The main theme of community travel is independence. From the first day, students are taught that they are learning to "do things by myself." This is reemphasized every lesson. Children arrange for their own transportation, eat with friends in restaurants without adult supervision, use public bathrooms, ask for help from appropriate people, handle money and are responsible for time management. They also learn the fun things there are to do in their home communities. In the end, students must transfer what they learned in the community travel program to their own neighborhoods; to freely move about their home town without direct adult supervision. By the time students graduate they should be able negotiate any town, urban megalopolis, or small burg, and quickly self familiarize themselves; and, in a short time, become competent, independent travelers.
The community travel program is a critical part of the special education curriculum. Blind children will not develop independence during the normal course of their lives unless parents and educators provide direction, high expectations, and insistence. Early and vigorous intervention is vital. Failure to combat dependency eventually places a financial and emotional burden on the society and drastically reduces the quality of life for individuals.
A typical community travel day begins with students arriving from their various schools. They depart from their buses and enter the school where they begin the morning routine. They must bring sufficient funds for lunch and for purchases. They must bring braille or talking watches, and a talking calculator. They need a purse, or a wallet to carry money in. Money must be folded in a consistent pattern. Bathrooming should be taken care of in the morning. Students travel on the city transit system to an indoor mall. After six or seven lessons, students ride the bus without the staff.
While on the bus, students work as a team (with a team leader) to solve the days special problem (for example: What would you do if you got lost at the mall?). They report their conclusions during the lunch time conversation. Initial lessons are held at an indoor mall. Meals are at a sit down restaurant for the first year or two. Students need to experience a sit down restaurant where they must communicate with a waitress, have good eating skills, socially interact with adults and with teammates, and then pay their own bills (handle money). Getting to the restaurant (or moving through the mall) may require the use of either an escalator or an elevator (both should be practiced). Time skills are developed when students keep track of when they are to eat, and when the bus comes and goes.
After arriving at the mall, students learn landmarks and clues in specific areas, starting with the front entrance to the mall and expanding further and further outward from the entrance. While learning these specific areas, students do orientation checks (saying what is in front, behind, and to their sides). They also use a braille compass to orient using cardinal directions. After establishing major landmarks in a designated area, students are disoriented and asked to reestablish themselves in space. More formal "drop off" lessons are held when students have grasped a large spatial area. Students are disoriented and dropped off somewhere within the boundaries of the learned space. They use their skills to reorient and find a destination. Drop offs are only attempted when students have thoroughly mastered an area. They are meant mostly to give the students a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Reorientation exercises and drop off lessons may be an individual or team exercise, depending upon the discretion of the teacher.
Movement through the mall involves going from one learned area to a new area that is to be mastered. The trip between areas is called the route. Route training involves the forward and backward chaining together of landmarks along the route. It requires sequencing skills, spatial memory, and sensory awareness. Good cane skills are also required while moving along the route. If students get disoriented along a route they must work as a team to reorient, and/or they must go through the process for reestablishing orientation: don't panic (be cool); freeze and try to gather sensory information; hunt for landmarks; and if all else fails, ask for assistance.
Movement is from one functionally useful area to another. For example, the first lessons require the students to learn landmarks inside and outside around the front doors of the mall. From there they learn the route to the hallway where the lockers, bathrooms, mall office, and drinking fountain are located. After mastering the front door area, and the route to the lockers, they then learn the locker hallway. The next route leads to the information booth (and so on).
Community travel sessions also include daily lesson themes like the following: learning to use a braille menu, how to "look a person in the eye" while conversing, how to be safe on the lift bus, how to use a public bathroom, reading braille signs on bathrooms and elevators, time and money management, how to window shop, how to use a mall locker, how to get and use good directions, using public telephones, advantages and disadvantages of indoor malls, keeping a journal of daily activities and accomplishments, familiarization lessons inside various kinds of stores (particularly department stores), and so on.
The community travel program runs for a variable number of years, depending on the needs of individual students. Children progress through increasingly demanding curricular levels at a speed appropriate for them. It is not uncommon for students to repeat levels. The goal is not to move smoothly through the lesson plans, but rather to have children demonstrate competence and master objectives.
Community travel focuses on team behaviors, on new experiences, and on daily living skills. While the layouts of stores is generally discussed, there are no concentrated lessons that address layout. Individual lessons focus on travel through common environmental spaces. The home and the school are the first training areas for the blind child. A great many skills can be introduced and practiced in the home and school that will carry over to all indoor layouts.
Return to the index page Return to the top of this page.
Back: Navigation home page Ahead to: Navigating defined spaces