For the past two weeks, students could be seen navigating the University’s halls, grounds and stairways using white canes and wearing blindfolds. The immersive experience is part of the Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies’ (BLVS) Orientation and Mobility (O&M) program.
While many of the classes are conducted in a distance, online format, or a blend of both-on and off-campus learning, these two weeks provide unique, hands-on training.
The training experience culminated in navigating the sidewalks of Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill neighborhood on a hot and humid day in June. Students experienced the challenges outdoor, urban environments pose for those who are blind or have low vision firsthand. Before they began their exploration, they broke into small groups and discussed how the lighting and environment – including cracks in the sidewalk and protruding tree roots – can affect one’s ability to travel safely, while living with blindness or low vision.
One by one, they donned their blindfolds and attempted to navigate the uneven pavement under the guidance of instructors Jamie Maffit, MS, COMS, CLVT, coordinator of the O&M program, and John Ford, MA, adjunct professor. Gently guiding their white canes back and forth across the sidewalk, they discussed the various obstacles they encountered and determined a plan of action using the skills and theories they’ve learned about to safely travel down the busy city block.
The goal of the hands-on lessons is to merge classroom work with real world experiences. By stepping into the shoes of a blind individual, the students can understand both some of the challenges their clients face and which strategies to utilize when working with clients.
According to Ms. Maffit, the experience allows students to not only enhance their clinical skills, but it also provides a forum for them to connect with classmates and faculty.
“This is an opportunity for these distance-learning students to come on campus, deepen their relationship with faculty and among themselves, and be welcomed into the greater Salus community,” she said.