This week on the spin cycle, we’re discussing firsts. Last Friday, I visited a woman I first met at the blindness rehabilitation center in 2005. Another guy we both met there too also came over. This was my first time meeting them since I graduated from the rehabilitation center.
The rehabilitation center experience was quite interesting. I had just graduated from high school two months earlier and didn’t want to go straight to university. So in order to have some practice on my first steps towards independence, I became a resident there four to five days a week for four months.
The program was quite intensive. I had orientation and mobility training, occupational therapy, physical therapy, music, textile arts and handycrafts, as well as three different types of communication training and counseling with a psychologist. I also had vision therapy.
During orientation and mobility training, I learned to plan to go someplace and to travel there effectively using my white cane. I learned to be quite a good cane traveler even though I’d always had trouble using the cane correclty, and still do. After about six weeks at the center, I started using public transportation to go there on Monday and to travel back home on Thursday or Friday. I also learned to travel to and from the local supermarket and to use customer service to get my groceries.
Occupational therapy had several components to it. First, there was the teaching of housekeeping and cooking skills. I didn’t yet master these when I graduated from the center, so went on to live at an independence training home afterwards. Another part of occupational therapy was group-based training in compensating for our visual impairment with our other senses. This, for me, was quite easy in the practical sense, but my social skils difficulties emerged there. There was one great workshop on applying make-up without sight. I loved it.
I also had physical therapy because I have poor posture and had developed mild scoliosis as a result. Physical therapy wasn’t all that effective, because I didn’t practise the exercises out of session.
Vision therapy was very interesting. At first, I had a vision therapist who didn’t acknowledge my admittedly tiny fraction of residual vision. When at one of the communication sills training sessions though, another vision therapist joined the trainer and I arranged for sessions with her. My vision was still virtually non-existent, but I learned a lot about what I could and couldn’t do with it. I also had an opportunity to select NoIR sunglasses that would help me cope better with my light sensitivity. This vision therapist was very patient and thorough in answering my questions. Though in the end my emotional adjustment problems surfaced, which of course she wasn’t trained in dealing with, I did feel very much validated.
Music, textile arts and handycrafts were quite useful too. Though I didn’t practise what I learned there for another few years to come, the instructors there taught me that I could indeed do arts and crafts with no vision. Music wasn’t my cup of tea, so I stopped playing the keyboards after graduating from the center.
The communication skills training sessions were great. I took basic communication skills, assertiveness and communication about your visual impairment. I had one trainer for both basic communication skills and assertiveness and another for the communication about your visual impairment training. The first one was great at letting me see that, if I moved past my anxiety, I could be quite sociable. The second trainer was the one who cooperated with the vision therapist.
Counseling was the least useful bit about the rehabilitation program. The psychologist was blind herself and for one thing didn’t grasp my emotional adjustment issues. She focused on the fact that I had to put non-disabled values into perspective and for example learn to ask for help. Though I did accept this eventually, I still couldn’t cope with the many losses of vision loss. I don’t think a four-month-long rehabilitation program is enough for that anyway, as I still don’t fully accept this ten years on. However, the other problem was we just didn’t click in terms of communication styles. I didn’t open up easily and there just wasn’t enough time in the program for me to work on even just those issues that are due to blindness. I understand that, but the psychologist could’ve refrained from rushing me through a dozen issues.
I was a residential client there even though the rehabilitation center was in my home city. In the evenings, the clients spent lots of time amongst ourselves discussing our rehabilitation process. This was very healing to me. It also was a great opportunity to practise social skills.
Even though my rehabilitation was supposed to be my first step towards independence, I was in many ways at my highest point in terms of independence while there. I don’t like to admit this, since I did learn other sklls in the ten years since. Also, the fact that I didn’t become more self-reliant makes it look like I just need a kick in the pants. In fact, however, the program had lots of one-on-one instruction incorporated, which I can’t get now that I’m a mental patient. I still grieve this loss of independence, but this possibly has to do with my adjustment to my psychiatric illness.