The Alabama Freedom Center for the Blind recently opened its doors as the first Structured Discovery program offered in the state of Alabama.
Located at the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB) Regional Center in downtown Birmingham, the nine-month training program offers people who are blind or have low vision an alternative to traditional independent living skills training.
In addition to cane travel skills, students enrolled in the program learn other skills useful for independent living, including Braille, technology training, and home management skills.
The training program is a residential immersion learning environment. Students live in a nearby apartment, and much of the instruction occurs in the living space instead of a traditional classroom.
“Structured Discovery is different because it is a completely non-visual method of learning,” said VR-Blind and Deaf Services Assistant Commissioner Curtis Glisson. “Students wear blindfolds to block out residual sight during instruction. Other methods allow participants to rely on residual vision cues, but Structured Discovery won’t allow you to rely on vision at all.”
Structured Discovery also uniquely allows for orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists to be blind. In fact, because the training method is non-visual, blind instructors often have an advantage over sighted O&Ms.
Glisson said that ADRS began offering a Structured Discovery cane travel option to interested consumers more than five years ago.
“The facility we used was in Ruston, La.,” he said. “AIDB had a strong desire to bring this training home to Alabama, and we thought that was a good idea.”
After agreeing to open an Alabama Structured Discovery program, Glisson said there were lengthy discussions as to where to place the facility in the state.
“With AIDB in Talladega, that was certainly an option,” said Glisson, “but I personally feel that downtown Birmingham is a better choice for this type of program. It’s an urban environment. It has public transportation. For people learning cane travel, there are important skills you might need that you would likely miss in a small town.”
Jointly funded by AIDB and ADRS to specifically teach ADRS consumers, the Alabama Freedom Center has the capacity to train up to 10 students for each nine-month training. Six students are currently enrolled.