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Fall 1999 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Life’s Continuing Education Courses

By Terrell I. Murphy, Executive Director, Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind)

Both of my kids are in college now and soon their mother and I will be in the empty nest stage of our lives. As we continue the process of nudging them out of the nest, I keep reminding my son and daughter that their education doesn’t stop when they get out of school. This first year as executive director of the Commission has certainly been one uninterrupted continuing education course for me! I learn something valuable every day.

Two of the most interesting "electives" I recently signed up for were a week-long orientation and mobility class here in Austin and a three-day trip to The Seeing Eye in New Jersey as an invited guest. Learning some of the basic skills of traveling with a cane and dog guide were great opportunities to experience confidence building in action. During each session I was under blindfold and under the wings of a competent instructor’s watchful eyes. I was nudged along with encouragement, and with every step I took my self-confidence grew.

There’s been some speculation about whether simulated experiences such as these are realistic enough to give a person a smattering of what it’s like to be blind. That’s a debate that will live on way past me. I know I could have taken my blindfold off, but I didn’t. I actually learned to cross a busy street with a cane and got better at sensing the directional changes in the harness of a meticulously trained dog as he guided me around shin-threatening fence posts. The result? I not only learned more about the methods used to teach travel skills but also learned more about myself. I found that the head knowledge I’d gained after 27 years in the field of rehabilitation matched my personal experiences. If I were to lose my sight tomorrow or ten years from now, I know a lot of hard work would be ahead, but I’m confident that with some good instruction I can still learn. Blindness is life-altering and sometimes a detour, but it isn’t the end of productivity.

We’ve been talking a lot about confidence at the Commission this past year, and I mentioned our Texas Confidence Builders initiative in another issue of SEE/HEAR. Blindfold training is only one aspect of our initiative. Looking back, we have gained a lot of ground in making sure our services concentrate on building self-confidence rather than dependence on government and others. Although the Commission certainly isn’t in the parenting business, we feel a sense of pride when the individuals we work with gain the confidence to leave the nest of rehabilitation services because they have learned the skills to be confident travelers, workers, and participating community members either for the first time or once again. It’s equally rewarding to watch children who have visual impairments grow more self-confident because of the specialized services available today. Along with their parents, we celebrate their day-to-day progress toward being all they can be.

As this issue is being written, our new fiscal year planning initiatives are underway and another school year has just begun. I hope your learning experiences have been and continue to be as exciting as mine!

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Last Revision: September 1, 2010