The Alabama Freedom Center for the Blind (AFCB) Structured Discovery Curriculum
Structured Discovery inverts the relationship between instructor and student as practiced in the mainstream of the orientation and mobility profession so that the focus is on the learning ability of the student rather than the knowledge base of the instructor. Structured Discovery is a method for acquiring a set of cognitive problem-solving and perceptual skills by means of actively participating in the learning process on the part of the student in consciously-structured situations.
Studies indicate that of the approximately 33 percent of blind/low-vision individuals in the United States who are employed, 90 percent use Braille for at least some portion of their work. This illustrates clearly the vital piece played by Braille in the puzzle of prevocational training. Upon entrance into the AFCB, students will be assessed on their current knowledge of Braille by the Braille Instructor.
Taught daily under learning shades, students will leave the Structured Discovery Program having learned and developed an understanding of Braille. The Students will learn the Braille alphabet, numbers and contractions, while learning how to write with both the slate and stylus and a Braille Writer. Eventually, devices such as Note-Takers will be introduced. Students will be expected to label items using Braille; take notes using Braille; read and write Braille punctuation and applicable symbols; and understand and apply the rules to uncontracted and contracted Braille. Students will be evaluated on their skills of both uncontracted and contracted Braille in both reading and writing and will be required to write Braille contractions and symbols and write the rules that apply to contracted Braille. Students already familiar with the Braille code will endeavor to increase their reading and writing speed.
A weekly Braille Club will foster further learning while allowing students to learn from and mentor one-another. Work Experience Placements will provide students the opportunity to serve as role models, working with children and youth, ages six to 18, who are blind or deafblind during summer Braille Camps.
Like all classes within Structured Discovery, Independent Living will be taught under learning shades. In daily classes, students will learn tasks necessary to maintain their own home or apartment. Additionally, they will develop personal management skills. These tasks will include but not be limited to cooking, cleaning, labeling, self-care, writing, and budgeting.
Students will also learn to repair minor plumbing problems, identify and replace various types of batteries, safely and correctly replace a light bulb, change furnace filters, replace a vacuum bag and properly hang a picture. Additional activities will ensure students leave knowing how to effectively use a plunger, locate and know how to use water emergency shut off valves, locate a breaker box and reset a breaker and know who to call for basic household maintenance.
Orientation and Mobility/Cane Travel
It’s not just where you go – it’s how you get there!
Under the continued use of learning shades, students will learn to move independently through their environment using the long white cane. They will discover techniques for holding the cane, detecting drop-offs, and texture changes. They will learn to recognize sensory cues and to use cardinal directions. Students will be trained to analyze intersections and traffic patterns. Students will become skilled in developing mental maps, gathering information through various modalities, and problem solving in new environments. Students will confidently learn to travel in residential as well as business settings.
"You don't know what you don't see. How much have you given up by not using the cane? Embrace the cane and embrace blindness. The cane opens your world back up; it becomes your best friend." ~ ADRS Rehabilitation Counselor for the Blind Joey Richey
Students will learn keyboarding, screen reader usage, and common functions of the computer such as email and word processing daily, under learning shades. Additionally, students will be exposed to Braille translation, text-to-speech scanning and other relevant technology. They will be taught in modular units as well as practical life application assignments.
Students will be housed in apartments and will have the opportunity to put into practice the skills they gain each day! Students will prepare dinner and breakfast. They will use their canes to travel. Structured Discovery students will do their laundry and clean their apartments. The students will come to believe in their own abilities as they put their skills to the test independently. The time spent living separately from family in an unfamiliar situation will challenge students. Simultaneously, it will permit students to complete homework in Braille or Technology, for example, which will facilitate rapid progress. As students practice skills outside of class, they can return to class with questions about problems that may have arisen thereby being able to learn how to more efficiently complete a skill in the future. Structured Discovery encourages continuous improvement!
Additionally, during their residential experience, students will have normal encounters with the public. Staff will teach students how to handle these encounters appropriately, working with students on challenging social and awkward behavioral issues after a rapport has been developed. The confidence-building activities intertwined into the curriculum will prepare the student for all types of public interactions including enhancing job readiness skills. Students will learn through their own trial and error as well as by watching the experiences of their instructors.
Families of students will be invited to weekend mini-immersion workshops to learn about the positive role they can play in facilitating their loved-one's journey toward independence.
Tactile & Industrial Arts
Thanks to a $5,000 EyeSight Foundation of Alabama award, students will be able to demonstrate a basic understanding of measurements and fractions, measure accurately using a click rule while learning how to correctly use tools such as a hammer, screwdriver, pliers, hand cross-cut saw, electric drill, circular saw, drill press, radial arm saw, band saw, table saw, router, wood lathe and jointer.
Tactile Arts will be incorporated through a $5,000 Alabama State Council on the Arts Award and is facilitated by instructors who are blind or who have prior experience working with blind adults.
Career Exploration & Work Experience
Bi-Weekly, students will learn skills related to job readiness such as qualities of a good employee, résumé-building, interview skills, professional attire, etc. AIDB and ADRS Case Managers and Job Coaches will work with students individually to determine the path for a career and/or postsecondary placement after graduating Alabama's Structured Discovery program.
In this philosophy or seminar class, students may discuss how they feel about blindness, situations they encounter with the public, employment related topics, etc. This class is, in essence, an attitude adjustment class.
Seminar offers a supportive and safe environment where students can express themselves and process their experiences with people, including instructors, who have gone through the same challenges. Having instructors who have worked through the same experiences as the students are encountering is invaluable as this makes it possible for the instructors to advise and guide the students in ways that no one else can. Blind instructors, who are living proof that people who are blind can lead normal, self-sufficient and successful lives give students hope, validation, and proof to the truth of what is being taught. This is crucial!
Students will have ample opportunities for area field and shopping trips and use of partnering agency facilities, like the Lakeshore Foundation.
Students will be assigned a student and a staff mentor and likewise, will be provided information about consumer groups of and for the blind and encouraged to participate in their activities. Participation in consumer groups provides students with exposure to individuals who are blind who are actively participating in society, working, volunteering, and living normal lives. During the summer, students will have the opportunity to work with children who are blind in camps offered by the AIDB.
Confidence-Building and Cultural Exposure
The content and location of these classes will vary as the intent of the class is to expose the students to new experiences which take them just outside of their "comfort zone." Placing students in new and varying situations and teaching them to be successful, or, in the case of students who have been in the program for a few months, pushing them to be independently successful, sets the roots of confidence that the techniques classes start growing in students.
All classes will intentionally be designed to incorporate components of other classes. In Braille class, for example, students might describe, in writing, how to travel to a particular address. In Travel class, a student might take a brailled grocery list to the store and purchase the items needed for independent living skills class. In Technology, a student might perform an Internet search for a particular recipe, or for instructions on how to perform a home repair, or remove a particularly troublesome stain. That same student might then implement the results of that Internet work in Independent Living.
As all classes will utilize skills taught in the other areas, all of our staff will be cross- trained. Each instructor will understand the intricacies of each class and be able to step in at any time if an instructor is out. The staff of the Alabama Freedom Center for the Blind will have gone through special training under learning shades and at times will work under these shades – just like our students!