I was back in mobility training this morning. It's been six months since my last session. My trainer is very busy so I had to wait that long until she was available to work with me again.
It was actually a short and easy training session. We went to the Languages building on campus to find my classroom for next Fall. Since I would pass that room each time I headed to class last semester, it was no problem for me to locate it today. I just needed to identify which door was the right room.
We reviewed skills I learned before, such as finding the bathroom, the elevator and the main offices. I have a good memory. I was actively moving around these locations for months so I definitely remember how to find them. Like I said, easy session.
The fun part was that they were cleaning the building while we were there. Trash cans were in the wrong places. Desks and chairs were out in the hall. The mat in front of one door, which is a landmark for me, was gone. It was challenging to move around all the obstacles but I could do it. What I liked is that my trainer let me go on my own. She didn't warn me of what was ahead. she didn't rush to move things out of my way. She gave me the chance to try it myself. That's important because in real life, there will always be unexpected obstacles. The other students sitting on the benches and floor waiting for classes to start represent a good example of this.
As you may know from previous blogs, the local transportation service has had some trouble meeting my special needs. They often took me to the wrong door of the building. Once, they took me to the wrong building altogether. I don't realize I'm in the wrong place until after the bus driver is gone. Then I'm on my own to deal with the situation. That's no good.
The simple truth is that I no longer trust the drivers. I don't feel confident that they will take me to the right place. I need to be able to know, somehow, that I am definitely where I should be. That's why I proposed the idea of a braille sign in the entrance of the building. My plan is to tell the driver to put my hand on that sign. They can not leave until I have confirmed I'm in the right place.
That's how the whole project began. What happened next was quite unexpected. My dad knows someone who works in adaptive architect at the university. This man was very happy to help with my situation. He would have a braille sign put up in the Languages building. My state deaf-blind Outreach trainer met with this man to further discuss the idea. The next thing you know, they are planning to put braille signs on every entrance of every building in the entire university. This way all students who are blind would be able to use these signs to help them move around on campus independently.
It is a wonderful and amazing project. One little braille sign has turned into a way to help others who are also blind. I'm very pleased and excited.
We huddled around the entrance of the Languages building to discuss where to put the sign and what to put on it. We are thinking of using a simple abbreviation system to identify the building and tell the location of each particular set of doors. For example, the entrance I use might become "Lang E." That would indicate the East entrance of the Languages building. It will be simple but effective.
I do have a concern, however. My mother and the two trainers began discussing the idea of accommodating people who are blind and in wheel chairs. The sign would need to be low to be reached by people in wheel chairs. It is the elevator buttons issue all over again.
I tried to explain that if the signs are too low, the braille will be unreadable by people who are standing up. You need a good angle in order to read braille. It's impossible to read braille that is too low. The angle puts the wrong part of your fingers on the braille.
I tried to demonstrate this concept. I showed them the most comfortable reading place for me on the wall. I explained that I could read the sign a little lower. I could not read a sign where they wanted to put it. I'd either have to touch the braille with my fingernail or feel the braille upside down. Either way, it would make no sense to me and the sign would be useless.
I'm afraid I didn't get my point across. Everyone keeps saying it won't be fair to people in wheel chairs if they can't read the braille. So we are going to accommodate people in wheel chairs, which in turn, makes the signs inaccessible to other people who are blind. Does that make any sense to you?
A person who is blind may be able to stoop a little to read the sign. I am physically impaired as well as blind. I simply can't do that. I would actually have to stop and get down onto my knees. That's something I won't do in the entrance of a building. I may get the sign I need but it might be a sign I can't even read. What's the point of that?
I'm all for accommodating people in wheel chairs. But as far as I know, there are no blind people on this campus who use wheel chairs. There is a deaf-blind-blind person who is physically impaired who needs one simple braille sign. In the excitement of a campus-wide project, I fear that some may be forgetting that little piece of information. We will have to wait to see how this one turns out. In the meantime, I have another mobility lesson scheduled for next week.
(Written on June 22, 2009)