THOUGHT PROVOKER 42
Blind Or Sighted Counselor
Last Updated May 28, 2003
To Provoke Thought Is The First Step To Beyond
“Mr. Smith.” The VR Counselor said loudly, directing his voice through the closed window just to the side of the front door. He was peering through the glass into the dimly lit front room. The man inside coming to answer the door looked to be having difficulty finding his way across a room over-full with large heavy furniture. “It’s Mike, the Rehab Counselor from the Commission for the Blind.” This was to be the initial visit, a result of Mr. Smith having called the commission, requesting a counselor be sent out to his home.
“I just got up from a nap.” The Home Owner said upon opening the door. “Come on in. Have a seat.”
“Thank you. I’ll take the couch over here.” The Counselor said, looking around, thinking the place was clean enough.
Seated, the home owner said, “You don’t have a dog.”
“Ah, no...” The counselor took a moment to figure out if he was responding to a statement of observed fact or was what the guy saying more of a question. “Oh, I’m sighted. I drove here to the appointment. Were you expecting me to be blind?”
“Yeah, that’s right. I expect that is who would be hired to teach other blind people.” I’ve worked all my life. I know what experience can do.”
“Mr. Smith, the commission has both blind and sighted counselors. All of our staff are equally good.”
The home owner didn’t hesitate a moment with his new question, “Then I can have a blind counselor?”
“Well, Mr. Smith, could you further explain your feelings? Can we talk about it?”
**1. “I am currently a certified rehab counselor and am blind. I was a consumer of rehab services for a number of years. Probably the guy who helped me the most was a blind person, with a Masters in counseling. He did not work as a VR counselor, but taught me everything
from how to read Braille to playing chess, as a newly blinded person. Despite this impact, I would discourage anyone from being so short-sighted as to assume that a blind person is necessary to serve as a counselor for a blind client. Sure, they can possibly empathize in a more true sense, but some of the most helpful, qualified people that helped me were sighted and did an incredible job!
Simply being blind does not necessarily mean one is the best suited. It is; however, a wise idea to talk with seasoned blind people, as part of the rehab process. Particularly, in dealing with adjustment to blindness issues. We need to be careful not to perpetuate an "us against them" idea, here.”
Danney Yates (Warm Springs, Georgia USA)
**2. “This particular topic struck very close to home. It is hard to untangle and organize the intellectual and emotional evocations of experience this post engenders.
Perhaps a few anecdotes will serve my purpose:
1. A bright, brash 16-year old congenitally blind honors student, who'd just attained Eagle Scout in a sighted troop--after waiting for nearly a year for
his younger brother to achieve that rank, so they could be invested together, rather than overshadow him because of the blindness hurrah... I was involved in symphonic,
marching, stage bands, and was a member of a steadily gigging Rock Band in which there were 3 sighted and one other blind member of the group... I was steadily
dating sighted girls from school and the church group of which I was a member. I looked at the other blind kids with whom I went to school--28 of them--as
losers-in a high school with 4800 students, and a graduating class of 973 the year I graduated--1970.
My parents were conservative politically and socially. However, they'd imbued me with the idea that it was my responsibility to do the best I could, and find my own
niche of choice in a world "built for and by sighted people". Basically, they, and most people I knew, were of the opinion that there wasn't anything I might want to do
that I couldn't do with enough work, forethought, planning, and creativity with respect to adaptive techniques and the facilities always increasing-as a function of the
evolution of technology... Because I was enmeshed firmly on the outside of the inner circle of band, church group and scout troop, I felt reasonably sure I could
expect to "pass" as a member of sighted society despite my blindness, as opposed to the terrible social isolation I saw many of my blind cohorts living in as a function
of their overly protective sheltering parents, brothers and sisters who would not accept or include them in their play, and their own adherence to an inertia physical
and social. Whereas I was willing to accept having knocked out most of my teeth riding bikes, roller skating, playing football, and paratrooper-jumping from
increasingly high limbs in the huge mango trees in our Miami FL backyard; most of the other blind kids I knew had no such active life among their schoolmates and
Yet on those Friday nights in which there wasn't a school dance, when the Rock, marching or symphonic or stage band wasn't playing, or, when there wasn't a
scheduled activity of the church group, I began to sense that life was not all I had been led to expect it to be... I felt alone, frustrated because I couldn't drive, or
even walk to join my friends in hanging out somewhere... And, every so often, as with the girl with whom I danced at my first 9th Grade School Dance-she a year
older than me--I had to close the blooming relationship because I overheard one of her friends around the corner saying, "Oh God, you're dating a blind guy. I mean, I
know he's bright and nice and all that, but can't you do any better." I broke up with her as soon as I came around the corner and ignored her pleas and tears to
reconsider because I didn't want her to deal with that...
I had had some trouble in attaining Eagle Scout rank merely because one had to sign various papers and I didn't have any handwriting skills, even though I used
Nemeth Code, Literary Grade II Braille, and typed all of my papers and tests--though my spelling wasn't even as good as it is now thanks to spell-checkers-which I
don't have access to in e-mail until I install some new (for me) JFW scripts... (grin) That, and the growing realization that I would have to focus, and figure out what I
wanted to do in College--parents and my first sighted Rehab Counselor (a woman) and guidance counselors said I couldn't try for my dream of becoming a Rock Star--like Ringo... I was the first drummer in Miami to play Ginger Baker's solo Toad, and once played Ron Bushey's solo in Inna-Gadda-Vidda right after...
Had to be carried off stage--but what a crowd reaction... (grin)
How would I function away from home? Hell, I'd just learned how to pour a coke so I could do that for my girl friends when they came over to pick me up, or bring me
back after a date... I knew I had a lot to learn, but no idea just how much.
Let me pause a moment to say, my younger sighted brothers and sisters (3 of them) were no more adept at homemaking skills than I. The kitchen, and need to keep
Laundry in a household of 6, was both the perceived responsibility and refuge of my mothers from a constant barrage of demands from everyone... But it was
understood that my sighted brothers and sisters would garner the know how from having watched mom perform those various tasks. Actually, it didn't necessarily
happen that easily for them, but neither they nor I were alone in that. It was a function of the perceived "natural roles" of men and women, and of children in a post
depression--post world war II generation of parents trying to give better than they had to their children.
2. One day, a woman came over from Florida's Bureau of Blind Services, and told me she would be my "counselor". I told her I didn't need a "counselor", they were
for "screwed up people" like the kids that needed the school guidance counselor--and so, why did I need or require a counselor??? I told her that Vocational
Rehabilitation sounded like a crime, as if I was a criminal and needed Rehabilitation as if I'd committed a crime by being blind... And besides, she had one of those
"counselor voices", over-solicitous, so unflaggingly non-judgmental one just knew they were, in fact, being judged and found wanting.
I had grown up in Little Apalachia, the section of Miami into which those of us from West By God Virginia, Kentucky, and parts of surrounding "real patriotic southern
states" came from. We didn't want anything whatsoever to do with the "damned welfare state" and didn't need "The Government" for anything except the military.
Perhaps sometime, we'll have a discussion about the idea that as long as disabled/blind folks can't participate in the military we won't be respected as being capable
of participating in any other aspect of society--any more than were blacks--or other so-called "minority" groups--like women--until they had served there and people
knew they could depend upon them for their very life, and therefore that person just might be able to pull their own weight in society at large...
Well, on the next visit, My Counselor, had a Normal Person's Voice, told me she'd thought about what I'd said, and decided to unmask for the most part henceforth.
She was someone who was a friend, who turned me on to Irving Goffman's book, "Stigma" which helped me form many of the attitudes I carry to this day concerning the nature of my blindness, and it's consequent ramifications on non-blind members of society--and, how I perceive other members of my disability group as reacting to the expectations of our larger society... She helped me grow up...
3. Several years later: at Florida State University, I helped 7 other students form "The Student Liaison Committee" to represent the 73 blind students attending Florida
State University, and those attending Florida A&M (the black college) and, Tallahassee Community College to the then, Florida Bureau, then
Office, eventually--Division of Blind Service, and to our respective universities. Horrible things had happened to us because of the malfeasance and non-feasance
of this woman. One young blind woman had had to have both eyes removed after having been carried unconscious to the infirmary and then transported to the local
hospital after an episode of Acute Glaucoma. Once our maintenance checks were 8 weeks late, and I had the pleasure and inestimably valuable experience of
learning what it felt like to be hungry for 7 days and 8 nights... It changed forever my pride concerning asking for help/or food, if I were ever to be put in that position again!
There were more debacles attributable to this woman, but suffice it to say, we learned how to use such tools as demonstrations, forming alliances with other student
advocacy organizations, using the print and broadcast media, lobbying legislators, and negotiating with DBS and University Officials. She was replaced.
4. In 1975, I was newly married, living in Alumni Slum, going to graduate school, forced to accept entrance into a department other than that which I'd wanted to
matriculate in, because, "We've already had two blind students and don't want any more... There weren't any laws to prevent such things then!
I was angry, trying vainly in the midst of a recession to find a job in the field of my undergraduate degree, Rehab Teaching for Adult Blind, filled with anger, the desire
to transform stodgy agencies who just didn't understand what we blind folks really needed according to my own analysis of the situation. Then, a young sighted
counselor came into my life, he having abandoned a successful career in business, having acquired teaching credentials and having taught, then, acquired a
Masters Degree in Mobility, and now a University Blind Services Caseload Counselor. My department was strictly PsychoDynamic in orientation, and it's head forbid
males under 30, women of any age, or anyone with any physical handicap from full-fledged practicums because they couldn't be expected to have someone--a
client--give them Positive Transference... I was angry and full of self-destructive self-doubt. This young counselor invited me to his home with his wife and new baby
and another on the way--not the cold clinical detachment--no fraternization with clients we'd been taught to use... We drank beer, enjoyed "the herb superb” and
listened to Punk, New Wave, and even Disco music... We talked of Politics and History--I the jaded former political science and history major who had given up on
macro-politics because I'd been asked to trade acting as a token blind person with the state department in return for their money for graduate school and a
comfortable overseas posting using my love of and aptitude for Game Theory--but that's another story...
He treated me as a "normal" "equal" person, and this was very significant to me in this period. It gave me self-confidence, courage, and helped me gain strength.
5. 1978-85, I was a rehab teacher--asked to take on the challenge of assisting with the children's caseload (200 kids in 6 counties) in addition to the 200 mixture of
Non-Vocationally Rehabilitatable and Vocational Rehabilitatable Adults I was supposed to serve... I fraternized, remembering how that helped me, worked with other
sighted staff members to run Dance and Yoga classes designed to give our young blind people a means of increasing their spatial awareness, acquire socialization skills, have a means of decreasing stress and reduce vaso-constriction and respiration rates in an attempt to optimize Object Perception and prolong the life of the blind traveler--as so many studies said that aggressive/progressive blind men didn't live past their mid-fifties... We also ran the first computer camp in the world for 16
blind students from 4 counties in the summer of 1983... I became the state's expert on writing justifications for equipment with almost a 100% success rate and wrote
justifications for counselors all over the state. I pioneered a new style of relationship with Vendors in which we worked together to do on-site assessments of the
utility of specific equipment--taking the equipment on loan with agreement to purchase if the Work Experience proved successful and the employer took the
client after a period in which DBS and the employer split the cost of wages being paid to the candidate. I also served as the person who attended a variety of
technology-related conferences and demonstrations and then communicated my observations in non-technical language to the agency chief who was to say the least--ambivalent about technology consequent to the failed promises made to his generation after he had been blinded and lost both legs in World War II, and
received his Rehabilitation in-uniform--unlike those Vietnam vets who were virtually thrown out onto the streets..--and, I communicated the findings in technical
language for those who wanted them and could appreciate them expressed that way... I also worked with 5 other people on a rewriting of our state's rehabilitation
teacher's manual and it was adopted by 38 other states...
I was the one who volunteered to be on-duty 24-7 to accompany the Ophthalmologist and Psychiatric Social Worker on the visit to an individual who was going to
be told that they would be blind... As the Reagan administration slashed funds for restorative surgery from the halscian days when we could try to save both eyes, to
unilateral, to nothing without certitude that insurance reimbursement was available--things became more stressful... I was often asked, "What in the hell can you do
for me blind man? You're white, well-educated, and middle-class; I'm poor, black, and uneducated, I've always been a manual laborer. Just what can you and your
agency do for me? And, if you could restore the vision of so-and-so who worked with me and was in an accident, just why can't you do it for me?" My hands still
sweat, my heart beats faster and my stomach flutters even now when I think of those days. That sort of thing, and living with 3 and a half to 4 hours sleep per night
since 18 caught up with me in 1985 at 33. I confronted my own mortality, escaped the hospital and intensive care with only the most grudging assistance of my
physician, received the Counselor of the Year Award in my District, and in front of everybody, at the state staff meeting cocktail party, presented my verbal
resignation with written already placed on my boss's desk--he almost fell out of a window--and I went to work for Private Industry in technology--my interest...
In working in the field of blindness, I have seen blind folks who ended up in the role of counselor because they didn't have anything else they or anybody else
thought they could do. I have seen sighted people who drifted into the role of counselor with a degree only remotely if at all related to human services-with no
knowledge whatsoever about blindness--it's physical or other ramifications. On the other hand, I have seen both sighted and blind--well-trained, well-educated
counselors burdened by caseloads approaching 800 people in major metropolitan areas, burned out by the unresponsiveness of agency structures, the distrust and
disrespect given them by society at large and the blindness community specifically, burned-out personally and professionally... I have seen blind and sighted
counselors who were creative, firm and supportive, able to except their own limitations, and the reality that in any group, only a few would achieve that to which they
had been taught to aspire. As with all aspects of human endeavor, sometimes we are gifted with a wondrous counselor, and sometimes we are allowed to gift
ourselves with responses we dredge up from we know not where--in response to counselors who are worthless...”
W. Nick Dotson (Pensacola, Florida USA)
**3. “I'm wondering if the new client had been in another location and had a "bad experience" with the sighted counselors. Beyond that, I do think there are
some things blind people can teach each other more adequately, but what is most important is whomever is the counselor, that person needs to have a good
philosophy about blindness. He needs to believe that blind people are able to achieve their dreams and accomplish just about everything he sets out to
do. She needs to be realistic about those things blind person cannot do. Blind people being unable to drive, is an obvious example of this. The counselor
must be a good role model if he is blind. That person should be equipped with those general skills that will be expected of the client. If the counselor
is sighted, then she should expect the blind person to become well versed in those skills. Certainly in a situation such as this, that counselor needs
to be creative. "Well, Mr. Smith, let's talk about this issue. At the Commission for the Blind, we are given specific areas to cover. You happen to
be in mine. However, I can put you in touch with other blind individuals who are very capable of doing the things which I will be helping you to accomplish."
Cindy Ray (Leon, Iowa USA)
FROM ME: “If you were to rank-order the three strongest qualities that a counselor (blind or sighted) must have, what would they be?”
**4. “I am sure it would be great to have a blind VR counselor.. Would he
or she be a better counselor? I do not think so ..My key word is always
education in all fields. If a counselor ,sighted or blind was to have a
good education and part of that was basic commonsense and understanding of
what a blind person may be thinking, then there is not a big
difference.. In my area especially where it is so rural, transportation is
scarce for anyone to get about .. however I would encourage any person
who is blind, legally or not, to pursue such a course of employment as
indeed they ,the person who is blind could be a real asset in the area of
VR counseling.. I will just say that some barriers are coming down a little
at a time in this field but as you know a team needs to be established
between counselor and consumer before any productive results can be
established ..Remembering about five or six years ago that a group made a
statement that there was no VR counselors who were " sight
impaired" and that no person could benefit.. Well there is two negatives
sent out to many who would listen.. One should approach his/ her
counselor with an open mind whether the counselor is blind or not. Utilize
skills each of us has as unique individuals and move onward and forward..”
Lee A. Stone (Hudson,New York, USA)
**5. “This is one of those issues that has two sides. I've been blind all my life and therefore, don't always necessarily have a preference about who teaches
me something. However, for a newly blinded person, this can be a difficult thing.
There are so many different preconceptions about the blind, and many of them are negative. When a person goes from having vision to not having vision,
there are many different things that probably go through their mind. First, for those people that had jobs for many years, I'm sure that they're going
to wonder how they're going to be able to continue working. Second, they're going to wonder how travel can be accomplished. I believe that in these instances,
having a blind counselor would probably be one of the best things that could happen. I feel this way because if the newly blind/VI individual can see
another blind person working productively and using important skills on a daily basis, the individual is more likely to see the counselor as a role model.
The idea being that "If she/he can do it than so can I."
I think what it all comes down to in the end is personal preference, and what the client is comfortable with. I have had both sighted and non-sighted people
work with me throughout my life, and I definitely feel that when it comes to learning different mobility routes and things like that, nothing beats a blind
person, because they are sometimes able to pick up on landmarks and things that can make a difference. However, a sighted person is going to be able to
pick up on the visual aspects of the blind person's travel technique, or other things and make suggestions accordingly.”
Caroline Congdon (Milwaukee, Wisconsin; USA
FROM ME: “Having a blind VR Counselor would give the newly blinded person a great shot at a role model right off the bat; good. But if the blind VR Counselor is poor in skills or in the performance in the duties of their job, then what?”
**6. “It really depends on the counselor as a person. My first VR counselor
from the Commission for the Blind, back when I was 16, had a severe
visual problem. I thought she was really great at the time. I hung on
to her every word, cause like Mr. Smith - for one thing - I thought being
she was in the same boat as me she'd be the best one to guide me. I was
wrong. In high school I remember telling this counselor that I wanted to
go on to law school. Her reply was that blind people didn't go to law
school. I believed her. I'm a state worker now and in a very bad
situation and it's because this 'blind' VR counselor guided me wrong and
had very negative ideas about the blind. My new counselor, the one I
have now, is fully sighted and she's the most wonderful, compassionate,
understanding person in the world. She's rooting for me constantly.”
FROM ME: “Can a sighted person have more faith in a blind person than a blind person can? (sounds a little dumb, but…)”
**7. “No Robert I never had a client like that! I was that client lost my
ability to stand or walk and was sent a walking counselor who told me I
would do just fine in a wheelchair, how would she know? I refused her and
got a mobility impaired counselor. Later when I became legally blind I had
a legally blind counselor a man I knew was aware of the difficulties I
would have to face. Someone I was willing to listen to. I do not believe someone
can really understand living with a particular disability unless they
have that particular disability.”
Diane (NFB Rehab List)
**8. “I can not agree that only those with a disability, or for that matter, any
condition or state, are, can identify, teach or work with people having that
condition. If you extend the argument to its limits, only the ill can treat
the sick in medicine, only the insane can treat the mentally ill, etc. I
know of a lot of good, competent sighted people who work successfully with
blind people. I know of blind people who, despite their enhancement of
being blind, do not.
The visual acuity of the counselor is much less important than is his/her
vision for the blind person. Let us not exclude our visually enhanced
Dhyde (NFB Rehab List)
FROM ME: “what might be one or more good ways for a sighted counselor to learn of the potential of a blind person?”
**10. “While I agree that sighted people with the gift of teaching are as apt as
blind people with the same talent, I want to caution my colleague about
going to extremes. In defending our visually enhanced brethren, you wrote,
"If you extend the argument to its limits, only the ill can treat
the sick in medicine, only the insane can treat the mentally ill, etc."
We rehab professionals walk a tricky path here because of the history of our
profession. Blindness, race, gender etc are not medical conditions and the
blind have worked hard to demonstrate that. We have to be sooooooooo
careful because there are still those who would like to extend the argument
to the opposite limits and say that the ill absolutely cannot treat the sick
under any circumstances and the blind cannot train the blind safely.
In agreement with my colleague, Let's leave the hospital and go to the
education metaphor. When I read this thought provoker, I thought, what if a
student at my center said, 'I just don't feel safe with a blind travel
teacher. I want to work with a sighted person'. Well, they don't have
anyone like that to work with here but if they did, how would I feel? I
think I would feel the way I did when certain people with a certain type of
certification tried to tell me I could never teach travel in the first
place. I would want to cry Discrimination! So what if I had a sighted
colleague working with me at the center and a student didn't want to work
with them because they wanted a blind travel teacher? Wouldn't my colleague
feel the same as I described? Wouldn't they have a right to cry
discrimination? I don't want to be treated that way by an employer or by a
student who has been prejudiced by society's lack of expectations for the
blind. Why would we want to see our sighted brethren treated with the same
discrimination we have suffered for generations?
If the rehab professional isn't skilled or qualified, sighted or blind, get
rid of them but let's not practice what we preach against.”
Jane Lansaw (NFB Rehab list, Lincoln, Nebraska USA)
**11. “I think some people may benefit from working with a teacher or counselor with whom they can relate on the blindness issue. But there may be many other
ways in which they might not relate. The quality of being blind or sighted does not subsume all other personal characteristics.
The state director of special education, when speaking to our school psychology association, stated that if you take the position that you have to "be one
to help one," then to be a botanist you'd have to be a flower.”
**12. “I loved the comment from Carol. It fits well with what I've always believed
which follows here quote.
<< The state director of special education, when speaking to our school
psychology association, stated that if you take the position that you have
to "be one to help one," then to be a botanist you'd have to be a flower. >>
What I most remember being told on this subject is that as a social
service professional who hasn't gone through the exact situation as one of
my clients, I may not know how it feels to be blind, or abused, or
terminally ill, or mentally ill, or - you fill in the concern-, but as a
human being I do know how it feels to be scared, or angry, or vulnerable, or
in a situation where I feel I have no control, or facing a major loss. As
people, we all have the same basic emotional needs and that's where we can
relate to each other.
Being an RT who is sighted, one advantage I might have is that it's easy
for me to remember that I never know exactly what it's like for my client to
be blind. But, since everyone is an individual, neither do blind teachers,
not exactly. My years of experience and my training help me to know what
the most common concerns are, but I still have to listen to each person to
know what their particular concerns are and not project my own expectations
on him/her. This is true for every other human service worker, regardless
of how much they have in common with the client.
I know lots of great RT's and counselors, both sighted and blind, and
some clients relate better to one of us then the other. Sometimes it's just
a matter of personalities. Sometimes it has to do with the client's comfort
with visual impairment. Sometimes it's that the client wants someone who's
"been there". Sometimes it just has to do with who was the first person
they met that treated them like blindness didn't have to be the end of the
Karen McKenna (AERnet)
**13. “This is an interesting issue, one that continues to be discussed among
people who are blind and a bit more sighted. Is a person more
qualified or understanding because he/she is blind or visually impaired?
Does a counselor need to be totally blind to be able to understand and
work with a client who has no vision? Is a totally blind counselor less
qualified if the client is partially sighted?
Lets look at it another way. Is a female counselor more qualified than a
male if the client is a woman? Must a counselor be an Afro-American,
Hispanic, Italian, native American... in order to be acceptable to work
with someone from the same race or nationality because he/she might
better understand where the client is coming from. What makes someone
qualified to do his/her job?
Of course not! Just because someone is blind, that fact does not mean
that the counselor knows what he/she is doing. It also does not mean
that the counselor can sympathize or identify with the client. Having
been both a client and counselor, I'd much rather have someone who has
the necessary knowledge, dedication and interest to do a good job for the
client than someone who is just there to do a job. Rather, I would
suggest that blindness may be considered as one (not necessarily the most
important) of the factors/characteristics to be considered.
The next issue relates to client choice. Does Mr. Smith have the right
to accept or reject a counselor based on his prejudices? Let's look at
his statement a little more in depth. Is he saying that he doesn't
understand or accept his disability? Therefore a sighted counselor
couldn't understand? His statement sounds like a perfect opening to
discuss his feelings.”
Doug Hall (Daytona Beach, Florida, USA)
**14. “I don't think it's a question of whether a teacher/counselor is blind or sighted, as much as the attitude and experience of that teacher. What I object
most to is anyone who goes through college, gets a degree in rehab teaching or counseling, and steps right from there into a job at a Commission, or whatever
the agency is. They then proceed to tell clients to get out there and get a job, when they themselves have had no real experience struggling to find a
job in ... well, what can I call it? The outside world? Anyway, the world other than rehab. Sending out resumes and the like is a lot different than struggling
to find new places every day, and dealing with skeptical, if not downright hostile, supposedly prospective employers.
An equally objectionable situation is the typical "job club" that clients are often sent to, where everyone else sits there and looks through the paper
for prospective jobs, and the blind person is virtually ignored, with the leader asking the rest of the people to speak up if they find a job that the
blind client might be interested in. As if they can judge that and will say something!”
Carol Ashland (Eugene, Oregon USA)
FROM ME: “How about it, before hiring a blind person to be a Vocational Counselor to work with the blind have prior job experience? If so, how much and what kind? How about a sighted person going for the same position?”
**15. “Blind or sighted counselor. I have always had sighted counselors but did have a
totally blind teacher in my Adjustment To Blindness (ATB) class. So, I guess, I
can compare a bit with these two scenarios. Recently, though, due to
restructuring within the State Services for the Blind, I was assigned to a
different sighted counselor from a different office zone and this particular
counselor has had some experience with deafblind whereas the previous one had no
experience. I am considered to be in the deafblind status rather than just in
the blind status as far as rehabilitation goes. When I met this new counselor,
he was more open with suggestions for me and was willing to learn more from me
as a deafblind client as he took on my case file. The previous counselor who was
only experienced with blind was just as open and willing to work with me but it
was a lot slower paced situation due to "hit and miss" agendas.
Would I prefer a blind counselor over a sighted one? I think that I would not
have a preference at all but rather would look into the ability to sensitivity
and understanding, and experience. The blind teacher for the ATB class was
excellent...she had all the tricks and lessons of blind life. I think that a
sighted person would be limited to only the textbook information and not respond
as quickly as an experienced blind person would be. But, again, it doesn't mean
that it's impossible for a sighted person to be able to work with a blind
client. It would just take a bit longer to use quick recall of its sensitive
issues that involve blindness. Another point to consider: a counselor who is
blind could end up lacking the ability of sensitivity and inexperienced with the job.
Bottom line is having a counselor blind or sighted does not matter really. It's
what the whole person in itself is: Experienced? Has the ability to pick up on
the client's needs in which falls the issue of sensitivity and understanding?
Just as that sighted counselor who was more experienced with blind and not
deafblind, she was good in some ways but lacked the ability to assist me with my
deafness issues/needs. Now, I have a sighted counselor who has worked with
deafblind but he lacks the experience of a seasoned counselor. He's still
learning but knows a lot more than the previous counselor.
I feel that it all boils down to one fact. Attitude. It takes a good,
cooperative, attitude from both parties. A counselor should be excited about the
job and is willing to dig up all the information and resources in order to
provide all the assistance in rehabilitating the client and is willing to work
with the client closely. It takes a client to be willing to work with the
counselor especially when the counselor may be inexperienced because there may
be no other counselors around to take on the case. Life is a two-way street, in
my viewpoint, and both parties need to work together to make anything happen.”
Ade (Olivia, Minnesota USA)
FROM ME: “This respondent writes- ‘…Life is a two-way street, in
my viewpoint, and both parties need to work together to make anything happen…’ So what would be the top joint responsibilities/actions necessary between the client and counselor in order to best make this a cooperative effort?”
**16. “I think a mixture of counselors is best. A friend who is low vision just
retired from working for Rehab, he and I were discussing the fact that no
one in his office remains who is visually impaired now. Sometimes, theory
isn't enough. It may be physically possible with the right training to
navigate a complex route, but is it emotionally worth the cost to the
individual? I choose to be a guide dog handler because the stress level is
less for me. Although I can travel independently very well with a cane, it
exhausts me and I find I avoid unnecessary trips and thus travel less. With
my dog, I go anywhere anytime without a second thought. A sighted
instructor once placed me in a complicated situation and when I handled it,
he exclaimed! You are the best cane user I ever worked with, why do you need
a dog? He just didn't get it. What makes me a good cane traveler, is that
I tune into every sound, scent, texture beneath my feet, change in air
currents and pressures, change of temperature on my face and anything I can
pick up from the environment. It requires such a state of concentration
that I end up drained after I arrive at my destination. It is like being a
small rabbit in a dark woods in which I know the fox might be behind every
bush. Its just not worth the price I pay to be safe. I don't feel anyone
should be in a rehab position who can't imagine walking in our shoes and
treat us as individuals with differing needs and personal styles. We were
individuals before vision loss and still are. Therefore, I think the
counselor should not have been defensive. The gentleman was only operating
from his life experience when he asked for a guy who had experience doing
the job of being blind.”
DeAnna Noriega (USA)
**17. “As far as a counselor goes, whether they be blind or sighted, makes no
difference to me, I have seen both good and bad in both, it is the
individual that counts.”
Walter Siren (ACB-L)
**18. “Right on, Walter; it is the knowledge base of the counselor; the counselor's
ability and willingness to assist the client in finding out information; the
counselor's listening and counseling skills. The only edge a counselor with
a disability may have--and I have experienced this--is built-in empathy for
clients with disabilities. Sometimes, this can really enhance the
counselor's relationship with the consumer thus making it easier to build
rapport and trust.”
Darla J. Dahl, CRC
(St. Louis, Missouri USA)
**19. “Upon graduating from high school I began working with what was then
Services for the Blind. At that time the counselors were blind. Now things
have completely changed. Under DVR I don't believe we have a blind
counselor in the state. Under The Bureau for the Blind we have I think one
rehabilitation teacher and a few visually impaired teacher assistants.
Now it is my belief that there has to be a mix of blind and sighted
counselors and teachers. Roll models are so important. Blind counselors
perhaps understand as they are living as a blind person. In areas such as
mobility training and others a sighted counselor is very important.
If I were to go to a sighted rehab counselor and I wanted to change my
career and go back to school would they say yes you can do this without a
problem, or would there be barriers as to how could you do that as a blind
person, do you believe you are being realistic etc.”
Ann Schroeder (ACB-L)
FROM ME: “So what do you say, can a blind counselor perform all the duties of rehabilitation training/counseling? Can a blind person teach another blind individual cane travel skills?”
**20. “I think a mix as Ann puts it is the way to go, we do need role
models who know where we are going. We have that here at the blind
commission and its good.”
Robert Clark (ACB-L)
**21. “This story you sent gave me a lot to think about. I'm a new
participant in the blind world and I'm on a lot of lists trying to learn
what's what. To be honest, I think I'd prefer a sighted councilor. Here is my reason. A lot of the people I've met on the lists expect
that a blind person can do this that or the other thing because they
do it. For some of us, things aren't as simple. Some people are never comfortable with eating out or some may not be comfortable walking without assistance or travelling alone. On these lists I've seen a lot of "we don't need that we all do it ourselves" when some of us don't. I've had a much easier time explaining to sighted people that I'd like to learn Braille but am unsure of my ability, that I'd like to learn mobility but until I learn this I don't venture out without someone who I know and trust. A sighted person may expect less but that makes my goals something I can hope for. A blind person that feels things are natural sets goals that are too high for me at this time.
Thank you for listening to me and for posing this question.”
FROM ME: “How many of us have started from here? If I were to now say- ‘This was a story from the heart, now it is up to us to battle for his mind and sole.’ Do you agree? And what would you say to him?”
**22. “I really don't have a preference as to a blind or sighted counselor. There
are pros and cons to both, which I have seen first-hand.
My sighted counselor was very good, took care of things on time usually, and
was very helpful in explaining what I see to other people. She could also
drive and meet us at a moment's notice.
My visually impaired counselor did the same things as before (except drive),
but was more adimit about getting things pushed through faster.”
That's my take on it.
**23. “I have seen some good counselors and some bad ones in the blindness field.
The trouble with either blind or sighted counselors is that they really have
to believe that the blind person they are working with is going to be
successful and can really find employment. Too many counselors on both
sides of the fence simply don't believe their client will succeed, for
whatever reason might be involved.”
Pamela Fairchild (Blind-X)
FROM ME: “EXPECTATIONS!! On a scale of 1 through 10, where does this fall and why?”
**24. “Should it matter whether the Vocational Counselor's are blind or not? I
think it depends upon the person . The Counselors who I have had who
were sighted. Both were pretty good.
They listened to what my goals were, got to know me as a person, what my
needs and skills were. They also provided me with appropriate training as
well as assisted me in finding employment.
On the other hand, I have had more blind Counselors who were not very good
at all. They did not have high expectations for me, did not provide much
in assistance in my Education nor employment. Also, they did not really
get to know me and realize that I had more potential and I expected more
Despite these facts, I personally believe that a counselor whom is blind
may be more supportive and have high expectations for their clients. At
least, they should.
Moreover, the counselors who are blind, in most cases have more insight
into what it is like to be blind and what our needs are; such as the
adaptive technology we need in order to be successful on the job.
It is human nature, for us to relate better to others, if we " walk a mile
in someone's shoes". We can identify with the experiences other blind have
on a physical and emotional level much better.
Sighted counselors can be supportive and know what our needs are. But,
this is often due to what they have been taught in training, not what they
themselves have personally experienced.
Some sighted counselors may be very qualified and remember facts about what
low vision clients need Vs the totally blind.
However, they do not usually experience the discrimination, and the
rejections due to employers not willing to give us an opportunity. Nor do
they experience, playing the waiting game for a technician to adapt their
work station ----and, then to discover the technician can't adapt the
equipment after all which results in the client losing another job.
How can most sighted counselors truly understand, if they do not go through
this month after month, year after year?
Like I said, some may be very good, but they can only imagine what it is
like to be " blind". This is true, with anything, for example, some
counselors who work at drug rehab centers, that were once former drug
addicts themselves usually make better counselors and can help the addicts
recover. He/she knows, all the tricks as well as what it is like to go
through withdrawal and how to make it to the other side.
Another example is, someone who has been in a psychiatric unit, recovers
and later works to heel others, can be a great role model for the patients
dealing with mental illness.
Once again, this does not mean, people who have not been down the same
road, can't understand, and assist the client to focus so he/she can get
back on their journey. It may be a smoother road to take with less
roadblocks along the way.
One last remark, at this present time, I have a sighted counselor, who is
alright. Though, I think another blind person could be more supportive,
does not mean, I am going to ask for a blind counselor. I think, she is
doing her best with the tools she has, and like I had said at the beginning
of this post, it truly depends on the person. We should not judge until we
give the person a chance for we do not want others to judge us and give us
the benefit of the doubt. Until he/she proves otherwise; then, we should
communicate how we feel and perhaps, go to CAP, if we can not get our needs
Karen Hughes (Blind-X)
FROM ME: “What do you think- What are the percentage gain of having a good blind counselor over having a good sighted counselor? Then, what would the percentage lost if you have a bad blind counselor verses having a bad sighted counselor?”
**25. “My first VR counselor was totally blind.
I believe that there is something to be said for peer role modeling.
I've also had sighted counselors who were okay.
I remember one of my sighted counselors calling me from a pay phone with
job listings in my community.
Currently I have a legally blind counselor who is also a colleague.”
Brian Langlois (Blind-X)
**26. “I have mixed feelings about this issue. My clients tell me they can relate to me because I am blind and their sighted friends and family cannot understand
their problems. I have been taught by sighted people who understand the adaptive
skills of blindness. I think if a person wants a blind counselor the state should arrange for one to be assigned to that person. In my state this does
not happen. You are assigned to the person that covers your area. This saves money on travel and the counselors are understaffed. There is no easy answer
to this question.”
Angela Farmer (Dothan Alabama USA)
FROM ME: “Where do you feel the line should be drawn between client choice and
agency/commission resources and/or willingness to honor choice issues?”
**27. “This is an interesting Thought Provoker. After reading this particular
one, I realize what a great impact the staff at the training center in
Lincoln, Nebraska impacted me. The first time I toured the center, my
husband (my fiancée at the time) was a student there. He introduced me to
several people who would educate me, such as Dr. Nyman, Susan Myles, Bob
Shankland, and of course, Larry Mackey.
You see, I came from the other side where I was so convinced that blind
counselors weren't good enough. I went to the residential school in
Aberdeen, SD. Of course, you know that these residential schools are bound
by A.E.R. philosophy, especially in the area of cane travel. The only blind
teachers we had were our music teacher and one of the primary
teachers. Everyone else was sighted, including my home room teachers.
Of course, one of the biggest challenges I've had to face myself was the
idea of cane travel being taught by someone who was partially
sighted. Larry educated me a lot, and seeing Cindy Zimmer under sleep
shades was also shocking to me. I also had a problem with sighted [and
partially sighted people] being under sleep shades as they were going
through the center. This was very unsettling to me, until Larry sat me
down one day and help me to understand that he was very safe to travel
with; and that the sleep shades were very helpful to the staff in their
training. To this day, I really do thank Larry for being patient with me,
and being so willing to educate me.
As you know, my youngest sister has also been through the training
center. She and Donovan have encouraged me to go through the center of the
opportunity arises. You have super people who work the program in
Nebraska, both blind and sighted. I have no doubt that you have some of
the best people in the nation.”
Bonnie Ainsworth (Wyoming USA)
FROM ME: “Nebraska does have an orientation center wherein some staff are sighted and some are blind. Our travel instructors are always blind. All staff, field or center staff are required to spend their first 3 months of employment under sleep shades going through the center along side our clients.”
**28. “I had forwarded this to NHblind-talk and got this excellent response which I
am sharing. Ed Meskys
----- Original Message -----
From: Cheryl gannon <
Sent: Monday, April 30, 2001 6:12 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: New THOUGHT PROVOKER- Blind or sighted Counselor
Hello Ed and others:
I am a professional who subscribes to this list but I do not "lurk", so I
Hope that my response will still be counted!
My feeling is that the consumer has the right to request a blind or sighted
counselor. I don't know that I agree with the sighted counselor in the
PROVOKER that all employees are "equally good" because they are all, sighted or
Blind, individuals with certain strengths and certain weaknesses. After all, they
Are all human beings like the rest of us.
Perhaps the hidden question here is, should a commission for the blind only
Hire blind people as employees? Or is it, should a commission for the blind hire
blind people for certain jobs and sighted for others, depending on the
requirements of the job? Or is it, should employees be hired according to
their individual qualifications and ability to perform the requirements of the
job? Should disability be a factor which determines who gets hired for what job?
For that matter, should the color of one's skin be a factor determining who gets
hired for what job, or the person's age or his weight or the color of her
hair or his shoe size or .... ? How do we define discrimination in hiring
practices? Is it only discrimination if it is against a minority group?
Having worked for a commission for the blind in the past, I think that I was
hired because I had the expertise and qualifications they were looking for
and I was, in their judgment, the best applicant at the time that they needed to
fill the job. Should they have held off hiring someone for the position until a
blind applicant came along? Or should they have actively recruited a blind
person? What if that blind person were less qualified, should he/she have
been hired anyway? If that is so, then would the agency not be doing a disservice
to the consumer?
I guess I have more questions than answers! So, the PROVOKER did it's job
Of making me think!
I hope that some other people will comment. I enjoy these types of
Questions and I am very interested in hearing from others on the listserv - both
sighted and blind."
FROM ME: “It is gratifying to see that THOUGHT PROVOKER is seen to be worthy of passing on to others. Please, by all means forward it to anyone you feel may be interested.”
**29. “I have worked, both as a client and professionally, with both blind and
sighted VR people. Just because someone is blind themselves doesn't make them
a good VR Counselor or teacher. I have seen good and bad from both. One that
really stands out is this totally Blind guy I had as a HS student. He had
been given his job back in the 40's when you didn't need a college degree to
become a VR worker. He had his own state driver and personal assistant and
wondered why every blind person wasn't as independent as he was (smile) Then
there was this sighted Job coach that was literally afraid of blind people.”
Charlie Brown (Blindfam list)
**30. “I believe that no one can teach a blind person like another blind person,
but the teacher needs to be a good role model. However this is not to say
that there aren't excellent sighted counselors doing good work. I've seen
inept blind employees that can do more damage in promoting the stereotypic
image we're trying to get away from. In the final analysis, I believe
(here's the ideal), agencies serving the blind need to focus on hiring blind
personnel to do the work--everything from counseling to janitorial and
clerical. A setup like that speaks volumes to the public-at-large.
Also, as consumers and tax-payers, we have a right to choose the counselor
we prefer to serve us, even if they may not be assigned the demographic
region in which we live, as long as the preferred counselor is housed in the
area office. I think, sometimes, we feel locked into a situation where we
don't realize we have a say in what transpires in the relationship between
participant and agency.
I used to be a rehab instructor (before moving and kids), and the client who
had planned what they wanted to accomplish and outlined the help needed was
very easy to serve. In other words, I believe most counselors are relieved
when you can tell them what to do, and how they can help you meet your
Judy Jones (NFB Human Services List)
FROM ME: “Well, how about it? A Commission/Agency for the blind and visually impaired that has an entire blind/visually impaired staff? Or what do you feel about just the opposite, all staff being sighted?”
**31. “Besides being a blind man in my early 30's, I am a manager and have been a
manager of other people for about five years. During this time, I have had
to hire and fire lots of people, and I've had to fill positions in a variety
of skill areas (e.g. clerical, technical, professional and supervisory).
When I look to hire someone, I look for someone with relevant experience, a
specific set of knowledge and some demonstrable abilities.
This question of sighted rehabilitation counselors (for that is the real
crux of the question) is really a question about the value of experience and
ability relative to the importance of knowledge. Put another way: which is
more important: knowledge, abilities or experience? For if knowledge is
relatively more important, then anyone with a predefined skill set should be
able to be a rehabilitation counselor. On the other hand, if experience
and/or abilities is more critical, then the advantage should fall to a blind
person relative to a sighted person.
There are two levels upon which to approach this issue. First, you can look
at whether or not the knowledge and skill set required to be an effective
counselor can be obtained by a sighted person. Second, you can compare
outcomes of which group (sighted or blind) does better for its client base.
IN the first case, I would argue that it is definitely possible for a
sighted person to learn the job of counselor. After all, they can take the
classes; they can read the books; they can observe other counselors with
more experience; they can practice the skills of living independently under
sleep shade. I think the real question is in the relative success of blind
vs. sighted counselors.
I'm not an expert, so I don't know what research is out there, but I believe
that it would be possible to measure the outcomes of blind vs. sighted
counselors. These outcomes include not only the number of successful
closures, or the percentage of successful closures, but also the degree to
which clients feel that they have been successfully rehabilitated and/or
effectively supported. Assuming that someone could do the research with a
statistically significant sampling of blind and sighted counselors, I think
this is a knowable answer to a relatively straight forward question.
As for me, I've had direct experience with the rehabilitation delivery
systems in four states. I've probably experienced or observed the work of
about 10 to 15 counselors, at least half of whom would be defined as blind
or severely visually impaired. Based on this relatively good experience, I
would have to say that I can't say that blind counselors have appeared any
better than sighted ones. I do think that blind counselors should be better
because they should be walking in the door with not only knowledge but a
superior amount of experience. However, in reality, blind counselors are
like blind people in general. They have differing levels of independence.
They have differing levels of personal skills, organizational abilities,
Put another way, while I think blindness may give a slight advantage to a
counselor relative to an equally qualified sighted counselor, I would argue
that the differences in skill, motivation and work habits far outweigh the
difference posed by sight vs. blindness. Moreover, if I were hiring
counselors, I would look for other knowledge, skills and abilities, and use
blindness as a tie-breaker between equally qualified candidates.”
Ron Brooks (Albuquerque, New Mexico USA)
**32. “Well now I don't know if I am speaking out of turn but will speak anyway.
We just had a problem with a sighted counselor and the company will not hire
any more blind or even take on blind for a job.
the person who was applied for job is at score one.
the counselor said that it cost too much money to put in equipment.
this galls me because the company was going to hire more than one blind
for me the counselor needs to be spanked but most of all the person needs a
The person is very depressed now and that is something to be expected.
But I know the person will pick up his boot straps and try again with
How can we keep this from happening over and over again?”
**33. “I thought about your article on having a sighted or blind councilor with rehab
I have had both sighted and a blind councilor myself. I thought the blind
councilor has better understanding and empathy towards blind people because
they have been in allot of the same circumstances as the client and can give
the client the confidence to achieve their goals as they had to.”
but both are good in their work it just pertains who you get as a councilor.
Amy sabo (NABS)
**34. “I am a blind professional who has worked in the vision rehabilitation field as a rehabilitation counselor, supervisor, manager, etc. for more than 23 years.
I believe prejudice, in any direction, is unhealthy.”
Anthony R. Candela (AERnet)
**35. “Well, I never had a blind councilor. I have had friends who have, and it
seemed to me that they had a bit more on the ball than the sighted ones
did. I mean, at least they knew what was needed and didn't bat an eye at
the request of a Braille dictionary and understood what the cost would be
without having that shocked expression on their face. Out of the three
councilors I had, one was vaguely familiar with the necessary equipment, the
other two were clueless. They got me through school, with struggles all the
way. When I got my first job, they had nothing to do with it, but, boy, how
they wanted to take credit for it. Oh, now getting on a personal thing!
Bottom line is I think the blind councilor would tend to be better and more
experienced, but I really don't think it is necessary to request one over
the other. You would hope they'd both be qualified if they are holding down
the job. Wouldn't that be nice?”
Tom Rash (Yucaipa, California USA)
**36. “I have been a VR client for many years and feel that, although the sighted
counselor may be competent in his or her job, they are unable to truly
understand and empathize with their clients.”
Christy Durham (NFB-talk)
**37. “Whether the counselor is blind or sighted may be important for some new
prospective clients/students. What is important (and very much so), is
whether the agency does expose trainees to a variety of blind people who
have successfully mastered the skills of blindness because even for blind
people "seeing is believing." Saying "You can read Braille at three-hundred
words a minute.", or, "You can travel just fine without sight." is just a
fiction if it isn't backed up with successful examples.”
Mike Bullis (Portland, Organ USA)
FROM ME: “So what if the agency/commission doesn’t have a competent blind person on staff to readily bring in to meet and demonstrate the end result; how well we can all learn nonvisual or low vision techniques?” (Look around the community in the consumer groups, right.)
**38. “I personally see this as the worst kind of prejudice; to automatically assume that because someone is sighted they can not be a good counselor for the blind. Isn't that the exact same prejudice we speak of when we speak of prejudice towards the blind?
Should we use this premise that "only like can counsel like" we must then apply that to everything in life.........and sometimes "like" isn't the best. I know that I have a choice in my own TCB (there is a blind and a sighted counselor available) and for my own situation, the blind counselor is really of no assistance to me in the respect of being able to help me with my case. He is a nice guy, however he has his own prejudices......toward my use of my remaining vision. He is totally against that and spent a lot of time advising me against that.
Now the sighted counselor I had wasn't much better because he refused to acknowledge that impact my hearing loss had on my vision loss.
So my opinion is to dismiss a counselor based SOLELY on his or her lack or presence of vision is like cutting your nose off to spite your face and exhibiting the exact sort of prejudice that we often decry. Isn't the whole point of fighting prejudice start with examining one's own prejudices? And that means giving everyone a chance to prove themselves, regardless of their race, creed, religion, sex or disability.”
Debra Streeter (Victoria, Texas USA)
**39. “I am partially sighted. I’ve have had fully sighted and partially sighted and blind counselors. I prefer the blind ones best. I base this on my experience of the guy who is my VR Counselor now and he is a total. He not only understands how it is to function fully sightless, but because he has spent years working with a variety of clients of all sight levels, he understands me when I say, “I can’t quite see that.” He has shown me both the low vision methods for travel, along with the blind ones too. Through asking many questions he’s figured out what I can see and has pointed out to me what I can hear and feel. In using the computer he has not only demonstrated speech, but also Zoom-Tex; he knew which key strokes were needed to make the program jump through its hoops. In cooking and house keeping he’s done the same type of thing; pointed out the hearing and feeling part and questioned me to figure out the sighted part.
So if you can get a good blind counselor, do it.”
Debbie B. (USA)
**40. “Well, when I was going through high school and post high school, Mr. Getmann was my counselor and he was sighted but he truly had the person's well being and work directives at heart and he fought for me to have help going through a Bible college program which I was aiming toward a career in so he gave me his best efforts and even though it took three years, or almost that long, he came through with help financially for the training. He gave me directives
in what job possibilities there were but he didn't mind if I had other directions to look into either.”
Sally Baird (Hastings, Nebraska USA)
**41. “I can see where Mister Smith is coming from. There are things that a competent blind instructor can teach that a sighted person will never know how. But
at the same time a competence sighted instructor is far better than a blind person that isn't. I had dealings with both sighted instructors and blind instructors and found that it is the person that makes the instructor, not the person's sight or lack of.”
RJ fugagli (USA)
**42. “The Home Owner appears to be of that belief system that says one must have personal experience with something to be able to assist anyone with a similar
experience. This belief system is similar to those who one must be married to do marriage counseling, have children to counsel parents, or a specific gender
to understand the issues of that gender. While one's experience can add empathy to the mix of understanding and dispersing helpful advice, it not always
necessary to be a good listener and counselor.”
Sheila DeRose (Crestwood, Illinois (SW Chicago suburb)
Blind versus sighted counselors - what a topic! I can see two sides to this
issue. On one hand, the client is concerned that the consular, if sighted, may
not be able to understand his/her specific needs and feelings on blindness. On
the other, the Commission may feel that this need is met, but that when it
comes time for adaptations to be made, the sighted person would be better able
to take care of that. A catch 22 situation no matter how you look at it.
For me, I've always had blind counselors until I came to Massachusetts. Paul is
fully sighted. In the past, the blind counselors have had a sighted companion
with them - usually the driver of the car that brought the counselor to my
home. The driver has had to do things like showing me where I need to sign a
form or take notes to help the counselor when he/she returned to the office so
my folder could be updated. Usually, a second person - the Daily Living
Specialist or the Mobility Instructor - would come out to my home to fulfill
my needs and they were always sighted. My mobility instructor, Kelly, was a
great help to me. He'd joke around with me during our sessions as I was
learning my cane technique and I knew because he was sighted that I was safe.
I'm not so sure I'd feel quite as safe with a blind mobility instructor. Not
to say their abilities didn't equal those of a sighted instructor, but because
car drivers can be so unpredictable. If something happened to cause a car to
squeal its brakes, etc., I'd be afraid the blind counselor wouldn't be able to
give me enough information fast enough for us to get to a safe location. There
were a couple of close calls - not with cars, but with animals - I seem to
recall during my sessions and Kelly handled them like a pro. I don't like big
dogs and I knew Kelly could either steer me around them or walk on the side of
the walk nearest the yard to prevent any unnecessary encounters.
I've considered becoming a counselor, but my vision is not perfect and I feel,
in certain circumstances, that this could compromise my client's best
interests. True, there are modifications - laptop computers, large print
forms, tape recorders, but that doesn't help me when I miss something on the
floor that could injure my client or myself. I am a strong advocate for
complete Customer Service and if I cannot provide that, I'd just assume leave
it to someone who can. I don't want to have to rely on a driver to fill out
forms with my client. That's not his job nor should he/she be privy to such
information. Also, if my counselor can't mark my stove when I first move into
a new apartment, I'm stuck waiting literally months w/o access to things like
me stove. I had it happen here and it was most annoying. I'm lucky I have a
sighted husband who can help out, but most don't have that luxury.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not biased against blind counselors, but there are
limitations as a result of their disability. Believe me, I've had some good
hear-to-heart conversations with blind counselors in the past that I don't
think would have been so forthcoming with sighted counselors so there are
definitely emotional benefits, but both physical and emotional needs are
Well, I'll step down from the soap box now and let others speak their minds.
Thank you for listening.”
Shelley Proulx (Brighton, Massachusetts USA)
FROM ME: “The next response will talk to much of what this respondent felt concerns over when thinking of becoming a blind rehab professional.”
**44. “I am a blind, totally blind VR Counselor. There isn’t hardly a thing I can’t do in the performance of my duties. I have my forms in my NoteTaker where I fill them out. I have my paper forms marked so that I can personally assist another blind person to sign on the line. I provide instruction in the home when necessary in the areas of cooking, cleaning, home maintenance, etc. I provide cane travel to both low vision cane or non-cane users and to the totally blind too; I have yet to lose or get a person hurt. I will also teach computers to the totally blind and to the person using low vision software (I know the key strokes and what they are to do). Sometimes I go to a persons home by bus, but because I am too busy I mostly use a sighted driver. My sighted driver only helps when I need to mark some dials or when I need a reader to figure out what a label is saying in print so that I can mark it in Braille or large print. I mostly keep the new client away from my sighted driver when we are working together, so that if there is a question, the client can only ask me. I seldom find anyone who doesn’t appreciate my work and most like the fact that I am blind because I am living proof that it all can be done. I think that if all is equal between a blind and sighted counselor, that the blind one is preferable.”
**45. “I am Irma Herzog in Rochester, N. Y.
I worked for a rehabilitation agency for 20 years.
Often I had to work with a person from the commission office. There were
people who were blind and others had sight. I think that often a blind
counselor is helpful. However, many people who needed the services were in
places difficult to reach. The commission office did provide transportation
assistance. One person who is blind has chosen to change his work. He was
a counselor, and now works with computer teaching.
I would be happier if the commission offices would hire more people were
blind. Now that I think about it, I don't know anyone who is legally blind
in that office.
I do think that some people who are blind and receiving the services become
upset when they find they have a sighted counselor.
I am a blind rehabilitation teacher. I certainly had different opinions
when I reached people's homes.
So, I think we have a mixed bag here. More agencies should give us a chance
to prove that we are good examples to our students.
Enough rambling for now.”
Irma Herzog (Rochester, New York USA)
FROM ME: “Anyone know which services for the blind or visually impaired in this or other countries do and do not have blind staff? Ever seen a study/report on this? What do you think the statistics would show?”
**46. “I don't believe that the choice of whether your counselor is blind or
sighted can be made exclusively on that criteria. We've all experienced or
have heard of counselors who are less than competent, and it doesn't matter
whether they're blind or sighted. So, I believe that a blind counselor may
be able to understand the problems that a client may be experiencing. The
empathy might be there with a blind counselor. But, a well trained sighted
counselor, someone with more than adequate training in both the skills of
blindness and a good attitude toward blindness could be an asset to the
We like to say that with proper training and opportunity, we can compete on
an equal basis with our neighbors. Maybe the same can be said for a sighted
Cindy Handel (Willow Street, Pennsylvania USA)
**47. “easier. But, having a sighted VRC can have good points too. For instance, they are a good example of how cool the general public could be if they were
educated about the blind.
So personally I think that sighted VRC's are just as qualified as blind VRC's. They may just have to do it a little bit differently. Hmm. . . now that
Brent J. Heyen (Chadron Nebraska USA)
FROM ME: “Here are two quotes, from the past two responses-
1. ‘…We like to say that with proper training and opportunity, we can compete on
an equal basis with our neighbors. Maybe the same can be said for a sighted
’…So personally I think that sighted VRC's are just as qualified as blind VRC's. They may just have to do it a little bit differently…’
Look at these close! What all is being said hear?”
**48. “Well, to tell you the truth, I have NEVER had a sighted VR counselor! Not
once! In Los Angeles I had a Mr. Mackey who was simply AWFUL. He did NOTHING for
me or with me, just sat on his duff and told me what I could NOT do. I hear
that when he regained his sight through surgery, he immediately quit the
Voc Rehab department and left for the sighted world as fast as he could go!
Then, discouraged and disheartened by that mess, I left the Voc Rehab behind
me as useless. Finally, twenty years later, in san Francisco I got Don
Queen, also blind, who did a GREAT job! He helped me get into the
Orientation center for the blind and was wonderfully supportive. I moved
and got some fellow in Livermore California, a Mister B. who was blind and
simply never did ANYTHING. For two years, he would wait a month to answer
my repeated calls ands say "Oh we have to get together some day, yeah." and
then disappear again. I finally tracked HIM down and met with him by
surprise after the second year had passed. O found a disheveled little guy
with a tentative hesitant manner and NOTHING in the way of skill or
willingness to work with me. I moved away from town without getting
anything accomplished at all. Now I have Mr. Manzo who is also blind, but
is bright, energetic and helpful! He has met with me, we have a meeting
coming up this Wednesday, and we have a strategy worked out and in
progress. Frankly, I was unaware that the Voc Rehab Department even HIRED
sighted Rehab counselors! But certainly the blind counselors I have had have spanned the spectrum
from totally incompetent to real go-getters. And according to the VR
department, if I were not satisfied, there's nothing I could do because "we
always give visually impaired clients to the blind counselor. He is the
only one you can choose." I don't know if the situation is different
outside of California.”
Sylvia Stevens (California USA)
**50. “It depends on the client, but I think every commission and agency for the
blind should have blind counselors and psychologists. I also think
counselors should not only be available for clients but for families of the
blind and more support groups. The blind get far less support than
substance abusers and other groups. With the high unemployment rate among
the blind, this should be a priority for any commission or agency for the
blind. There should be both sighted and blind counselors, but definitely
more blind counselors available. One would not run a group for
African-Americans or Hispanics without hiring a high proportion of members
of that group or a women's group hire only men or vice versa. The
commissions and agencies should be a mix of people if possible -sighted, not
sighted, born blind, adventitiously blind, young, old, male, female and also
with minority representation if possible.”
Catherine Alfieri (7 Summer Tree
Pittsford, New York USA)
**51. “I have been involved in Vocational Rehabilitation for 2 years, but before that, I was involved in the school for the blind in my state's training sessions once a year. I had both sighted and blind teachers, but mostly sighted teachers. My technology instructor, the one who taught me JFW, was blind, and I feel that was a valuable asset to his teaching, he knew how to use the software
without vision. The technology instructor who taught me the Macintosh was sighted, and even though she was a great teacher, I feel I did not learn much because she did not push me to use the software that spoke and magnified the text. For technology, I think that if the teacher is also blind, all the better.
The reason I say this is because with the sighted instructor, it was as if she was sending me a message, "I don't use adaptive technology, so why should you?" For years, I did not use screen reading and screen magnification software like she suggested. I regret it now, but with the blind technology instructor,
it was as if he was saying, "I know what you are going through, so learn as much as you can now." Which I did.
I have not had an experience with a blind O&M teacher, but I feel for this area, where the student's safety is involved, a sighted teacher would be better. A blind teacher would know the techniques, but for all involved (student, parent, classroom teacher, and others) if the teacher is sighted, he
or she is able to describe accurately to other sighted people what the student is learning. For example, with cane technique. I have a friend who is also blind, but he is not a mobility teacher who says he can easily teach me 2 point touch. This is nothing against my friend,
but I would personally feel more comfortable if a sighted teacher taught the technique. I have had experience where my friend tried to teach me something on the piano and it did not work. I know piano and mobility are two very different subject areas.
I have a sighted vocational rehabilitation counselor, and I must admit, he is terrible. I am serious. I have never had such a terrible counselor before. He does not understand what is best for me or how best to teach whatever I need to learn. In fact, he does not teach blindness specific skills as some
VR counselors do I've heard. If I have a different counselor, I would switch in a heartbeat. Sorry, just a little venting on my part. But, with VR counselors,
it depends on whether the counselor is teaching skills or not. As I stated above, I would personally have a blind technology instructor any day over a
sighted technology instructor. It's with the VR counselor too. Because he is sighted, it is as if he is sending the message, "I don't use adaptations,
of any kind, so I don't see why you have to."
Certain teachers just send the aura of not understanding to their students, and I have had a few. Even the first O&M instructor I had was like that.
If the teacher uses common sense and not educational theories all the time, the student will be better off. Yes, I realize that educational theories are important (I'm going to be a teacher for goodness sakes!) but they can only go so far.
I think I have made my point. I hope so anyway.”
Alexis Read (Moorhead, Minnesota USA firstname.lastname@example.org)
**52. “I liked this query as it opens up so many hoary chestnuts for me which
cannot easily be answered .... I suffer from ambylopia and am legally blind
which I have been since I can remember ... I still have sight in my good
eye as I phrase it but with age it is changing ... I spent two years when I
was younger being patched 24 hours per day so I was legally blind literally
with no support systems which are available now being around then ... the
chalkboard was a blur let alone trying to find the tiny lines in my
exercise book, walking was always with a fall or into objects I did not
see, sports were impossible .. I missed out on so much and just sat ..when
I began working in the VI field I remember so clearly those experiences and
to remind myself all I need do is close my good eye and zap the world is a
blur to me .. my students who I discussed this at times with could not
believe that I too had such a severe visual loss in one eye as I seemed so
normal in their words ... the thing I found is that whilst this was
beneficial it wasn't needed to work in this field - sure it helped in
bringing me more understanding but was it a pre-requirement ... no I don't
think so ... it just meant at times I could close one eye look at the work
my student was doing and have a reasonable idea of changes that may assist
my student with legal blindness but not necessarily the same experience as
that of the student I was working with just a rough idea.
In my long winded way I guess I am saying that in order to work in an area
does one have to be having the same disability .. I have two autistic
children but those that work with them are they meant to be autistic as
well? I don't think so. I have an intellectually disabled daughter so
should the people she is instructed by required to be intellectually
disabled? No. I have a son with Lauder-Kleffner Syndrome so does this mean
his speech pathologist should also have Lauder-Kleffner syndrome? Again no.
To work in an area of specialization for me arises because of a commitment
and desire to want to work there. So like an international trip you prepare
yourself and you learn and keep learning as you move along the itinerary that
is your work. With the learning because you have the desire you also have I
would hope compassion and the ability to 'hear' what those you are working
with are saying to you adding to your growth. Everyone is individual and
every disability is unique to people also. My son attends an Autism Social
Group (yes I know what a contradiction in terms) and within the group are 7
boys all with the same diagnosis but they are so different it astounds me
to see them together. So in the world of visual impairment the experiences
of one blind person may be totally different to those of another - this is
what makes us human and allows us to bring into our work these unique life
experiences which we can share and grow from with others.
I just wonder why Mr. Smith wanted specifically a blind person - was he
newly blinded? Or dare I say it was in fact Mr. Smith one of those people
who actually were biased towards sighted people through some experiences he
had earlier in life? A case of equal opportunities in reverse as it goes.
It sounded as if Mr. Smith had not much to do with the sighted world if he
assumed that he would be sent a blind worker was another query I though on
as well. What was he expecting and wanting? Okay at times I would love to
talk to another person with the same mental illness as I have - on
occasions I have done so - it helped initially in that okay other people
feel x, y or z so I can empathize with Mr. Smith's request for a change. But
I also found if I kept talking to those people I became very isolated and
lost focus on goals and measures within society, it also depressed me
considerably because I felt like I did not know one 'normal' whatever that
is person. I was whirling in this vortex of mental illness and not
progressing in the company of other people who had the same diagnosis as I
did but also their own issues. I needed wanted required a person with
objectivity to help me sort out me.
I hope this all makes sense - all I know is that the first thing that
thought provoker provoked in me was wow talk about biased on the part of Mr.
Smith who was not even prepared to hear the person out. If you are going to
change a worker then at least do it for the right reasons for you and not
because they do not have the same disability - such a harsh step to take.”
Julie Robottom (Northern Region - Gresswell Cluster Australia)
**53. “A somewhat short comment today. I think a blind counselor is as good (or as bad as) a sighted one. The real question is what attitudes about blindness the counselor has. I’ve met both blind and sighted to have good attitudes, and those who do not. Sometimes it amazes me that some sighted people have
more of a clue than some blind people, and yes, I'm referring to those who've been blind all their lives. As for preferences myself, well, mostly it's based on some presuppositions. A blind counselor, one assumes, would be better in some situations where sighted people may not get the point. But again,
that presupposes the blind counselor has all the requisite skills to b reasonably competent at his/her job. Nowadays, if I were back there in the days of rehab or VR stuff, or whatever, I might think a blind counselor might be better.”
Blind or sighted Counselor
John D. Coveleski (New York, New York (email@example.com)
**54. “Some of the responses that I have heard have struck me as very interesting. They seem to be promoting the very thing that I, as a rehabilitation counselor
am trying to change.
Let me begin by saying that blind people having blind mentors is very important. Advocacy and consumer groups provide support and information regarding strategies and techniques. they provide emotional support and assist with many other blindness related issues. In addition, I appreciate that the Texas
Commission for the Blind requires all sighted staff to spend over 50 hours under blindfold in order to increase sensitivity and awareness. On the other
hand, if you hold to the premise that only a blind counselor can effectively work with blind individuals, than you have an exact duplicate of many employer attitudes. I spend 2 days per week in the field trying to convince employers that blind people can work in a sighted world. Explaining that if a blind
individual is adequately trained and has the proper equipment along with the intellectual skills necessary to perform the job, the blindness should not be a factor.
If an attitude exists that only blind counselors can be effective in working with blind consumers, then why are we so surprised at the employer attitudes that only sighted people can perform jobs that have been traditionally done by sighted people. I think I see an underlying theme here. It is the counselors
responsibility to have faith and confidence in me and understand my unique situation. they should feel my frustration and walk in my shoes. The only problem is that I don't know two blind people who have the exact same issues. While there is some commonality in certain areas, I.e., mobility and access,
most counselors do not actually provide this specific training anyway. If other state rehabilitation agencies are anything like Texas, the counselor assists in developing a plan and then contracts with vendors to provide actual services. I myself am totally blind. I also work with sighted counselors. My
employment numbers are no better or worse than those of my sighted counterparts. I think we should be advocating for equality. That means equal opportunity for all, both sighted and blind. Experience and knowledge of the resources available are the primary characteristics of an effective counselor...Not visual
David Ondich (Dallas, Texas USA)
**55. “I didn't have enough time to read all comments on this topic, however, I decided that I do have some ideas. First, I agree that it may not matter if a
counselor is sighted or blind. I have worked with both and gained excellent suggestions from both. Second, I am concerned whether this person wants someone
to feed into his emotions. I work with the mentally ill and low-income during my working day. I feel I am effective even though I am not mentally ill or extremely low income. My clients seem to appreciate the fact that I have my own barriers and struggles. A sighted counselor may have other personal
struggles that they can use to empathize with their blind clients. Third, I disagree with the counselors statement that all are equally good. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. One may be better at employment preparation and another better at teaching independent living skills. I have
never spent much time with rehab since I usually pasted the tests they had. I can really thank my parents for expecting me to do the same chores as the other members. I do rely on the Commission for the Blind for suggestions for an unexpected challenge.”
Marcia Beare, M.S.W. (Martain, Michigan USA)
**56. “I would want someone teaching parenting skills to be a parent and
have gone through the experience of raising children. I believe the delivery room should have only nurses who have given birth and understand the stresses and pain of labor. I would want a sports coach to have played the game and understand dynamics of the physical endurance involved. A blind teacher might better understand how hard it is to learn Braille. But I think I would prefer a sighted teacher to learn to use a cane, or a guide dog, for the simple reason that a sighted teacher can see if you are about to make a mistake and head you in the right direction immediately. In that instance I would not be looking for empathy, but for technique. And if you are caught before you make a mistake, you have nothing to unlearn. Just my opinion.”
Carolyn Gold (Clearwater, Florida USA
**57. “I have never put my 2 cents in twice, but in this case I want to add that my husband Bob's O&M teacher is fully sighted and one of the best anywhere. Part of her teacher training included living for two weeks completely under blindfold: eating, sleeping, showering, riding the bus, using the bathroom, visiting friends, cooking, etc. There was no exception. Suzanne lived the life of a person with no sight. You can say that at the end of two weeks she knew she was going back to the sighted world. But you can also say that it was probably more difficult for a sighted person to orient herself suddenly to living blind, as well as being exposed to the constant temptation to remove that blindfold 'just for a moment'. However you want to argue the point, Suze remains much in demand as an excellent teacher. She has endured low pay (having to work a second and sometimes a third job to make ends meet), amazing stresses on the job, and even physical abuse and bruising at the hands of some students who have struck her with their canes in their own frustration. And yet she keeps going, because it's what she does, and she's very good at what she does.
Suze has not been Bob's counselor for some years, but she has remained our close personal friend, and we get together as often as time permits. This old world needs more people like Suze, sighted or not.”
Carol Ashland said: "I don't think it's a question of whether a
teacher/counselor is blind or sighted, as much as the attitude and
experience of that teacher."
Carolyn Gold (Clearwater, Florida USA
FROM ME: “How about someone from another state telling what the staff training is to get that professional up to speed with the understanding of blindness and to learn to use non-visual techniques? I know that in Nebraska new staff get 3 months training in that states Orientation Center, right along side Commission clients; in travel, Braille, cooking, computer, shop, etc.
Plus, who out there are using blind and visually impaired cane travel instructors? Nebraska is, New Mexico is, Maryland is, the NFB is, who else?”
**58. “Even though I've been blind since birth (almost), I must still address this issue somewhat theoretically since I've hardly had any formal counseling. Of the two people in my life who came the closest to being what one might call a counselor, one was sighted and one was blind. Each was the right person for the job.
The first was a lady whose job it was to teach me how to get around the large city in which I lived on my own. She was sighted, and that, to me, was a great
asset. She was able to let me do a lot of fairly risky things while maintaining a reasonable distance so that I really felt that I was doing them on my own. Should I have made a mistake, e.g. not notice a car which was about to do me in, she was still able to do what a blind teacher would have been unable to do, i.e. see the problem, assess how I was handling it, and rush to the rescue should the need arise. She was also able to carefully watch all aspects of how I did things, without having to interfere with me either by
directly feeling my motions or by being so close that she could sense most of them, and, therefore, give me much better advice regarding what corrections needed to be made.
The second was a lady whose job it was to teach me to read print with an optacon (this was back in the mid-'70s before the days of refreshable Braille displays). The reason that she was good at it was because she herself already was a highly proficient optacon user. The reason that she was so good at using an optacon was because she was blind. It's highly unlikely that a sighted
person would ever have developed optacon usage skills to such a degree of excellence.
I believe that whether a counselor is sighted or blind needs to be considered only insofar as the issue at hand warrants. Let's say, for example, that I want to improve my house cleaning skills. I'd want a sighted person to tell me whether or not my house is clean enough, but I'd want a seasoned blind house cleaner to give me advice regarding the best methods which I could use to detect uncleanliness. Let's say, for another example, that I wanted to learn
the best route between two places. I'd want a sighted person to survey the territory and pick out that best route, but I'd want a seasoned blind traveler to teach me how to do difficult things like accurately cross a wide open spaces at an odd angle.
Like anything else in life, if we want to excel at blindness-related skills then we must fearlessly seek help from those whose attributes will get us there. We must make accurate assessments of our needs, considering all of the attributes which each of our potential teachers has, and honestly acquiring a full understanding of what each of those attributes can contribute to the goal.
We must never cling to fuzzy ideas regarding what makes us feel comfortable since that approach is guaranteed not to stretch ourselves beyond what we already know. Worrying about purely emotional issues like empathy, which have nothing at all to do with a teacher's ability to do his job, may cause us to select an inferior teacher, and, thereby, stunt our growth.
When I need surgery (as I did a couple of years ago), I seek out a surgeon who does his job well. Whether or not he himself has had surgery doesn't even enter into the factors which I consider. I don't even care all that much about his bedside manner, although a compassionate surgeon is sure nicer than a nasty one. When all is said and done, however, what I really care about are things
like his success rate, his standing in the eyes of his peers, and other such things. Primarily, I want him to use the best solution to fix the right problem so that it won't recur. Secondarily, I want the recovery period to be minimal.
While people, in general, can get so sensible with respect to life and death issues, why is it that we, with respect to issues like blindness skills training, tend to get so wishy washy. I believe that the answer to this question is that it's a convenient way to mask our real worry, i.e. we want to enlist the services of someone who'll give us the help we want, but who won't, or can't, offer advice in other areas which we may already sense to be in need of improvement but which our pride can't handle at present. In the hypothetical
tale which provides the foundation for this thread, for example, it may be that the blind guy wanted a blind counselor so as to avoid observations regarding the untidiness of his living room.”
Dave Mielke (2213 Fox Crescent, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)
**59. “I have had both sighted and blind counselors, and I can honestly say that I think each of them did a job that the other may not have been able to do so well. What difference does it make if you get the help you need?”
Billie Rakes (USA)
**60. “I’ve had six different counselors and only two were blind. I better appreciated the blind counselors because they added the dimension of blindness to the mix. Both of these counselors were totally blind, where I am not. At first I felt I would have a problem with them because they would not be able to identify with my visual status, but I was wrong. Not only did they (one was a woman and the other a man) knew of many of my feelings, guessed all of my games of hiding my impairment, talked me into using a cane and I mean in public, showed me safer methods for cooking, and most of all expanded my acceptance of myself. I still won’t call myself blind, but I know of my blindness and now rule it, where before it too much ruled me. Thank you for the blind counselors.”
Marcy D (California USA)
**61. “Sighted or Blind councilor, which?" Are we delving into prejudice here, or what? Don't you think that we should be more concerned with the councilor's qualifications his/her ability to discern the clients potential strengths or weaknesses--training--travel skills, independent living skills, educational level, achievements, and future goals--instead of whether the councilor is blind or sighted?
Number 21 had a very valid point. Even though qualified blind
teachers/councilors can be wonderful role models, but for those of us who have been neglected or who for some reason were not at the point where needed functioning skills could be absorbed--be we congenitally blind or blinded later on in life--these "can-do-anything" blind councilors can make us feel so inadequate that we may be discouraged and fail to accomplish anything.
This isn't to say that a qualified, proficient blind councilor could not handle this task, but it is necessary for the accomplished blind councilor to exercise caution, genuine concern, show empathy, try to identify with that particular client's circumstances, and yes display true humility. If these attributes are shown then a blind councilor can be of great benefit to another blind individual. But, if they are lacking, then a bad role model has been presented and can be very harmful to the blind person who is trying to become educated to survive and to thrive in a sighted world.
A properly educated, truly empathetic, motivating sighted councilor could provide the same type of services. Therefore, the key to having a good councilor is to have one who knows his/her business has discernment, and really cares about the client's becoming a productive member of society.”
Alfreda Trusty-Dotson (Pensacola, Florida
FROM ME: “Let’s say that we have a new client, one who is newly blinded and we have a blind counselor who is like this lady would call a "can-do-anything" type of blind-guy. Let us also assume that the counselor is aware that he/she could be a threat if he/she didn’t tone down their approach. The question is, what specific things can the blind counselor do to ‘tone down’ his/her approach? Then, what would the counselor look for and even think as they and the client progress, so that the counselor will know when and how to again turn up the pressure? ”
**62. “To me, this seems like a very straightforward question. The answer to
which is the same one we as disabled people have been trying to get
others to understand for years.
Which counselor would I want? The one best able to do the job, sighted
Or not. I don't necessarily need a blind counselor so they can
"understand what I'm going through," I can do that myself. What I need (and have
not gotten during my history with 3 counselors) is someone who listens and
works with me instead of forcing me to work for the agency and do
whatever it is they decide I should do. Those kinds of skills know nothing of
disability, race, or anything else.
Why should we, as people who understand discrimination, practice it
Just my 2 cents,”
Jim Dorman (RPlist)
FROM ME: “Question- Could the bottom line meaning of this response be, ‘Should a agency or commission or service make their set of services fit the client or should the client be made to fit the service plan?’ How about, ‘Where is individualization and client choice?”
**63. “I agree with you, Jim. I want the one who can do the job, sighted or
blind, doesn't matter to me. I've had both. And being blind does not
give you an edge in the communication, competency, or knowledge
department. For example, a person doesn't have to have cancer in order
to work effectively with hospice patients. I think we need a mix of both
sighted and blind instructors, and if we're fortunate, have the
opportunity to work with both, just for the experience.”
Tammy Ruggles (RPlist)
**64. “ I do agree that in some situations experience makes a great deal of
difference. It is my opinion however that as far as mobility training goes I
would much prefer to be taught by someone with sight. This is pretty scary
and hard enough to do with my sighted O&M instructor. I am not saying that a
blind O&M instructor could not do the job, I'm simply saying I would feel
much more comfortable with someone who could see me walking with the cane
and would be able to tell me if I was holding it correctly for one thing.
There are many little things my instructor picks up on that I'm sure a blind
instructor could not. I did have the experience of going to a blind
therapist when I was first declared legally blind. This was a very fine
experience since she had walked where I was walking and knew what I was
going through. She also shared some of her experiences which have helped me
tremendously. She gave me the courage to go on and even went so far as to
help me start a support group which I now believe helped me more then some
of the ones who came and are still in the group. I will always be grateful
to her for helping me through some very rough times. In this case I think I
would choose a blind therapist over a sighted one. Hope this helps.”
FROM ME: “Having some fear in travel in the beginning is normal, right? Also most of us would not have the knowledge, yet alone the experience of traveling with reduced or no vision. Then it would also be true that most of us would not have the knowledge that there are experienced, competent and very safe worthy blind travel instructors out there to teach us how to travel about safely., right? So how do we get this word out? What do we do when we find it being said that it can not be done or simply that a newly blinded person says, ‘How would a sightless instructor know and tell me that my cane isn’t being held correctly or how would they teach me to cross a multilane highway?”
**65. “Rose - Thanks for the insightful post. When I first heard about blind
O&M instructors, I wondered how they could do it. I, too, would be much
more comfortable with a sighted instructor. When I went through it my
instructor was always pointing out that I was "out of step" or moving my
cane too far or not far enough, etc. I don't know how a blind instructor
could know these things. Also, one day my instructor took me to the most
dangerous intersection in town and had me cross it. I was scared as it
was. I can't even imagine my crossing these 8 lanes at rush hour with an
instructor who could not watch out for my safety.
I agree that blind therapists and others can do some wonderful things
because they understand. However, I prefer a sighted person for O&M or
for guide dog training.”
Lynn J. Boulter (RPlist)
**66. “I think in this case you (as a instructor) should take the approach that :
1) I am blind and you are blind.
2) This is how I deal with my blindness and this is how you should deal with yours. What I mean by that is, since I am blind my student will have a better feeling of what is happening with a blind instructor. The blind instructor will know what is happening because they have been doing this for a very long
time, and would know when something is going wrong. If they were teaching me and they did get in to trouble, the sited person would not be able to help
because it would be a problem that a sited person could not handle.
3) I think it is important to look at how the person is made. If the student needs to be pushed then a push would be given. I know in my case it took a shove to get me going in the correct direction. Even now, it takes shoves and pushes to get me going correctly. A blind instructor can give the shoves.
I have not found the same type of teaching given from a sited instructor as I have gotten from the LCB. It is here that I learned that I blind person can do almost anything they want to. This was because a blind instructor was teaching me.
Your question- …FROM ME: “Let’s say that we have a new client, one who is newly blinded and we have a blind counselor who is like this lady would call a "can-do-anything"
type of blind-guy. Let us also assume that the counselor is aware that he/she could be a threat if he/she didn’t tone down their approach. The question is, what specific things can the blind counselor do to ‘tone down’ his/her approach?…
I think the counselor should approach the person with caution at first, see what type of handling is needed.
Then, what would the counselor look for and even think as they and
the client progress, so that the counselor will know when and how to again turn up the pressure? "
I think the counselor should look for excitement or the councilor will know how much to push by seeing the type of person it is.”
Reinhard Stebner Texas A & M class of 04 (College Station, Texas USA)
**67. “Responses 54 through 65 were interesting. It seems that most of
us have similar ideas of who should be a counselor or rehab teacher.
Whether blind, sighted, etc. the first and primary qualification is "can
the person do the job?" I agree with 54 and others, being associated
with other blind people can be quite important (consumer/advocacy
organizations, support groups and/or individuals who are able to
positively influence the newly blind person). In fact, here in Florida,
we have an organization which tries to match a newly visually impaired
person with someone in their home area who is both blind and competent.
In that way, information, emotional support and socialization can be
Would a super competent blind person make a good counselor/teacher/mentor
for someone who is just trying to learn basic adaptive skills? My answer
is perhaps. It mostly depends on whether the "adjusted" person is able
to convince or encourage the client/student that he/she can also learn to
be more independent.
I also agree with the many respondents who speak of the importance of
identifying with the client. Blind fold orientation/training may be
quite beneficial, but how about the sighted person who is unable to deal
with the experience of being unable to see?”
Doug Hall (Daytona Beach, Florida USA)
FROM ME: “Well, if a mentor is to be used, should they be sighted or blind? (Maybe a trick question, here.)”
**68. “When I was younger, I had a lot
of idealistic ideas about empathy and the superiority of blind teachers.
While I haven't completely lost an appreciation of these qualities, (as some
of my best teachers were blind), I have also had some great sighted
teachers, notably orientation and mobility instructors. I never had a
counselor as such, but had advisers and teachers both sighted and blind. Now
that I've had a bit more experience, I think it would be safe to say that
the best teachers were the ones who could find the answer to the question or
the strategy for overcoming the problem, or the non-visual way of doing
something. Yes, the blind ones had the empathy, and the good sighted ones
the clear visual observation. I think a good rounded life experience
includes learning from both.”
Mez White (Sydney, Australia)
**69. “It is a truism that only a person who is blind can experience the world as a person who is blind. Like any truism, this one needs some refinement and qualification
before it can shed any light on the question of blind versus sighted counselors. Experience is something do or happens to us and gets lodged in our memory. If the blind person has grown up with an over protective family, the experience will not translate into a sense of self-dependence and initiative.
On the other hand, if the person has lived a life of self-motivated action and independence, the experience will probably translate into a confident and competent individual. Most of us will fall somewhere between these extremes. There should be little doubt as to which of these persons would be a suitable counselor to assist another blind person toward self-dependence and dealing effectively with blindness. But, even the most competent and confident blind individual with a positive attitude about blindness does not automatically translate into counseling effectiveness. Counseling and teaching involve
either acquired or natural skills and the distinction between blind or sighted has little to do with which would be most effective. I can recall discussing this question with the late Kenneth Jernigan and his conclusion was something like this: if the blind individual and the sighted one are otherwise equally
qualified, the blind person has about a 10% advantage, but if the blind individual lacks confidence, competence and a positive attitude, it is a 100%
loss, if not worse. The 10% is the value of the role model and the advantage of credibility. The experience that the blind person brings to the counseling role must be translated into a coherent philosophy that can be both lived and taught. But, this philosophy can be taught to those who are sighted and,
even if the role modeling and credibility factors are lacking, their effectiveness as counselors and teachers can readily compensate for the visual element.”
James S. Nyman (Lincoln, Nebraska USA)
**70. “Hmm hmmm hmmm!!!
What about deafblind counselor???? We do need deafblind counselors.
Smile! Yes, we do have sighted-hearing counselors. OH well!!!
My opinion is that if sighted counselor is well achieved to provide
blind and deafblind, then I don't see why not. Since many sighted people go
colleges to become counselors. So far, we have to be fair to respect as if
they are well done for us. Yes, there are some counselors that are not very
good for us.
For the fact, some blind counselors do have problems with deafblind
clients in some areas because of communication situations. I did have blind
counselors years ago and I was not satisfied because the blind counselors
were lost at the positions when they handled cases of deafblind clients.
They had no ideas how to deal with us. Hmmm hmmm hmmmm!!!!
I do support the ideas of blind counselor if they understand the facts of
deafblind people and should provide our needs. Robert, remember that there
are some counselor who are low-visioned are also familiar with blind
clients, too. I think it is okay.
If Mr. Smith wanted a blind counselor, he should specify his request on
phone as they would send a blind counselor instead of sighted counselor. But
if the blind counselor couldn't find a driver to take him to Mr. Smith's
house, then there is nothing can be done as the sighted counselor was sent
over in some reasons.”
Rich McGann (deafblind list)
FROM ME: “Well, this gentleman has a good point, I mean what about a deafblind person as a counselor for the deafblind? See any difficulties with this?”
**71. “I understood what Rich explained you about sight or blind counselor. Ok!
Our agency had sight counselor with knowledge ASL can communication with
deafblind clients so For example if blind counselor unfamiliar about ASL
communication with deafblind so have to ask their supervisor so they can inform them to call to an interpreter to set up to meet with blind counselor and deafblind client can work out for communication. I heard that our agency wants to hire deafblind counselor can work with deafblind
client so they offered deafblind counselor cant driver so someone like
SSP or interpreter can drive with dB counselor to meet db client's
house. They say not require for college degree or MA so they require to
have exam at government agency that why so I still think about it but it
was tough job but good salary that why. so Try you best you can ask them
about if sighted counselor know ASL will be GREAT! or what you decision?
Thank you for your time to think about it.
DB Curly (DeafBlind list)
**72. “I believe that the success of counseling has much to do with the attitude
of the counselor whether he or she be sighted or blind. I have found that
sometimes disabled people themselves can be more unsympathetic towards each
other than non-disabled people. Yes, the blind counselor may perhaps
better understand the problems for blind people but it has been my experience that sometimes you really need an impartial view.
I don't think there is really an answer to this one - it will probably
depend on the specific situation.”
Andre (DeafBlind list)
**73. “To answer your question concerning some methods/precautions for this
"can-do-anything” > blind counselor who will be working with a newly blinded individual, the
first and most important issue is to find out how the person feels about
his/her place in the scheme of things in this newly acquired situation.
For one example, what independent living skills have been acquired? When
discussing this potentially sensitive area, could a counselor perhaps use
phrases such as, "One of the most difficult areas for me to handle because
of my blindness was coordinating my clothes properly. In fact, I wasn't even
aware of the importance of doing so until someone brought this to my
attention. Have you ever found this to be a difficult task?" In other
words, the counselor should be able to put himself in the skin of his
client. If the counselor can not identify with the person in a way to
encourage instead of disheartening the client, then it might be advisable
for the counselor to admit this and to refer the client to a counselor who
has the ability to show empathy, kindness and consideration.
Being adaptable is an asset that should always be used when working with
others. This adaptability also is the tool to be utilized when it is time
to give the client a little tug. We should be able to act as a rope for
assisting others out of a bad situation. This can be likened to tying a
rope to an individual to help them out of a mire. Then a little tug can be
applied just at the proper time to help them along. By feeling the tension
in the rope it is easy to detect just how much of a tug is needed. A good
counselor's communication skills and proper evaluation of assessment tests
are the tension on the rope. When too much is there the client will fall on
their face, but if too little exists then the client stagnates. This helps
us to see that communication "the rope" between the client and counselor is
vital. No one ever said being a counselor is an easy job, but when the
counselor has the best interest of the person that he/she is working with at
heart, he/she will continue to work with the client until a way to provide
proper training and guidance is found for them. This could even include
referring them to another counselor or even facing the fact that for some
reason, the person is not ready to move forward at this time.”
Alfreda Trusty-Dotson (Pensacola, Florida USA)
**74. " While I don't have a preference between a blind or a sighted counselor, I wish that the counselors I had after I graduated from high school were blind.
I think that they, probably, would have been more understanding about my frustrations with accommodations in college and finding employment. The fight
for accommodations and adaptive equipment, I believe, may not have been as difficult as it was. I probably would not have had to go to my counselor's
supervisor and justify my need for a new computer with Windows and Internet access capabilities because the computers at the university that had adaptive
software were either in use by other blind students or were not working. I'm not saying, of course, that I would not have had the same problems with a
blind counselor, as I sought out for a blind advocate/lawyer to help me settle my issue with my counselor, Services for the Blind, and my counselor's supervisor.
Instead of backing me up, as I hoped she would (she gave me the impression over the phone that she would), however, she sided with everyone else who were
hell-bent on denying me the need despite my reasonable justification for a reasonable accommodation. I was finally given the equipment I needed because
they were tired of fighting with me. Anyway, I did have one legally blind counselor when I first came here to the States at age eight years up until I
was about twelve. Not only was she really nice and understanding, but I have the feeling that she would have done all she could to make sure that I got
the kind of computer I needed to get through college.
Blind and sighted counselors alike can be really good with blind people, provided that they have adequate education as a counselor in general, adequate
training under sleep-shades for sighted counselors-to-be, a good attitude about your job as well as your clients, and being sensitive to your clients and
dealing with them on an individual basis. What I mean by adequate education as a counselor in general is not just the textbooks that discuss listening,
empathizing, etc., but it also has to do with dealing with the clients as individuals with specific concerns, needs, frustrations, etc. If you're only
good as a counselor by applying to a one size fits all, then you're not a good enough counselor. Sure, it's good for blind and sighted counselors to have
high expectations of their blind clients, but you still have to be open to listening to your clients' individual ideas, feelings, concerns, etc. and go
at the pace comfortable to the client. What I mean by adequate training under sleep-shades is not only traveling and doing basic things under sleep-shades,
but being constantly aware of up-to-date adaptive computer technology for low-vision and totals, knowing what jobs are out here that can be accessible
on the job as well as knowing how it can become accessible if it's not accessible yet, knowing what places have accessible transportation and when, learning
and understanding all the troubles and frustrations blind people endure in getting accommodations in school and/or on the job and the troubles and frustrations
blind people have in finding employment due to discrimination or employers' prejudices or apprehension of hiring blind and disabled people, etc. During
their training, they could interview current clients using various services for the blind agencies and centers about home, school, finding employment,
their professions, etc.--how they function or lack there of, what could help these clients to make things better for them, etc. Again, this is not a way
to apply a one size fits all. Rather, it would be a way for the sighted counselor to get an idea of what blind clients go through daily. This is not
to say, of course, that this is the perfect answer for gaining perfect blind and sighted counselors, as there's no perfect answer. While hiring people
who have had work experience is helpful, that does not necessarily mean that the one who has had work experience has had adequate training or knows how
they should probably be relating with their clients.
There's no such thing as a blind or sighted counselor being more perfect or having more faith in blind clients than another. Perhaps, though, with
a mixture of both sighted and blind counselors at an agency, constant dialog between blind and sighted counselors would help. Each side could give the
other helpful tips from the sighted view as well as from the blind and visually impaired view to improve how they relate with their clients. Again, though,
there's still that need to focus on clients individually. I know that I have said this quite a few times in this response, but I feel that this is the
most important aspect when working with your clients and in gaining your client's trust.”
Linda Minnesota USA
**76. I don't think it really matters whether one's VR counselor is blind or
sighted. However, I think it is most important for the counselor to be
willing to provide the necessary accommodations for his/her clients. This unfortunately has not been the case with my VR experience. It has to a small extent. All I got in Braille was a packet, actually two of them, containing what were designated as my rights. I will explain why I got two of these packets instead of just 1. I am on my third and a half VR counselor, and she told me at a staffing I had not too long ago, that she would get my IWRP put into Braille so that I could read it. However, a few weeks passed and a packet arrived which contained my rights. This was in fact Braille, but it was a duplicate of a packet I had already gotten from VR. So I typed up an email to my state representative and senators, (I had previously gotten my counselor's email address, but the message bounced back to me), and nothing was ever done. I don't own a talking scanner, otherwise
I could have the material scanned and read aloud to me. I think it is very important for VR counselors, whether visually-impaired or sighted, to really get to know their clients and get to understand the client's disability to the point necessary for working together. Personally I would like to see an immediate change in how this is handled.
Jacob Joehl USA