By Chad Nelson
What the heck is BLIND Inc.? This is the question I asked myself the first time I talked to a friend about this training center. BLIND Inc. Is a National Federation of the Blind (NFB) structured Discovery training center located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The training program teaches non-visual skills using what is called Structured Discovery. This method of teaching basically takes a concept, such as teaching braille, and builds on that first concept by introducing more and more complex skills using problem solving techniques. Students learn to incorporate what is learned into other aspects of life by using the skills that are taught in one class and carrying them over into another class. For example, after a student learns to read braille, they can begin using braille to read recipes, make braille labels to put on jars full of spices, or access a braille control panel on a microwave oven.
The first month of training was an evaluation to assess my level of knowledge in each class. This is a standard part of training for each incoming student. Each instructor took the time to assess my level of skill. For example, in braille class, I indicated that I knew the braille alphabet, and knew how to write the letters. This is called uncontracted, or grade one, braille. From that point I went on to learn the rest of the UEB, or Unified English Braille, code. Throughout the next month I used my new braille skill to read my schedule, as well as labels in the kitchen where I learned new ways to make different kinds of dishes. Let me just say that I came into training with a great deal of cooking experience, even Ericka always compliments me on my cooking and how much she enjoys it.
I was pretty nervous about the Cane Travel class, not because I didn’t know how to cross streets or take public transportation, but because I was concerned about my ankle and how it would hold up after having been broken twice in the past year. I didn’t have any trouble with that ankle, but I did have some trouble in the first couple of months when I fell off curbs, driveway edging, or missed a step outside the center. My right knee was skinned up almost constantly for the first 60 days of training. I think this happened because I was trying to get used to a new cane, and a new technique of using it.
The last class I will describe, my favorite of all of them, is Industrial Arts. This class is mainly woodworking. There are four projects that are required in this class: two boxes, a cutting board, and a large independent project. The first box is made using only hand tools to get used to working with wood. The other projects are made using standard woodshop power tools, such as a table saw, Compound Miter Saw, Plainer, and other common tools. I am finding that I enjoy working with wood and making useful things.
All classes, including travel, are conducted with the student wearing sleep shades. This is to teach them non-visual skills instead of using what remaining vision they have. The reason behind this is that if the student does lose their remaining vision, they have the self-confidence to continue with life and have the skills that will give them poise and independence.
I will say that for the most part, it is an amazing program, but some days are better than others. But isn’t this the case with life in general?