By Grace Anderson

Editor’s note: Grace presented a poster session about her rehabilitation training experience at the Association of Vision Rehabilitation Teachers Conference in Birmingham, Alabama. She offered to write about her personal experience for VisionAware.

woman standing by poster  

I was born with bilateral coloboma of the retina and iris along with a range of other visual anomalies. I was raised with parents who taught me to be independent. When I couldn’t locate an object I had dropped on the floor, they would give me verbal cues of where it was located. For example, they would say the object is to your left, right, in front, or behind you. The skills they instilled in me at an early age came in handy when I started school.

At the age of five, I was mainstreamed into a school system that had never had a blind student. Slowly the school system discovered what accommodations benefited me most. I was referred to an orientation and mobility specialist. It was at then that I received my first cane. My independence blossomed from that point on. I went on and graduated high school and started college. I felt these conventional methods of cane travel made me an excellent traveler, but I was wrong.

Enrolling in Structured Discovery Method Course in Alabama

In June 2014, I moved to Birmingham, Alabama, from a small town in north Georgia. I soon found out I was an adequate cane traveler and needed more training. The opportunity for more training presented itself in September 2014. At this time, I met the lady who would hand me the keys to my independence and change my life forever. Her name was Carol Braithwaite. She worked for the state of Alabama as a rehabilitation teacher. She told me she would be teaching an extensive six-week independent living skills course utilizing the structured discovery method. By participating in this training, I would learn to perform tasks under blindfold.

Learning to Cook Under the Blindfold

I had minimal experience in the kitchen at the time, so the thought of cooking under blindfold terrified me. Carol told me to strongly consider this opportunity and let her know my decision the following day. The training was scheduled to start at the end of October 2014. After much consideration, I called Carol and told her I was going to step out on faith and participate in this training, but participating in this training did not change my feelings about cooking under blindfold. I also told her I could be one of the best students she ever had or one of her worst. Carol said she approved of my decision, and we would cross the cooking bridge when we got there.

The first few weeks of training were very smooth. I found myself encouraging my peers by sharing my experiences with them. I had the most experience when it came to performing tasks non-visually because my classmates had recently lost their vision, and I had been blind for 24 years.

Cooking Day Arrives

The day finally came when the cooking aspect would be addressed. My task for the day was to slice some vegetables for a salad. As soon as I put the blindfold on, I felt anxious. I found myself braced up against the refrigerator unable to move. One of my instructors literally had to drag me over to the sink where the vegetables were. My instructor now likes to say that she had to unglue my feet from the floor. I told this instructor that I could not perform the task at this time and needed a minute to compose myself. I stepped into another room adjacent from the kitchen. By this time, I was visibly shaking. I wanted to be able to prepare meals independently, but how was I going to accomplish this feat? A few minutes later Carol walked in the room and inquired what was wrong. When I explained my concerns to her, she said, “Oh yes, you did tell me this would be a barrier for you.” After thinking for a few minutes, she told me to come with her. I followed her into the kitchen where she told me to place my hand on top of hers. I did as I was told and together we sliced some french bread and a cucumber. After slicing together a few times, Carol told me to try it on my own. I was able to slice the food independently.

Other Parts of the Intensive Training

Braille, adaptive technology, and cane travel were also addressed in this training course. Throughout my education, I asked my vision teachers to teach me braille. I wanted to be as efficient as possible to compete with my sighted peers. Their responses were always the same, “You have some vision and have enough on your plate without adding braille.” I am now proficient in uncontracted braille and am working on learning contracted. Adaptive technology has been my friend for as long as I can remember. I used close circuit TVs (video electronic magnifiers) all through my elementary school years. In middle school and high school, I upgraded to portable close circuit TVs and handheld magnifiers. I have used magnification software on a computer for many years now.

The combination of braille, independent living, and assistive technology skills I have learned over the years have made me the person I am today.

Learning Cane Travel Skills

There is one more blindness skill that has made me the woman I am today, and that is cane travel. As I mentioned earlier, I received my first cane when I was in kindergarten. At first, I didn’t want to use a cane. I would purposefully leave it at home when I really needed to carry it with me and use it. My feelings about using a cane changed when I got tired of not being able to keep up with my friends trick-or-treating in my neighborhood.

carol and grace standing by poster depicting Grace's story

Proud to Use Cane

Today, I proudly use a cane out in public. I am not letting my blindness stop me from pursing my dreams. I will graduate with my undergraduate degree in social work next year and then plan to go on and pursue a graduate degree in vision rehabilitation therapy. It is my hope to instill in my future consumers the confidence and skills my rehabilitation teacher instilled in me.