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If you suddenly became blind, from whom would you immediately seek services?
A physiotherapist? An occupational therapist? A vocational counselor? A psychologist?
You might need the services of any or all of these professionals at some time during your adjustment to visual impairment, but your most immediate need would be the ability to carry out the necessary tasks of day-to-day living. You would need some techniques that do not require sight for performing such routine tasks as color-matching your clothes, identifying your medication, pouring your morning coffee, and setting the thermostat on your heating or cooling system. In other words, you would need a rehabilitation teacher.
Don't be discouraged by such a clinical-sounding name. Although rehabilitation teachers are highly trained professionals who enable visually impaired persons to carry out virtually all of their daily activities, they do not practice their profession within the limited confines of some distant hospital or rehabilitation center. In fact, many states have a commission, bureau, or department for the visually impaired that employs rehabilitation teachers to instruct blind persons in their own homes using their own appliances. To emphasize this fact, these teachers were originally known as ''home teachers of the adult blind.''
Rehabilitation teaching had its beginning with the 'London Home Teaching Society' in 1855. Teachers were dispatched throughout England to teach embossed reading systems to the blind. "Home teaching" came to America with the establishment of the Pennsylvania Home Teaching Society in 1882. Today, rehabilitation teaching programs exist in every state. In addition to the delivery of instruction directly into the homes of visually impaired persons, many public and private rehabilitation hospitals and centers now employ rehabilitation teachers as members of multidisciplinary teams, which can also include mobility instructors, vocational counselors, social workers, and psychologists.
Besides instructing visually impaired people in such daily living tasks as reading in Braille, writing with tactile hand guides, and homemaking, rehabilitation teachers are also prepared to understand the emotional impact of visual loss on the impaired person and his or her family. Teachers use this understanding to enhance the success of the teaching program.
For example, one of the first assurances a visually impaired person might receive from a rehabilitation teacher is the information that he or she is not the only person facing the loss of sight on that particular day. The knowledge that 179 other people in the nation have also experienced visual loss during the previous twenty-four hours may lessen the feeling of isolation. Applying the formula of .00253 legally blind persons per 1,000 people in the United States, the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services estimates that there are 29,182 legally blind people in the state, for example. (Legal blindness is defined as visual acuity of 20/200 in the better eye or a visual field of 20 degrees or less [180 degrees is considered normal].) Application of the .00253 formula to an estimated United States population of 260 million results in a projection of 657,800 legally blind people in the nation. Of this number, we estimate that 65,780 became blind within the past yearapproximately 180 within the past twenty-four hours, as mentioned above.
Another service provided by the rehabilitation teacher is the organization of support groups composed of just such newly blinded persons. In these groups, people receive encouragement from each other and knowledge from invited speakers about eye conditions and treatment, special devices for people with visual impairments, career information, and the like.
Whether the services of a rehabilitation teacher will be readily available to the 65,780 people who lose their sight each year is not certain. This dilemma is related to the average age of the typical newly blinded person and the amount of time needed to be an effective itinerant rehabilitation teacher.
The fastest growing segment of the population with visual impairments is over sixty-five years of age, and most of these people will continue to receive instruction in their own homes on their own equipment rather than attend a comprehensive rehabilitation center, which is usually considered more suitable for young, vocationally bound clients. Therefore, the time it takes for the teacher to travel to the homes of students, along with the time necessary for record-keeping, will continue to influence the amount of time the teacher can spend with students.
Records indicate that, if teachers visit each student every other week for one and a half hours and rely on family members and other volunteers to monitor progress in such areas as handwriting and sewing, the average newly impaired person will require one year to complete his or her program. Research and experience have shown that a rehabilitation teacher can complete teaching services with approximately 30 clients in a twelve-month period. To determine the number of teachers needed to serve the 65,780 people who will become blind in the United States each year, we divide by 30 and find that the number is 2,193. This translates into 97 teachers needed in the state of Illinois alone.
Determining the number of rehabilitation teachers needed is easier than determining the number actually available throughout the United States. According to estimates by experts in the field, there are between 500 and 700 teachers in the nation. Even if we arbitrarily double this to 1,400, this is still 793 fewer teachers than are necessary to serve the thousands of American citizens who lose their vision each year.
The best advice to any person who becomes visually impaired is to get on an application list of an agency for the
visually impaired as soon as possible. Fortunately, blindness usually progresses
slowly, allowing the person to continue performing most activities at reduced
efficiency until teaching services can be arranged. Finally, if it is necessary
for a person's name to be put on a waiting list, most agencies will refer that
person to another program such as the Regional Library for the Blind and
Physically Handicapped, which provides recorded books at no cost to the patron.
Learning To Live With Blindness: Rehabilitation Teaching