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Finding Independence in Community

By Alan Nunn, Principal, Alabama School for the Blind

Braxton Gardner, Tamya DeWitt, and Chrislynn Oliver enjoy an after-school snack in the kitchen.With the opening of the new Independent Living Center at Alabama School for the Blind (ASB), our students have the opportunity to spend an entire school year learning independent living skills while living in community with others. This program is a game-changer for ASB students.

While ASB has always been proud of our Independent Living Skills program, we can now take it to a new level. The opening of the new center allows for a more intensive focus on the nine components of the Expanded Core Curriculum: Assistive Technology, Career Education, Compensatory Skills, Independent Living Skills, Orientation and Mobility, Recreation and Leisure, SelfDetermination, Sensory Efficiency and Social Interaction Skills.

"I’ve learned how to fully embrace my independence by practicing daily living skills such as living in an apartment setting," said Braxton Gardner, ASB Junior.

The Expanded Core Curriculum is taught in addition to students’ academic courses. Independent Living Center students plan meals, make grocery lists and go grocery shopping. During the Covid-19 pandemic, online grocery ordering became more widely available. Since then, Independent Living Skills instructors have taught students how to use their technology to place online grocery orders, combining a living skill with assistive technology.

Once the students have their groceries, they take turns preparing meals, where they learn how to measure and mix ingredients. The staff also teaches them how to label items with braille if needed. This provides practice in math skills combined with braille skills.

"Through the new Independent Living Center, I have learned cooperation, time management skills and self-discipline,” said Tamya DeWitt, Junior, ASB. The Independent Living Center also builds Self-Determination by putting students in a living environment where they learn to work with others. Through living and working together, students better identify their own interests and values, which helps them develop their problem-solving skills and their ability to speak up for themselves. "I get to experience what it’s like to live on my own and practice daily skills independently, or with help when needed,” commented Chrislynn Oliver, ASB Junior.

Another related skill is Social Interaction. Individuals who are sighted learn to pick up on visual social cues. Individuals who are Blind or visually impaired often have to learn to recognize social cues in other ways. Living and working with others and having the leadership of Independent Living Skills instructors helps students better recognize and respond to social cues.

Because of ASB’s Independent Living Skills program, students are better prepared for life after graduation than many of their peers. At ASB, we are excited for the limitless opportunities available in the new Independent Living Center!