Alabama Freedom Center for the Blind

A Structured Discovery Program

  • The Alabama Freedom Center for the Blind Mission

    Discover how we are limitless!

    The Alabama Freedom Center for the Blind’s (AFCB) mission is to guide adults who are blind/low vision through the necessary skills and processes of adjustment to blindness so that the student can lead the independent, productive, and fulfilling life of his or her choice.

    The Alabama Freedom Center for the Blind Purpose

    Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB) and Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS) has recognized the need for a residential training facility for the blind located in an urban environment which utilizes the nontraditional instructional and philosophical methodology of Structured Discovery.

    Located in Birmingham, within the AFCB, students learn that the challenges of blindness can be overcome through proper use of the techniques of blindness and through problem solving strategies.

    Through the classes taught, experiences provided and the relationships developed with staff and other students, participants come to internalize the truth about blindness — that it is a part of who they are — just as any other characteristic, like skin color, height or gender. With that acceptance, each student can then rise to the level of his or her true potential unfettered by artificial limitations as defined by societal misconceptions.

    The truth is that proper training in the techniques of blindness - combined with the students’ ability be confident in who they are as blind people, recognizing that the lack of eyesight takes nothing away from their individual dignity, respectability or capacity - will result in as student who is equal to the challenges of life. By the end of their training, students will be prepared to enter vocational training, postsecondary education or the workforce with the confidence and skills to succeed!

    Alabama Freedom Center for the Blind (AFCB) Overview

    “Refuse to be average. Be limitless. Don’t soar as high as an eagle. Fly higher.”~ AIDB President John Mascia, Au.D.

    In partnership with ADRS and housed within the AIDB Birmingham Regional Center, the nine-month, residential Structured Discovery program fosters confidence-building techniques by moving students who are low vision and blind from instructor-guided learning into an environment focused on personal cognitive skills that define independence in travel, technology, daily living and job skills.

    A distinct philosophy using learning shades, white canes and instructors who have been immersed in the philosophy, Structured Discovery learning is a method for acquiring a set of cognitive problem-solving and perceptual skills with the student actively participating in the learning process. Learning occurs in consciously-structured problem situations in which the student must discover a satisfactory solution. The cognitive techniques employed are reinforced and generalized with the instructor's assistance. The ultimate goal is for roles to become reversed where confidence and empowerment result in self-analysis. Simply: The student no longer requires the instructor as the student has become a confident and capable problem-solver.

    The AFCB is an intense, hands-on nine-month immersion into Braille, Independent Living, Assistive Technology, Cane Travel, Residential Living, and confidence-building activities which gives adults in Alabama and the Southeast geographic access to this proven service option. Structured Discovery encourages and empowers the student, while honing existing and building new skill sets.

    To learn more, contact Coordinator Cindy Jones-Yeager at (205) 201.6991 or for more information and/or to schedule your tour. We’d love to show you around, introduce you to our staff and students, and get you on your way to living the life you want.

     The Alabama Freedom Center for the Blind (AFCB) Admissions

    “Structured Discovery training will give you the tools you need to live the life you want” ~ Former National Federation of the Blind State President, Joy Harris

    Referrals to Alabama's Structured Discovery program are received through the student's respective state Department of Rehabilitation Services. Students seeking admission in the AFCB must be 18 or older and provide medical proof of vision loss.

    Students must be capable of managing their own medications including monitoring of blood pressure and blood sugar and measuring and administering insulin as appropriate. Students must be able independently to evacuate from the Center and Residential Facility in the case of an emergency.

    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, low vision and deafblind during summer Braille Camps.

    Independent Living

    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.

    Assistive Technology

    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.

    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

    Residential Living

    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/low vision 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/low vision 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 and low vision 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.

    Class Notes

    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!

    Anticipated Student Outcomes

    Student Objectives include Individual Assessment; Developing Self-Confidence and High Expectations; Personal Adjustment to Blindness or Visual Impairment; Acquiring Competent Alternative Low Vision / Blindness Skills, and Enhanced Employment Skills and/or Post-Secondary Options.

    Objectively, student success will be measured in a quantifiable number of skills successfully completed within each area of blindness skills taught to achieve graduation. Likewise, a student will be considered successful if the program graduate has been accepted into and is pursuing further vocational education, such as attending a trade school, a vending program, or university degree. A student will also be deemed successful if that graduate has acquired employment.

    Student Testimonials

    "Structured Discovery has been a life changer for me. Prior to me going to the program, I struggled with my everyday, my everything. I had no motivation. I really didn’t care what happen from one minute to the next -- all because my vision had greatly diminished and was all but gone. But then I accepted the Structured Discovery challenge and learned through various classes and coaching that I still mattered and had abilities that were usable out there in the world. I no longer discount myself thanks to this program. I am currently going through the hiring process to work for the IRS as the Mailroom Supervisor. It’s a totally a solo job where if I don’t get it right, their information is not gotten out or received so it’s a pretty important position and because of my new leash on things, they have entrusted me to deliver! So thank you all for what you’ve done for me!" ~November 2017 Graduate Keith Abrams 

    Consider donating your time, talent and resources to help sustain, enhance and expand this distinct program! Contact Coordinator Cindy Jones Yeager at 205.201.6991 or




  • Birmingham - Alabama Freedom Center
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