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Summer 2002 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Was There Life Before Transition?

By Phil Hatlen, Superintendent,
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

The answer is, of course, no.  Transition has been a vital part of all of our lives, long before the term “Transition” ever existed in special education and rehabilitation.  And we educators of blind and visually impaired students did not invent it.  We were not the first to put a label to a process.  Today, the concept of “transition” for blind and visually impaired students is so recognized that it has been added as the ninth goal on the National Agenda.

Contrary to commonly-accepted beliefs, “transition” is more than moving from home and school to work and community, although this is the context in which most of us define it.  Rather, we transition many times in our lives, from infant to toddler, from preschooler to school-age, from elementary school to middle school, and on and on.  At TSBVI, we have recently been focusing on two types of transition.  The first is transition from home and community to TSBVI and home again.  The second is transition from TSBVI to adult life in the community.  Perhaps in a future article, I’ll describe these two efforts in transition.  But for now, I’d like to tell you a little about my experiences regarding the need for transition services before there was such a term.

Many years ago a woman named Mary Morrison (who was to become a good friend of mine) wrote an article entitled “The Other 128 Hours a Week:  Teaching Personal Management to Blind Young Adults”.  Now, let’s put the time of this article into perspective.  It was 1974, and RLF-blinded young people were graduating from high school in large numbers - in fact, our profession had never before had the numbers of young adults we had then.  Most of these young people were products of  local school systems whose education had concentrated on academic learning.  Read what Mary had to say about these recent high school graduates in 1974:

  1. “One of my first discoveries was that only one or two of our totally, congenitally blind clients could sign their names…”
  2. “…most of our clients had been to a supermarket and most had done nothing but push the cart…”
  3. “…Two of them did not know that one does not have to have exact change to buy something in a store…”
  4. “…The first lesson for all the students to whom I have taught cooking has had to be how to turn on the stove, often in homes they had lived in for a decade…”.
  5. “…what good does it do, Mrs. Morrison, to know about the Boer War, if you can’t make your bed…?”

Sound familiar?  Have things changed since 1974?  I certainly hope so.  Are Mary’s concerns in the arena of transition?  Emphatically yes!!

Mary Morrison’s lament became a rallying cry for me.  It represents the beginning of a recognition of the importance of non-academic learning for blind and visually impaired students, learning that parallels the manner in which transition is approached today.  Mary’s findings were being echoed all over the country, and our profession had to look carefully at the skills and knowledge we were providing to blind and visually impaired students.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, several of us began to develop an immediate solution for recent high school graduates who were not ready for work and life in the community.  And from this effort was born the “Blind Adolescent Life Skills Center” (now known as the Living Skills Center for the Visually Impaired). 

In 1972 this new Center opened its doors to 20 recently graduated blind youths from all over California.  It’s original five objectives were:

  1. Orientation and Mobility
  2. Vocational Skills
  3. Social Skills
  4. Independent Living Skills
  5. Recreation Skills

Early participants in this Center verified our worst fears regarding their “readiness” for adult life.  Hatlen, Le Duc, and Canter wrote an article entitled “The Blind Adolescent Life Skills Center” that appeared in the March, 1975, issue of The New Outlook for the Blind.  Please read what these authors had to say:

“…The transition from living either in a residential school or at home to living independently requires many skills, the knowledge of which, unfortunately, have been taken for granted or simply ignored by many educational services…” (P 109)

I was going to include additional quotes from this article, but as I reviewed it, I decided that you would be able to receive the full message of what is said if you read the entire article, and I urge you to do so.

Some years after the Living Skills Center for the Visually Impaired was founded, we began to hear the use of the word “Transition.”  The content this new concept virtually paralleled the curriculum of the Living Skills Center.  I’m not certain as to why this happened, except to suspect that it took an identification of the needs of high prevalence disability groups to move toward naming a new curriculum area.

I am pleased that fellow educators of blind and visually impaired young people pioneered Transition before it was ever a defined concept.  We did so because we are sensitive to the needs of students, and we act to meet those needs.

There’s much more to say about Transition, and I’ll save it for future editions.

References:

Morrison, Mary. The Other 128 Hours a Week: Teaching Personal Management to Blind Young Adults. New Outlook for the Blind, 1974, 68, 454-459, 469.

Hatlen, Philip H., LeDuc, Paula, Canter, Patricia. The Blind Adolescent Life Skills Center. New Outlook for the Blind, 1975, 70, 109-115.


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