Navigating Immersion Training: Are Sleepshades Blinding Me?

7 Oct
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From an early age, I’ve said there are two things I would never do: go into psychology or become a teacher. However, I am now getting my master’s in psychology and I’m going to be a teacher! Before I can begin classes that will prepare me to be a teacher of blind students, I will don a pair of sleep shades for eight hours a day over the course of ten weeks to learn braille, cane travel, non-visual cooking, and accessible technology. I’ll be posting about my adventures periodically, and I’m eager to have a conversation with you through the blog’s comments.

My mom and dad are both blind; he’s a university professor and she is the President of the Canadian Federation of the Blind. When people hear this, they often exclaim, “Oh, you must do so much at home!” (In truth, I probably do less than my friends, because I’m much more stubborn…I just refuse!) What a lot of people don’t realize is that I don’t think of my parents as blind; to me, they’re just my parents. I’m always calling my mom for recipes or to learn how to do things around the house just as any other daughter probably does.

I graduated a few years ago with my undergraduate degree in Linguistic Anthropology, which is the study of how language affects and represents culture. I loved it, but—as you might guess—it’s not something that you can do full-time and still afford to live comfortably. By and large, people in the field work with minority groups and First Nations peoples. That is unless, of course, you become a university professor, and that was something I absolutely was not about to do!

I wanted to be in a hands-on job that helped people. I like academics, but I don’t like the restrictive, office-based environment of professorial research. I much prefer being out and about with the public. Since the age of 12, I always had “advocacy for the blind” on my résumé, because I grew up in a society that saw blind people as incompetent and dependent. As a young kid, I used to get as annoyed as my mother when grocery store clerks would expect me to sign the credit card receipt. “Huh?” I’d say, “I don’t know. It’s her card.” This, of course, would leave the cashier with no other response than what he or she should have done in the first place.

Most instrumental in my path to Louisiana Tech, I think, was my job as a swimming instructor for the past nine years. I enjoyed helping my students—from six-month-olds to 95-year-olds—make tremendous strides. Some of them wanted to swim across the lake, a few needed the confidence to get in a pool at all, and others just wanted to learn enough to not drown. I just loved teaching the techniques that would boost people’s confidence, and—as I understand it—that’s a big part of the role for teachers of blind students.

As I was preparing to begin my immersion training, several of my friends asked how I could keep my eyes closed all day long. “Uhhh, I’ll wear sleep shades,” I would say.

Then, almost in rapid-fire succession, people would begin to share stories that they had heard about little kids who had been abused and locked away in dark dungeons for years to the point that they couldn’t see. Or people would say that, while I probably wouldn’t go totally blind, I might not be able to see as well ever again if I didn’t use my vision for long periods. Initially, it was easy to brush these thoughts aside, but then as people in the graduate school began raising fears, I actually started to worry: was I doing something detrimental or cavalier?

My professor-dad, as usual, came to the rescue. His area of expertise is in the study of cognition and perception, so—with a pile of research in front of him—he explained to me that my eyes are as developed as they will ever be. Just as it takes a few extra seconds to transition from a dark bedroom to a brightly-lit bathroom in the middle of the night, the same would be true for me.

Because I grew up with two, blind parents, I had a good idea of what immersion training would be like, and—while I can see—there are still plenty of things that I do non-visually just because that’s how I was taught. I can’t wash dishes and know if they’re clean without touching them (thanks, mom!), but at the same time, even though my parents had braille on everything in the house, I am actually learning to read it for the first time.

In my first couple of weeks here in Ruston, there have been plenty of challenges and many surprises. I’ll leave those for my next post. Join me as I take this adventure through immersion!

Series: Navigating Immersion Training

  1. Navigating Immersion Training: Are Sleepshades Blinding Me? (October 7, 2014)
  2. Navigating Immersion Training: The Importance of Red Bull (November 7, 2014)
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3 thoughts on “Navigating Immersion Training: Are Sleepshades Blinding Me?

  1. Pingback: Giving Freedom Back to a 13-Year-Old in Georgia | Blog on Blindness

  2. Hi,
    I just read your post on having to wear sleep shades and immersion. Wonderful! What struck me is that both your parents are blind, reason being that I knew a blind guide dog trainer named Paul Gabias. It’s an unusual name and I’ve got to ask if there’s any relation there? If so, please touch base with me. My twitter name is n2fgc.
    Thanks!
    Lee

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