The Braille Monitor                                                                                              February, 2004

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Self-Advocacy Skills Training
for Older Individuals Who Are Visually Impaired:
A Review

by Judy Sanders

Judy Sanders
Judy Sanders

From the Editor: The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) has developed something it calls its National Agenda on Vision and Aging, which involves a coalition of blind agencies and groups. As part of this agenda it has evolved seven goals to improve the lives of blind and visually impaired senior citizens. One of these goals includes a plan to help seniors become empowered as their own best advocates. Toward this end the AFB has created a self-advocacy kit, which contains a training manual, a participant´┐Żs manual, and a manual for families of blind seniors. Judy Sanders, president of the NFB's National Organization of the Senior Blind, has reviewed the contents of the kit. Here are her comments and some thoughts about the kit's usefulness:

During last summer's NFB convention the National Organization of the Senior Blind (NOSB) had its annual meeting. One of our speakers was Priscilla Rogers, a consultant with the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). She introduced us to a new self-advocacy training program available for purchase from the AFB publications department. Here is a description of the manual and some thoughts about its usefulness.

The training manual is divided into seven modules beginning with an introduction that includes an overview of the curriculum and a justification for why it is needed. All modules in the trainer's manual begin with goals and expected outcomes. They end with background notes which amplify what is being taught.

Module I: Importance of Self-Advocacy Skills Training. This module calls for filling out a self-advocacy inventory to be collected by the trainer. This seems awkward to me because it cannot be filled out independently unless one is still able to read print. Will people be honest, or will they put down what they think they should be feeling if they are filling it out with a reader? The background notes in this module do emphasize the importance of a positive attitude about oneself. This is an attribute which can be found throughout the curriculum.

Module II: Philosophy of Self-Advocacy. The Helen Keller connection to the AFB is evident in this module; she is the first example offered of individual advocacy. Without commenting on Helen Keller's advocacy skills, I do not think most blind people think of Miss Keller when considering self-empowerment; in addition, she had advantages through family connections that are not available to most of us. It seems to me that citing a more contemporary advocate would have been in order.

One disappointing aspect of the second module is that it portrays the beginning of the independent-living movement in the '60's as the beginning of the disability rights movement. This may be accurate for disabled people who are not blind, but we know that the first national civil rights movement of blind consumers began in 1940 with the founding of the National Federation of the Blind. This is a simple historic fact, and it would have been accurate and constructive for newly blind people if the developers of this curriculum had given blind people credit for this important social accomplishment.

Module III: Vision Loss and Psycho-Social Adjustment. This module is designed to let people know that their reactions to their vision loss (whatever they are) are normal. It does seem reasonable to acknowledge that vision loss is a big change in a person's life, but some of the language and role playing exercises seem stilted. To my ear the language does not flow naturally. However, the narrative is written with the expectation that people will pass through this adjustment phase and ultimately achieve a positive frame of mind.

Module IV: Understanding Interpersonal Communication. This module begins the meat of the issue. It teaches about passive, aggressive, and assertive behavior. It is very clear that assertive behavior is the best way for a disabled person to keep control of his or her life.

Module V: Taking Ownership of Your Life. This module is the key to self-advocacy. It lets participants know that blind people can make choices about how we will live our lives. The curriculum emphasizes something we in the NFB have known and taught each other: our attitude toward our blindness will determine our future. (Note: In the Braille outline that accompanies this manual, a transcription error appears in the title of Module V.)

Module VI: Empowerment and Making Choices. Thanks to the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind, consumer choice has become an important part of the Rehabilitation Act. This module is designed to teach seniors how to take advantage of consumer choice in selecting rehabilitation services and learning how to take control of their daily lives.

Module VII: Rights of Everyday Living and Self-Advocacy Strategies. This module brings to the attention of a newly blind person things like knowing that one can insist on having documents read aloud and that one should not sign anything without knowing its content.

The training ends with a self-advocacy inventory of ten questions. The person is supposed to circle the number that corresponds to his or her behavior on a scale of one to three, with 1 signifying "usually" and 3 meaning "rarely." Here are a couple of samples:

If I cannot see the menu, I ask if it is available in large print or Braille.

When the salesperson addresses the person with me and not me, I point this out to him or her.

This set of manuals is available from the Publications Department of the American Foundation for the Blind for $59.95. For this price you receive a notebook with large print, cassette, and disc versions of the materials. Is it worth the money? Parts of it are extremely helpful; however, the National Federation of the Blind offers literature and live human beings who give the same encouragement for free.

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