Teaching visually impared kids

by Christopher Bartlett

As a blind student myself, let's start with the seemingly obvious. Not all blind people are created equal. Oddly enough, there are blind people who are not strong in the tactile realm, needing strong verbal cues to assist their not-so-strong tactile sense. This might be particularly true of someone for whom blindness is recent. So don't assume that allowing the student to feel something will help her magicly get it.

Next, while sight is a parallel-mode sense, touch is definitely serial. You can only touch part of an object the size of another human being at a time. There is a problem with prioritizing. Try to show too much, or show
it in a disconnected way and you have the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Narrow your focus of touch to the point you want to make at that point, make sure it is understood before you move to the next one.

I suppose this is a good case of the don't try to teach everything at once trap alluded to in another conversation thread. This is brought into sharper focus by the reduced sensorium of the student.

Make sure to understand that someone who can't see may be uncertain about moving with his whole body in an environment with which he is not intimately familiar, even if he knows intellectually that it is safe. The
temptation is to be tentative, to try and feel for edges, walls and other obstructions, even when far enough away to not contact them. This can be disorienting at times.

Example: we walk up and down the mat frequently to practice various kinds of stepping. At each end, of the mat, there is a small gap between the edge of the flooring upon which the mat sits and the flooring of the
walkway. I have crunched my toes a few times, so I tend to pull up a little short of the ends. I'm trying to learn to sense with my feet and by dead reckoning how close to the end of the mat I am, but sometimes it
affects my turns adversely.

If your students are similar to me, they will love being in contact with uke and at first be a little leery about the closing phase of a technique. The blind student has to do earlier what all of you have to do at some time, de-emphasize vision as a method of knowing when and what attack is coming. To teach basics, stick with techniques that start from contact a little longer than you might with a sighted student. Also, drill simple
evasive movements so that they can do them, even with the reduced time to react that they will likely have.

These are just some off-the-cuff thoughts. I hope they are helpful.