Association for Travel Instruction Formed!
by Dona Sauerburger, COMS
May 1999 newsletter
Metropolitan Washington Orientation and Mobility Association
On May 16, at a conference in Kalamazoo hosted by Western
Michigan University (WMU) and coordinated by Bill Wiener, an association was
formed for Travel Instruction for people with disabilities other than blindness.
This was the culmination of a landmark project funded by Project ACTION to
develop standards for Travel Instructors for people with disabilities other than
blindness, and a curriculum to train the instructors. This fall, WMU will start
preparing Travel Instructors, using the curriculum.
There were 85-90
people at the conference altogether. They included Travel Instructors who had
been teaching people with disabilities other than blindness to travel
independent for more than 20 years, as well as those who were just getting
started, employed by or contracting with transit companies to train their
paratransit riders to use the buses. There were also several O&M
specialists, representatives from universities interested in training Travel
Instructors, and consumers.
We O&M specialists know what it’s like to feel
unrecognized and alone -- it’s one of the reasons we like WOMA! Nevertheless,
it’s hard to imagine how isolated some of the travel instructors felt when they
developed their programs decades ago. With the exception of those in New York
City (where the public school system has 40 Travel Instructors!), many Travel
Instructors developed their programs without knowing that others were doing the
same thing. Each of them learned the hard way what to teach, and how to teach
it. Some of them met other Travel Instructors for the first time at this
conference or in the Steering Committee that organized it.
Elements of Travel Instruction
Travel Instructors who have
trained people with disabilities long enough learn that there are elements that
are necessary for travel instruction besides teaching routes and street crossing
and bus-riding skills. The programs of these experienced Travel Instructors have
these elements in common, even though many of them were developed in isolation.
These elements include “stranger approaches” (colleagues or plain-clothes police
pose as “strangers” who entice students to be sure they respond appropriately
and safely), and teaching problem-solving skills and how to cope with being lost
or having their route blocked.
At the conference, Travel Instructors
Patti Voorhees and Steven Garcia led a session on teaching problem-solving
skills. One story that was shared at their session illustrates the importance of
this professional training instead of simply teaching people how to get to their
destination. It took place in suburban Maryland about ten years ago. A man who
is cognitively disabled was trained by a Travel Instructor to get to and from
work by bus. He learned it very well and traveled independently for several
years without incident.
However one day he took the wrong bus. He had no
skills to handle these contingencies, had never been taught how to problem solve
or recover when lost, or even how to phone for help. He lived in the streets of
Washington, DC for several days until he was finally found. He was then shown
how to call for help, and how to handle unexpected events.
Photo caption reads: Jack Gorelick (left), considered
by many to be the Grandfather of Travel Instruction, receives the Distinguished
Career Award from Margaret Groce, coordinator of the New York City public
schools travel instruction program. Becky Allen (right), Executive Director of
the ARC of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, shared stories that illustrated the
need for standards and personnel prep curriculum for Travel Instructors.
Saturday evening’s banquet was truly inspiring. Rebecca Allen, who had
experienced travel instruction as a program supervisor and also as an advocate,
talked about the need for the profession of travel instruction, relating her
Then the Distinguished Career Award was presented
to Jack Gorelick, who is the first person we know of to establish a travel
instruction program for people with disabilities other than blindness. He began
more than 30 years ago. I was struck by the parallel between his work, at a time
when he said everyone was convinced that people as severely retarded as his
clients could never travel independently, and the work of Russ Williams twenty
years earlier. Russ has told me that the administrators at Hines Hospital were
very courageous to overcome the liability issues and concerns of other staff who
didn’t believe that blind people could travel safely by themselves, and who
thought that the blinded veterans should not be allowed to travel outside
independently. Two decades later, Jack overcame similar ignorance.
Photo captions read:
A Professional Association is Born
- Throughout the conference, professional issues were discussed and shared
with the participants, such as (from left): program standards and quality
indicators (Peggy Groce and Elga Joffee); certification programs (Eileen
Siffermann); body of knowledge; ethics (Jack Gorelick, not shown, and Bruce
- staff development (Rosanne Bopp); and university personnel preparation
programs (Helen Lee) as well as association issues such as by-laws (Bonnie
Minick) and newsletters and publications (Chris Wright-Penov).
morning after the banquet, Rick Welsh gave an articulate, inspiring overview of
the need for a professional organization. The participants then unanimously
voted to establish the organization. One of the Travel Instructors, who had
taught people with disabilities other than blindness to travel independently for
15 years before realizing that anyone else was doing the same thing, was moved
to tears when the vote took place. Others were also deeply moved; one dedicated
Travel Instructor with 10 years’ experience explained later that she hoped that
the formation of an association would help legitimize her beloved profession.
Sessions were then held to begin the process of establishing the
organization with by laws, a newsletter, a code of ethics and a mechanism for
awarding certificates of proficiency. It is hoped that this organization will be
able to establish a certification program so that there will be some assurance
of quality for people hiring and being taught by travel instructors.
Forms were distributed for charter members to join the association, and
membership forms were taken for colleagues at home. The by-laws will be mailed
to all charter members, and after they are approved, officers and board members
will be elected.
To find out more about the association, contact Dr.
William Wiener at Western Michigan University (616-387-3453;
Photo captions read:
- Dr. Richard Welsh asks the key question; participants enthusiastically
respond, and an association is formed.
- During the Town Hall Meeting at lunch (above), participants discussed
issues of concern.
- Travel Instructors Ernest Sheeler with Transit Plus in Ohio, and Norma
Munoz with Pittsburgh Public Schools were among those Travel Instructors who
proudly displayed posters of their programs.
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