Meet an Orientation and Mobility Specialist
Welcome! I think you'll enjoy reading about the remarkable orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists who were highlighted in a column "Meet a Member" that I wrote for the newsletter of AER's O&M Division. Their names and links to their stories are listed here:
O&M Division Newsletter
Vol. 8 No. 4: Summer 2001
Featuring our New "Meet a Member" column
We are excited about a new newsletter column -- "Meet a Member" -- in which we plan to introduce one or two members in each newsletter. This issue features Wanda Giebelhaus -- we thank her for allowing us to "visit" her, and welcome you to read and get to know her! If you have suggestions for other members to feature, contact the editor Dona Sauerburger, she'd love to hear from you!
Wanda Giebelhaus, COMS
Like most of our members, Wanda Giebelhaus, who is Canadian, is both typical, and unusual. She is typical because she is a dual O&M specialist and teacher for the visually impaired for a public school, is the only COMS for miles around, and loves teaching O&M but is disappointed because it's difficult to schedule enough of it with her students. She is unusual because she went into the blindness profession late in her career -- this seems to be a growing trend, and speaks well for efforts to recruit people into our field!
Wanda Finds O&M
Wanda went to college after graduating high school, but when she got married she quit and became a housewife and mother. She raised two children, moving a number of times because of her husband's work. However Wanda often felt that she needed something to call her own, especially when her children started school.
When the family lived in northern British Columbia, the local college and Simon Fraser University started a teacher training program because it was hard to keep teachers there. Wanda applied and was accepted when she was 38, and started teaching at the age of 41 -- she likes to say she was a "late bloomer"! Wanda then taught children in kindergarten through Grade 3.
Before long, however, Wanda's life underwent serious upheavals, and she found herself a single mother with two university-bound children. She needed a career that would "cement" her employability, and several things happened that led her our way. One was that she had a visually impaired child in her class for grades 1 and 2, and Wanda enjoyed working with her. Another was that her district offered a forgivable grant for teachers willing to become trained in vision. She applied and was accepted.
Challenges with Caseloads
Because there was no appropriate program at the time in Canada, Wanda went to the University of Northern Colorado, where she earned her Masters in O&M and TVI. In her days as a housewife and mother she never dreamed she would get a Masters degree, and she is justifiably proud. She fell in love with the field of O&M. She says this was because she spent two summers under the instruction of Jim Brisnehan, COMS (the very same person who designed Division Nine's logo!), and his passion for O&M poured over into his students and Wanda.
Wanda has something else in common with many of us -- she sometimes feels inadequate, and realizes how much more she still has to learn. She plans to take a course in low vision next year. Low vision is a popular topic -- it was among the top ten topics members said they wanted for our Division Nine O&M conference.
Wanda now teaches in School District #60 in Peace River North, a city of about 16,000 in northeast British Columbia. Due to funding cutbacks, her district is piggybacking her services, and so her caseload includes children with disabilities other than blindness, such as Downs Syndrome and autism. She finds that these students need very specific programming, and unfortunately it is at the expense of her visually impaired students -- she feels that this impairs her ability to provide adequate services to her visually impaired students. Unfortunately, the first service to go is usually O&M, which she feels should be the last to go. Most of her O&M training is done after school hours, but there is still a real lack of hours to do what she considered to be quality O&M service.
The Joys of O&M
Wanda has been sharing her concerns with her supervisor and feels that next year she will have more time to provide O&M. She thinks the situation will improve if she can convince the administrators that programming and providing O&M for the visually impaired students is enough for one teacher to do.
This issue -- helping administrators and policy-makers to understand O&M well enough to program appropriately for it -- is one that Division Nine members chose as being among the top 10 issues that they want Division Nine to help them address. Our Division Nine Chair Laura Bozeman has established a committee to address this issue, chaired by Rob Wall. If you want to become involved you can contact him at 615-936-5173; .
Meanwhile, Wanda loves teaching O&M. She enjoys the kids and adults, and marvels at how well they do once they get that feeling of independence. Their transformation when they progress is wonderful, and Wanda finds that giving people tools to live independently is very rewarding. She also likes being outdoors (but she hates traveling during the harsh weather they have where she lives -- sometimes it hits 40 degrees below zero!).
Life at Home:
Wanda recently became certified in O&M, and her district is now in the process of contracting her services out. Her main passion and dream is to eventually work with guide dogs in some capacity or another -- she wishes she lived closer to a school that trains guide dogs.
Wanda is proud of her son and daughter, both of whom are doing wonderfully. Her son just earned a Science degree in kinesiology and in August will go to Portland to study to be a sports chiropractor. Her daughter is in the third year of her mechanics apprenticeship. They share their house with a dog, a cat, and three hamsters (and whatever else her daughter can bring home!). Wanda enjoys crafts and reading, and takes long walks with her dog, who seems to be the only one getting thinner and trimmer!
We thank Wanda for letting us put the spotlight on her life in our first "Meet a Member" column -- it's gratifying to get to know some of our members and their struggles, hopes, and achievements. If you have suggestions for members to feature in future newsletters, please contact the editor.
My most challenging student was also my most rewarding. This student was mentally delayed, very aggressive, and had the best spatial positioning I have ever seen in a child she could hit, scratch, head butt, bite and kick without a moment's notice and ALWAYS find her mark! Others said she would never learn to use a cane.
I started by teaching her to trail (which she did not like), and slowly progressed to sighted guide (which I did not like because then I was within reach and fair game!). I ended up guiding her by having her hold onto my belt loops.
When I suggested teaching her to use a cane, everyone involved was horrified. "How could you give her a lethal weapon?" they said. Fortunately, at that time I was doing my practicum under Julie Bunn, a wonderful O&M instructor, and she supported me.
Yes, my student did use the cane as a lethal weapon at first, but when she became aware of how much information she could gather with the cane, she loved it! Whenever she used it as a weapon, her cane was taken away from her, and so she used it as a weapon less and less. Now she uses the cane very well, and travels independently with it.
Wanda's greatest desire is to eventually work with dogs and people. She is shown here during her trip to The Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey.
O&M Division Newsletter
Vol. 8 No. 5: Fall 2001
We are pleased to introduce you to two members this time, and have two more planned for the Winter issue. If you have suggestions for members to "meet" in the Spring issue, please contact editor Dona Sauerburger.
Dan Kish, COMS
It seems that every O&M specialist has a different story about how they got into O&M, and Dan Kish is no exception. As a blind child growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, California, he always hated O&M. He is now an avid user of the cane, but he didn't accept its use until well after his teens (so he can relate well to teenagers who resist it!). He was main-streamed into regular neighborhood schools and participated in typical activities with the other children he rarely heard the words "can't" and "shouldn't." As a result, he naturally learned most things he needed to know to get around independently, and there was little that his O&M instructors taught him that he didn't already know.
Life as a COMS
Dan never imagined that he would enter the field of special education, let alone O&M. He graduated with a Bachelor's in Psychology and Human Development from the University of California in Riverside in 1988, and earned his Masters in Developmental Psychology from California State University San Bernardino in 1995. He did his Masters thesis on the impact of a self design pilot program of echolocation training on O&M competence in blind children. Though he had no interest in entering the blindness field, he thought a well designed echolocation training program would make an effective, practical contribution to the O&M field, and he intended to go on in other directions afterward.
However he was asked to present his thesis findings at the conference of the California Association of Orientation and Mobility Specialists. The audience was extremely enthusiastic, and Dr. Diane Fazzi, Chairman of the California State L.A. O&M program, asked if he'd ever considered becoming an O&M specialist. He hadn't, but the seed was planted, and soon afterward he entered the program. In 1996 he earned his Masters degree from California State University Los Angeles in Special Education, and in October of that year he became an AER Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist.
Dan feels that this career choice was the right one, as he enjoys teaching O&M immensely. He loves watching people grow to embrace and activate their potential, especially children. He also enjoys collaborative partnering and mutual learning with others, especially those who share in a prosperous vision for students and who encourage them to embrace life to the fullest. Some of the things that he finds most challenging or difficult with O&M are negative attitudes, which he feels can decimate a program of instruction that might otherwise be effective, and transportation it's hard enough to maintain an itinerant schedule without having to super impose transportation deficit issues.
TEAM BAT -
Learning the fun way!
Dan has taught O&M for five years, always on an itinerant basis. He has carried a case load of as many as 23 students at one time, working for or contracting with state and private rehabilitation agencies, school districts, and individuals. His students and clients have included people with ages ranging from two to mid 50's, but the vast majority have been school aged children. These children have included those who are gifted and those with severe multi handicaps, with vision ranging from highly visual to totally blind. He currently is Youth Outreach Coordinator at the Blind Children's Learning Center in Los Angeles, where he coordinates a range of services to visually impaired students and provides O&M training to students.
Dan's biggest thrills as an instructor were when his students surpassed him in performance. Although his own skills with echolocation have amazed others and were featured in a television program recently, he has no interest in emphasizing what he can do, but rather, what all blind people can do when they are provided opportunities and proper experiences and/or instruction. He is eager for the day when it isn't considered national news when a blind man rides his bike to the grocery store or takes a hike by himself.
Recently Dan began coordinating a mountain biking club for blind youth called "TEAM BAT" (web site is www.teambat.org). Its members proudly refer to themselves as "BATS." They ride solo along technical terrain using integrated techniques in audition, taction, and kinesthesis. "Technical terrain" requires a moderate to high degree of bike handling, and may include ruts, boulders, stream crossings, and sharp declines, inclines, twists and turns. Some of the BATS have ridden terrain that would challenge moderately experienced sighted riders. They have been featured on Ripley's "Believe It or Not," and in the May 2001 issue of "Mountain Bike Action" magazine. Two of the totally blind riders and one rider with very low vision can now out perform even experienced sighted riders.
World Access for the Blind
What they found is that the learning of perceptual and motor skills and personal confidence seem to be accelerated with the TEAM BAT program beyond any other instructional approach. As a result of the publicity, Dan has received hundreds of phone calls and e mails from all over the world asking how they can learn these techniques, so he decided to come up with a way of delivering. He has given presentations on echolocation throughout the U.S. to professionals, paraprofessionals, blind people, and parents of blind children, and he founded a nonprofit corporation called World Access for the Blind. He will soon resign from the Center and devote more time to the corporation, although he plans to continue teaching O&M and supervise instructors under his organization.
The purpose of the corporation is to mobilize resources on a global scale to explore, support, develop, promote, and implement cutting edge approaches to making the world as accessible to people with blindness as it is to people with sight. Their initial projects involve enhancing movement and navigation abilities of blind people. They plan to
train instructors in the latest, most effective techniques of nonvisual movement and navigation, and implement a new paradigm of instruction in movement and navigation founded in recreation and discovery.
Outdoors and loving it!
They are also in negotiation with Dr. Leslie Kay, who developed the SonicGuide and KASPA, for the rights to further develop and distribute ultrasonic devices based on his technology. Dan visited New Zealand twice and worked with Dr. Leslie Kay in learning to use KASPA. Using the KASPA, he was able to make tight slaloms among rows of poles the thickness of one's little
finger; reach amid a cluster of objects for the one desired; and strike a 3-inch target on a table top with a golf ball. Dan is also working on a prototype clicking device for enhancing natural echo cues.
In his "off" time, Dan needs physical and mental challenges, as well as quiet times alone (he does his best thinking this way). He has always enjoyed the outdoors; as a child he longed for the mountains and woods and relished trips to his grandparents in the country. He likes to bicycle, camp, and backpack. Sometimes he takes a student with him for a "growth" experience (he says that often it is he who ends up growing). He loves working with children and youth, and hopes to adopt a child of his own in the next couple years.
Dan would like to develop a training program to enable blind people to enjoy the outdoors without restrictions or apprehension. The program would address issues such as finding and following trails, crossing streams, acquiring accessible maps, locating and reading trail markers and identifiers, survival skills, and (often the hardest part) transportation to the desired points of interest. These skills would undoubtedly transfer to everyday travel, and the experience of mastering the outdoors could serve as an actualizing moment to make people aware that they can master the world, despite the barriers looming before them.
We wish the best of luck to Dan in his new ventures -- his successes can undoubtedly benefit all of us and our students and clients.
Sighted people, especially children, hone their perceptual and motor skills through engaging in a variety of high-speed, physically demanding, often competitive activities. They develop an awareness of their bodies, and how to relate their bodies actively and dynamically to the environment. Such activities are also commonly used to develop good sportsmanship, team work, and a positive sense of self and personal achievement.
Blind kids are often not allowed or encouraged to learn in this way. Why should sighted kids have all the fun, and reap all the rewards? I believe that discovery and recreation-based learning is the quickest way to achieve advanced, holistic functioning. I think that this also applies to a large extent to adults they, too, develop themselves through recreation and leisure. Recreation and discovery based learning is very nicely facilitated by the teaching approach that we are developing at World Access for the Blind.
Lori has packed more living into her 26 years than have many of us who are twice her age. She has done mountain bike racing in Costa Rica, competed in all of the tandem bicycle events in the Paralympics last year; she is a three time cancer survivor, and while battling breast cancer she had to sacrifice her position on the U.S. Women's goalball team for World Championships and forfeit a spot on the alpine ski team competing in European championships; with assistance from the Association of Online Cancer Resources, she started a listserv for Retinoblastoma survivors and their families and then, since there are issues that some parents of recently diagnosed children aren't ready to face, she started a second listserv for discussions by Retinoblastoma survivors about the risks of secondary cancers, genetics, and other long term affects; she has earned two bachelor's degrees (History and American Studies) from Notre Dame, where she was instrumental in founding the office for students with disabilities; and by the end of this year she will have earned two Masters degrees from Western Michigan University (WMU) one with emphasis in O&M and the other in Rehabilitation Teaching.
It is no surprise to learn that Lori considers herself "an extremely driven person who needs to be challenged," and needs to balance her school or occupation with athletics and other interests. Her desire to meet people, learn, and compete drives her to try all kinds of new things and to excel. Being active is crucial to her mental and physical well being when times got tough, her involvement in horseback riding, goal ball, swimming, skiing, cycling, and other activities helped keep her going.
Her first cancer battle was with Retinoblastoma, a cancer of the retina. She won this fight for her life, but it was at the expense of her vision, and she became totally blind at the age of two and a half. The day after her second eye was enucleated, she rode her tricycle through the halls of the hospital, making turns and avoiding the walls. She and her family didn't know it at the time, but she was already using echolocation.
Rebellion and success
Lori's parents were very supportive. Once they recovered from the shock, they got her involved in various activities to expose her to all kinds of experiences and environments, including dance roller skating. She learned that skating was a way for her to eliminate social barriers, and discovered at a young age that if she was able to do all the things that the other children did, they would accept her.
Before Lori was school age, she had been introduced to braille and had a homemade cane. She excelled with braille, but carried the cane only when she had to she could get around well without it and didn't see any purpose in using it. She sometimes tried to lose it by leaving it in strange places, but eventually someone always retrieved it, even when it had been left in a park for days.
If the shoe fits . . .
When Lori was in third grade, she received O&M services at her mother's request. Lori continued to be rebellious and defiant, and on the final lesson the tormented O&M instructor told her mother that Lori had the potential to be the best traveler he had ever taught, but that she just didn't want to do it.
That was the end of her O&M training until she went to junior high school, and the guidance counselor made the mistake of saying that she didn't think Lori should use a cane in the crowded halls because someone might get hurt. For a rebellious child, that was a great impetus for her to carry and use her cane. Also, by this time Lori had become interested in getting a dog guide, and had learned that this required good orientation skills. So she started to take O&M more seriously.
Unfortunately her school system was reluctant to provide O&M services, and what services were provided were restricted to the school grounds. Lori wanted to get out and travel, figuring that since she planned to go to college, she needed to know how to travel independently. Her mother occasionally drove her two hours to WMU where she received lessons from practicum students in the O&M program. Little did she know that one day she would be in their shoes!
Although Lori was successfully involved in many activities where she was the only blind person, through the years she became aware of the frustrations of other people who are blind and visually impaired but who lack confidence, did not have O&M skills, or are sheltered. She wanted to make sure that everyone had opportunities to explore the world, and also be able to walk away from situations if they so chose.
So after graduating from Notre Dame, Lori went to WMU for a degree in Rehabilitation Teaching. Classmates marveled at her abilities to get around, but she felt that what she did was nothing special, and that with confidence, determination, and appropriate skills, other blind people could do the same. So she went back to WMU for a second Masters in O&M.
Not surprisingly, now that she has completed her course work and internship, Lori's future plans include living life to the fullest and on the edge. She will first concentrate on getting her certification for O&M and for Rehabilitation Teaching, and look for a job where there are good transportation options and access to training for her cycling goals. She will continue pursuing her dreams of ski racing and tandem racing in international events, and would like to use sports and recreation as a core to enrich other people's lives. She also wants to promote integrated opportunities for blind people, disability awareness, and cancer awareness. A future project will be writing a book, but she hasn't quite figured out the logistics for that.
Lori is always ready to travel new places, but loves the times when she can return to her hometown of Warsaw, Indiana and visit her parents, their two Persian cats and Lori's retired dog guide, as well as Lori's sister and her family, who live on a farm 20 miles away from her parents.
Through it all, Lori's repeated theme is, "There is always more to learn" and at present she is learning about technology such as the GPS Talk with typical enthusiasm. Lori, we can all learn a lot from your approach to life and your enthusiasm thank you for sharing it with us in this column.
O&M is great because there is always something new. Each client has different needs and it is my job to figure out how I can empower them to make the most of their skills and travel safely and independently. The part of O&M that I find most rewarding is when I can see how clients' lives are enriched. Being able to travel anywhere safely and independently is a freedom that is irreplaceable, and traveling independently can do wonders for confidence and self esteem.
It was neat to go behind the scenes and see just how my O&M instructors had been taught. I believe that my understanding of issues of blindness helped me a great deal, and my course work at WMU provided me with a stable platform from which to work.
Perhaps the most important part of my training was my internship under the supervision of Dan Kish, COMS at the Blind Children's Learning Center in southern California I cannot thank him and the other Center staff enough. I worked under instructors who were blind and sighted.
In my internship I found that working with children was more enjoyable than I could ever have imagined, and I enjoyed the challenges. I kept reflecting on my own childhood experiences and thinking, "Just how did my parents teach me about the layout of a neighborhood and all of the concepts? Where did that mental image and knowledge come from?" I know how crucial it is to introduce children to a variety of experiences, and the opportunities are never ending.
I am also extremely grateful for the urban training my internship provided. The streets of Los Angeles are far from the cornfields of Indiana. My wealth of knowledge grew from the streets of mid America, where there is commonly no surge of parallel traffic, to the on the go six lane boulevards with turn arrows in L.A.
When working with adults it is so neat to observe people regaining their lives. In working with children, you know that you are instrumental in their future. O&M has so many options -- itinerant and center based, working with children or adults, community building, changing attitudes, enriching lives -- the opportunities are unlimited!
O&M Division Newsletter
Vol. 8 No. 5: Winter 2002
The two members featured in this issue -- Bob Dougherty, COMS and Dian Heil, COMS -- each distinguished themselves through their work in organizing the last two conferences of the Central-Eastern O&M Association (COMA). The conferences were outstanding, and we appreciate all the hard work they put into it. They also have something else in common -- they each went back to school to become an O&M specialist when they had already been working many years and had families who needed their support. We feel fortunate that they agreed to let themselves be featured -- thanks Bob and Dian!
Bob Dougherty, COMS
If you have suggestions for a member we can feature in the Spring newsletter, please contact the editor Dona Sauerburger (page 2).
Bob knows what it's like to overcome hurdles. He grew up in Penn Hills, outside of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and when he was only three years old, he was struck with poliomyelitis. He survived thanks to his father, who was a doctor, and Dr. Jonas Salk, who was working in Pittsburgh -- Bob was one of the first children to test Salk's vaccine.
Along the Path to O&M
The disease left him with a limp, which affected him as he grew up. For example, he loved sports and was good at baseball, but Little League would not accept him because he couldn't run fast enough. Even in college, he overheard people talk about his limp. These hurt him, but he learned to adapt and overcome the hardships.
Bob's mother died when he was 17, and his father died several years later. These tragedies brought Bob and his four brothers very close together, and strengthened their faith in God, which helped them deal with the heartaches and overcome the challenges. Bob and his brothers still get together often -- all live in Pittsburgh except one who lives in Illinois.
After Bob graduated with a BA in psychology from what is now known as Findlay University in Ohio, he went home to Pittsburgh to begin his long struggle to find a job. A friend told him about the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children (WPSBC) and he applied. At that time, 1974, WPSBC had just established a program for children who have handicaps in addition to their blindness, and Bob became one of their first teacher aids.
Bob enjoyed the students very much, but after 2 years of working as a teachers aid, he thought about advancing himself. He was inspired by the classroom teacher, Debbie Schmidt, to overcome his great reluctance to go back to school and get a degree in special education. He went to night school and earned his M.Ed. in special education from Duquesne University, and became a classroom teacher for the multi-handicapped visually impaired students.
He later completed the University of Pittsburgh program which qualified him for certification to teach children with visual impairments. At Pitt, he was encouraged to also get his certification in O&M while he was there, but there were no openings for O&M specialists at WPSBC. He talked it over with his wife and his professor and, trusting his faith in God, he completed the O&M certificate program at Pitt in 1990. By coincidence, when Bob graduated, his good friend Mike Pini, who was one of the O&M specialists at WPSBC, left to work in the Pittsburgh city schools, and so Bob took his place.
Bob has been teaching O&M at WPSBC for 11 years now, and he loves it. He enjoys working with students who are multi-handicapped and, compared to teaching a group of children in the classroom, Bob feels it's "really cool!" to work one-on-one with them in a variety of situations -- in the classroom, outside the school, and in the mall. His students, aged 3 to 21, vary widely -- some use a cane and some don't; some are ambulatory and some are in wheelchairs (some of the wheelchairs are one-armed and some are power wheelchairs), some of his students are verbal and some do not have understandable speech. He has learned that his students each need structure; repetition; and most importantly, they need to be given a chance.
Developing O&M for Special Students
One thing that Bob is especially pleased with is the fact that he and the other O&M specialists at the school work with each child as a team with the classroom teacher, occupational and physical therapist (OT and PT), and behavior specialist. The OTs and PTs work with the children in the classroom, and the O&M specialists usually take them out. They meet with each other frequently and find out what the others are working on with their student, and often realize that their goals and strategies overlap a lot. They write the IEP together and help each other with assessments. Of course no system is ever perfect, but even though team members will occasionally work counter to each other, usually this team approach works wonderfully. Having the children work with occupational and physical therapists in addition to the O&M specialists is great, and each team member learns a lot by working with others who know their students so well. The teams also consult with an optometrist, a psychologist and a psychiatrist.
About 3 years ago, the O&M specialists, occupational and physical therapists, and the optometrist got together to write a curriculum for teaching visually impaired children who have functional vision and use a power wheelchair. The curriculum includes flow charts, and sections for the OT, the PT and the O&M specialist. In 2000 they presented the curriculum at the annual conference hosted jointly by the Penn-Del chapter of AER and the Pennsylvania Conference of Educators for the Visually Impaired. They are now looking for a publisher.
Bob and his colleague Felicity Menasche, COMS have also taught a course on functional mobility for children with multiple handicaps to prospective O&M specialists through the University of Pittsburgh. The course was held at WPSBC so they could demonstrate their adapted canes and power wheelchairs, and they showed videos of students. Bob has adapted the joystick for power wheelchairs so his students can hold them -- each wheelchair adaption is individual because each student has individual needs.
In 1997 and again in 2001, Bob was the chair of the Onsite Committee for the Central-Eastern O&M Association (COMA). It was a wonderful growing experience for Bob. The entire O&M department was involved, and Bob got to know the staff in other departments well -- housekeeping, maintenance, dietary, etc. -- and they gained a mutual respect for each other.
Bob and his wife Beth have been married 22 years, and they have two sons. Ben is 21 and is a chef, having graduated from the International Culinary Academy and worked for a year at the Palace Cafe in New Orleans. He's back in Pittsburgh now, but eagerly looking for an opportunity to move back out! Michael is 19 and a freshman at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Bob loves politics, sports, and religion. He's a big Steelers fan (of course!) and watches the games with his family, and talks politics with his son Ben. He also enjoys landscaping his yard, and watching movies with Beth. He and Beth continue to learn more about faith in God and Jesus. And they now have a new two-year-old "son" who doesn't talk back -- Fluffy, their West Highland White Terrier!
Bob takes great pride in WPSBC and his work there. WPSBC was recently awarded a blue ribbon from the U.S. Department of Education, presented by Laura Bush at the White House. It is the only school for the blind to have received a blue ribbon. Congratulations to WPSBC, and to Bob for his dedication and creativity in serving his students there!
Bob's Adventure with the Bike Police!
I have had several encounters with the police as I work with my students outside near the school, which certainly make for an interesting day! The police in our area patrol on foot or on bikes. Once I was working with a young teenager who darted into the street to make her crossing. On the other side, I lectured her strongly about the dangers of darting, because she had done this before and I wanted her to understand how dangerous it is. She didn't like to hear it, and acted very upset and protested loudly. A policewoman walking nearby saw it, suspected that a stranger was harassing a young girl, and came over. Fortunately, as soon as I explained that I was an instructor at the school for the blind and that she was my student, the police officer apologized. I said I appreciated that she was concerned and that she had checked with us.
My other encounter didn't work out so well. Again, I was working just outside the school with a student. He has functional vision, and this was one of our first lessons outside. It took a lot to even convince him to go on the lesson because he was terrified about going outside. By the time we reached the nearest corner, he had gotten a little loud and was displaying behaviors. I was so focused on comforting the student and maintain rapport (this is very important -- it takes a year or two to establish rapport and let the students get to know you and work with you) that I didn't notice a lady in a convertible talking on her cell phone. The next thing I knew, we were surrounded by three police on bikes, looking stern and wanting to know if everything was okay. This time I was very intimidated -- I showed my ID card and explained that I was an instructor, but they didn't seem convinced. Without thinking, I blurted out "I'm teaching my student how to walk!" They finally backed off.
Dian Heil, COMS
"Seventeen fullfilling years!" is how Dian explains how long she's been teaching O&M. Considering the sacrifice she had to make to become a COMS, it's gratifying to know that it was worth it for her!
Was O&M what she had hoped?
What impelled Dian to consider O&M was her desire to get a full-time position because her children were nearing college age. At that time, she and her husband Rich, who celebrated their 35th anniversary this year, had three children, the oldest of whom was in high school. Dian had been working for 8 years as a substitute teacher for the special education centers at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit III. This Unit covers the area around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Dian grew up. While substituting, Dian taught every subject and special class (gym, home economics, science) from elementary to secondary, and also continuing education (ages 18 to 21). Her students' disabilities included cognitive, hearing, visual, physical, and emotional disabilities. Many years earlier, Dian had worked for the same Allegheny IU as a special education teacher, before she took off 11 years to stay home and raise her family..
At the time that Dian was considering her career change, she happened to get a full time substitute position in the class for visually impaired children, and she enjoyed working with the students. She was told about the Vision Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh -- when she investigated, she decided that it was for her.
So she left her job to attend Pitt's program for almost a year and a half. This time was intense because Dian had three very active children and a husband. But she loved every minute of it and felt that the program was great, and she was able to juggle her home life and her school life.
After graduating, Diane was hired for Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV, which covers the schools in the counties north of Pittsburgh. For the next 15 years, she taught only O&M, but two years ago she was asked to add vision support students to her caseload.
Dian found that O&M is all that she thought it would be, and more -- she hadn't realized that the job could be so creative. During her internship she learned she would be teaching in good weather and bad, but that didn't bother her because she had always liked the outdoors (she use to hunt). She enjoys developing lessons, and always incorporates daily living skills. She also enjoys doing inservices for the students' classmates, teachers and parents. And one part of her present job that Dian especially likes is having a variety of students on her caseload -- pre school through high school.
Beyond O&M . . .
The best part about teaching O&M for Dian is seeing students develop self confidence and self esteem in their accomplishments. It is great when they cross the street by themselves with a big grin on their face as if to say "I did it my self!" Dian likes it when the student takes on the challenge and also realizes the importance of O&M instruction, particulary when they ask her to plan a lesson to meet their immediate needs or help them learn a special route. The most rewarding part is when a student sees the need to be an independent person, and she feels justifiably proud when her students become independent citizens.
Dian is able to teach her students at their own pace -- she has no deadlines to meet and can spend as much time as needed on specific skills. However she wishes she had unlimited time for each lesson -- she likes to work with her high school students after school so they don't have to hurry. She likes being able to give students a lot of first-hand experience to learn new concepts in their environment. She also enjoys team teaching with the student's vision teacher, classroom teacher, occupational and physicial therapists, etc. to help develop her student's O&M skills.
Believe it or not, with all the things about O&M that Dian loves, there are several things about her job that she doesn't like! One is all the paper work -- she would rather spend her time teaching, developing lessons, making maps, consulting with the team, etc. The other thing she doesn't like is teaching any student both Vision Support and O&M -- she feels that each student should be taught these by two different teachers. The part about teaching O&M that Dian finds the most challenging is working with parents and school personnel.
Dian feels gratified whenever former students call her, and when she can help student teachers develop their skills to become future O&Mers. She has received awards for her outstanding service -- in 1989 she received the Annie Sullivan Award from her Intermediate Unit, the agency that is now called Pittsburgh Vision Services recognized her as the 1990 Outstanding Professional, and in 1996 she received the annual Education Award by Butler County Association for Retarded Citizens.
Dian also enjoys sharing her knowledge with others. She has presented at the COMA conference, the conference for physical educators for Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Conference of Educators for the Visually Impaired
So ... did Dian and Rich manage to get all three of their children through college? Apparently yes! Their son Kurt is a doctor, their daughter Kris followed Dian's footsteps and is a special education teacher, and Ken is a civil engineer. Dian and Rich now have four grandsons (all aged three or under!) and are expecting their first granddaughter in February.
Dian's life outside her job includes many projects with blind people. Since 1989, she has organized 7 sports clinics for visually impaired people, and organized four golf benefits to raise money to take her students and visually impaired adults to sports competitions (Pennsylvania Association of Blind Athletes and the US Association of Blind Athletes). She was a Pennsylvania men's and women's goalball coach and USA assistant women's goalball coach -- some of the blind athletes whom she has coached have gone to the Paralympics. The Pennsylvania State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance recognized her efforts with the annual Layman Honor Award in 1992.
Dian loves to travel, and was able to coach in Canada and England -- in 1996 she was awarded the annual Robert Paradis Memorial Plaque in recognition of her "contributions to the spirit and high quality" of the national Capital Goalball tournament in Ottowa, Canada. She also enjoys cross stitching, and in her spare time she likes to golf with her husband and friends. She used to love to bake and cook, but now she like to eat at her favorite restaurant! With all that she's involved in it's little wonder -- we salute you, Dian, and thank you for allowing us to glimpse into your life!
O&M Division Newsletter
Vol. 8 No. 6: Spring 2002
We are pleased to present you with another member to meet. If you have suggestions for a member we can feature in the Summer newsletter, please contact the editor Dona Sauerburger (page 2).
Gene Bourquin, COMS, CLVT, CI
A young deaf-blind man unwittingly made a great contribution to our profession while he attended graduate school at New York University in 1990. When he got O&M instruction to get around campus, he put our profession on the radar screen of his friends, including an ex-computer programmer who was then a freelance interpreter for the Deaf, Gene Bourquin.
Jumping into our field
Gene became fascinated. He asked his deaf-blind friend to find a program which he could attend during summers to prepare him to be an O&M specialist. Thus it was that he moved to Little Rock, Arkansas for about a year, attending University of Arkansas Little Rock and completing the requirements for certification in O&M in 1995.
Gene joined a growing cadre of O&M specialists who entered our profession after starting another career, but Gene goes one better -- O&M is actually his third or fourth profession. His first profession lasted 21 "long" years as a systems programmer on IBM mainframe computers. In 1986, when he was a volunteer at a community health facility, he met an interpreter for the Deaf and got hooked. He attended the sign interpreter program at the College of Staten Island for 2 years and became an interpreter for the Deaf in 1989. Two years later he earned a masters degree in Deafness Rehabilitation from New York University.
Caption: Gene serving as interpreter at the 1994 graduation ceremony of the College of Staten Island.
So how did Gene get from deafness to blindness? When he was in an Interpreter Training Program, his very first internship assignment was to interpret for a deaf-blind man. Like many professionals when they first work with deaf-blind people, Gene was extremely nervous -- he couldn't even sleep the night before. But when he actually did the assignment, he loved it. He became good friends with that deaf-blind consumer, and became involved with the deaf-blind community. He found that this community is a remarkable, caring community that opens the door and welcomes others, and through it he met many incredible people. He has attended about 6 conventions of the American Association of the Deaf-Blind, and many of his best friends are deaf-blind. "And now," as they say, "you know the REST of the story . . . "
Attaining certification in his professions became a goal for Gene as soon as he entered our field. He became a COMS (Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist) in 1995, a CI (Certified ASL/English Interpreter) in 1997, in 2000 he became a CLVT (Certified Low Vision Therapist), and as this newsletter goes to print, he is awaiting the results of his test for a Certificate of Transliteration (CT). He felt justifiably pleased when he was certified in both O&M and ASL/English Interpreter -- he is one of a few (if not the only one) to have such credentials. His quest for knowledge and skills has not ended -- he is considering getting his doctorate.
As soon as he completed his O&M training, Gene started working at the Helen Keller National Center for deaf-blind Youths and Adults (HKNC) in Sands Point, New York -- he has been there for 6 years now. He first was the supervisor of HKNC's Mobility and Low Vision program, and now he is the Coordinator of HKNC's innovative Community Services Program. Gene is also on staff at the Lexington School for the Deaf as their O&M specialist and low vision therapist.
HKNC's Community Services Program (CSP) is one of the few programs in the U.S. which provide comprehensive rehabilitation services directly to deaf-blind people in their own community. Most deaf-blind people in the U.S. receive their rehabilitation from local or state agencies that serve deaf people or blind people, or they go to HKNC's center in New York for comprehensive training specifically geared to the unique needs of deaf-blind people. HKNC's CSP, however, serves deaf-blind people in their own community in downstate New York -- an area which has about 11 million people. Six CSP staff skilled in working with deaf-blind people provide rehabilitation teaching, O&M, job development and coaching, and case work to consumers in their homes, communities and workplaces.
Running this program is a daily challenge for Gene -- the biggest challenge is outreach and case finding so the staff can provide the needed services. Gene feels certain that there are too many people out there who are not getting the services or who don't find out about the services for a long time because the system doesn't do a great job of letting people know what's available.
Gene feels lucky because his job lets him be a part of the deaf-blind community, which has brought him many rewards. The work itself also brings great rewards -- he says, "Nothing feels as good as success, and seeing deaf-blind students become independent travelers is a great feeling."
Gene enjoys doing research projects, such as the research he and his colleague did to measure the success of using graphics on cards for deaf-blind people to communicate with the public and get help to cross streets. He also enjoys finding new techniques and tools to use during travel, and presenting to others about O&M for deaf-blind people.
Another thing about his job that Gene considers to be a treat is that it has brought him to foreign lands. He has worked, researched and/or presented regarding O&M in Japan, Thailand, China, New Zealand and the Virgin Islands, as well as around the U.S. He just recently returned from Thailand, and last year he was asked to work as an interpreter/guide for the Japanese delegation to the First Assembly of the World Federation of the Deafblind in Auckland, New Zealand. That trip, he says, was a real cross cultural experience, meeting deaf-blind people from around the world and working closely with Japanese colleagues. He speaks Japanese but not well enough to completely follow a meeting, but the delegation was very sensitive to his communication needs, and it was a real team effort. Gene worked with another interpreter there -- the deaf-blind person was fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and Japanese Sign Language as well as several other languages, so Gene used ASL and his interpreting partner used Japanese finger braille (which is braille tapped onto the fingers of the deaf-blind person). It worked out really well, alternating between 2 completely different languages and modes of communication.
Caption: Gene (left) teaches basic American Sign Language
to deaf-blind people in Osaka, Japan in 1999
Gene (right) with his deaf-blind delegate from Japan,
Shin Kadokawa, at the World Federation of the Deafblind in Auckland, New Zealand in 2001
But there are negative sides about the job, too -- Gene sometimes is frustrated when he sees the prejudice and discrimination that deaf-blind people face. Gene's hope is that our profession will pay more attention to deaf-blind travelers, and he has been working toward this goal for years. Students in most O&M university programs visit The Seeing Eye in nearby New Jersey, and Gene has encouraged them to come to HKNC during their trip. He developed panels of deaf-blind clients to speak with these students because he felt it was important that new O&M specialists hear directly from deaf-blind people about their experiences with O&M.
And outside of his work . . .
Gene has also published several articles for vision professionals. Topics include how to work with deaf-blind people using sign language interpreters, how deaf-blind travelers can more effectively get assistance to cross streets, and how services for deaf-blind university students can be coordinated and organized. He is presently working on an article about how instructors can teach deaf-blind people to communicate with the public.
At the 2000 AER conference in Colorado, with support from our O&M Division, Gene met with many of the O&M personnel preparation programs to discuss how HKNC can contribute to the profession and improve training for deaf-blind consumers. The universities were very forthcoming, and Gene hopes to initiate some projects based on their input.
One such project is HKNC's first week long national seminar to prepare O&M specialists to work with deaf-blind people, to be held in November, 2002 (see announcement on page 21). Gene hopes to bring COMS together from around the U.S. and Canada, and explore ways to better provide O&M to deaf-blind people.
Although he has changed or added careers three times, there is one project that Gene stuck with for many years -- his work for people with AIDS, a disease which has affected his personal life. In 1995, his friend died of HIV - they had met in the cub scouts when they were 7 years old and had been best friends for 35 years - and several years ago, his ex companion also died of HIV.
Gene provided "buddy" services to people with AIDS who are deaf, deaf-blind and blind from 1989 till 2000. Before that, he volunteered for a gay community health clinic. This clinic provided HIV and safer sex counseling early in the epidemic; developed the first AIDS screening in the US; and provided general health, STD testing and treatment. Gene now sits on the advisory boards of the Beth Israel Medical Center hospice program for the Deaf, and of the New York Society for the Deaf Ryan White HIV Program.
Gene and his parrot Dusky live in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Gene loves New York City for its cultural institutions, theater, and the hustle bustle of the place, which is not surprising for a person with as many interests and talents as Gene. He is a member of a Shin Buddhist local temple, and attends dharma sessions on Sundays. On his trip to Thailand last January, he visited the former capital city Ayutthaya and its ruins and ancient Buddha images, Watts (compounds), working elephants and temples. Gene felt it was spectacular and very inspirational, reminding him of how important is the compassion of the Buddha, especially in these times.
Gene, we salute your dedication, versatility, skills, and willingness to share your knowledge with us!
We've come a long way from the times of Laura Bridgman and Helen Keller. Today deaf-blind folks can do just about anything. I have deaf-blind friends who travel the globe, have completed graduate school, and can put together a computer with spare parts. deaf-blind people have worked in the White House and teach at Tokyo University.
Those of us who are not deaf-blind need to realize the potential of every individual. Most of the time, the O&M limitations of my students are actually the limits I have in my head. Underestimating deaf-blind people is something we should all be careful to avoid.