blind) at sometime, SDCT instructors discourage this practice only while the individual is in training.

Q: Can a person use or be taught SDCT if they are a dog guide user?

A: The orientation, problem-solving, and self-monitoring skills taught by a SDCT instructor can just as easily be used with a cane or dog. But in order to gain those skills the consumer must use a cane and then if they choose to train with a dog they must do so at an appropriate organization dedicated for that purpose.

Q: Can a person use or be taught SDCT if they use an ETA, GPS, APS, etc.

A: Because the fundamental core of SDCT is to teach students to use their own awareness of the environment, problem-solving, and experiential knowledge, SDCT instructors generally limit the use of ETA, GPS, APS, etc. When students have developed sufficient skills to gain or maintain their orientation in both familiar and unfamiliar surroundings, technology can then be introduced as an option of obtaining information. Such devices might also be used earlier in the training process with a student who may have additional disabilities which make managing information more difficult.

Q: Is a SDCT instructor always with a student – when do they back off? When do they go solo?

A: Whether, or when, a student is expected to travel without being accompanied by an instructor is a very individualized decision. In general, students are given “solo” assignments that are commensurate with their age and the stage of their training as soon as deemed appropriate as evidenced in each situation. Students must demonstrate their competency to safely self-monitor, properly gather and synthesize environmental information, and respond in a safe and effective manner and only then, would an instructor begin assigning solo routes that are within the range of experience for the student. Quite often, these routes may be in part, or entirely, novel.

Q: Do SDCT instructors teach pre-cane devices or AMDs?

A: Because the structure of many pre-cane and AMDs serve as a barrier to surroundings, they limit the exposure that blind children have with their environment. With a toddler, we would advocate the integration of an appropriate size cane for general mobility. During play we also promote the use of push toys that can be used out in front of the child. We strongly encourage children to freely move, explore, and to thoroughly engage with their environment and pre-cane and AMDs devices are not conducive to these ends.

Q: Do NOMCs prefer being called an instructor or specialist?

A: Either term is acceptable.

Q: What Textbooks are used for SDCT?

(Answer) The graduate degree program in O&M at Louisiana Tech University uses Cognitive Learning and Cane Travel Instruction (Mettler, 2008); Techniques Used by Blind Cane Travel Instructors (Morais et al, 1997); The 29th IRI, Contemporary Issues in O&M (Dew and Allen, 2004); The Nottingham Report (Dodds, 1984); Independent Mobility for Blind Infants and Toddlers, a Promotion Model (Cutter, 2007); and other readings as assigned.

Q: Why does SDCT utilize sleepshades?

A: SDCT is fundamentally based on nonvisual methods and principles. Some individuals may only have trouble with mobility at night, some during the day, and others with transitions from bright to dim areas; still others with tunnel vision, and a whole myriad of different scenarios. What is common among all consumers is that their visual impairment fails them in some degree. SDCT utilizes sleepshades training to teach that the cane, problem-solving skills, and experience will enable a greater degree of freedom irrespective of visual acuity or environmental conditions. Our goal is to enable consumers to efficiently and safely move without limiting themselves to what they can comfortably see. This allows for their self-esteem to be based on their true ability and not something as capricious as their visual functioning.

Q: Why does SDCT de-emphasize education/degree programs?

A: SDCT does not deemphasize university training, as is evidenced by the Louisiana Tech O&M graduate program. However, under the NOMC certification process, there is also an option to obtain certification via an apprenticeship program.

Q: What empirical research is available in SDCT?

A: Although there has been some research studies which included consumers trained by SDCT methods, no pure empirical research has been conducted to validate the efficacy of SDCT, nor traditional training methods for that matter. Both rely on historical knowledge, professional and personal experience and anecdotal evidence. Traditional instructors are not routinely asked to provide evidence that their interventions are effective, but this is typical within any paradigm shift in any profession as is illustrated by behaviorism verses cognitivism or whole word learning versus phonics.

Q: What does one have to do to become an NOMC if they are already a COMS?

A: There are currently two paths to becoming eligible to test for NOMC certification. The first is to matriculate through the O&M program and Louisiana Tech University and the second is to complete an apprenticeship with an existing qualified NOMC. Details can be found at www.nbpcb.org/nomc.

Q: Does the presence of an ‘extra long’ cane indicate a person is NOMC or SDCT trained?

A: Although the longer cane is symbolic of the SDCT model of instruction, some individuals who were traditionally trained often adopt a longer length once given an opportunity to become familiar with its use.

Q: Where does low vision fit into SDCT?

A: This question has partially been answered with the responses to Question 10 and 21. When a consumer indicates interest in utilizing low vision devices, he/she would be referred to appropriate sources. The role of the SDCT instructor is primarily to teach students that they can go when and wherever they want to go without fear the they might not be able to see something. Once they have developed true confidence in the cane and nonvisual techniques, then they can use low vision devices at their own discretion.

Q: When is SDCT taught to children?

A: SDCT principles can be used with children regardless of age. Clearly, the skills taught will not be the same for a toddler as they are for an adult just as with traditional training.

Q: When or is SDCT taught to persons with multiple impairments?

A: SDCT is fundamentally the way in which we approach each and every student. Obviously, when a consumer has additional impairments, modifications to instructional strategies and assignments must be made. The objectives, however, do not change. Our goal is to be sure that a student meets his/her ability to the fullest extent possible. A fundamental principle of SDCT is that any given person, regardless of the presents of any additional physical, mental or emotional circumstance, can learn to function comparable to their sighted counterpart. For example, a blind student with a developmental disability can learn to become as independent as any sighted individual with the same level of developmental disability.

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Edward C. Bell, Ph.D., CRC, NOMC


Director, Professional Development and Research
Institute on Blindness
Louisiana Tech University
210 Woodard Hall
PO Box 3158
Ruston LA 71272
Office: 318.257.4554
Fax: 318.257.2259 (Fax)
Skype: edwardbell2010
“I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”
— Stephen Jay Gould