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Three C's to Greater Independence

by Jay Stiteley, Field Representative, The Seeing Eye, Inc

These materials will focus on suggestions a student with a visual impairment may benefit from when wanting to achieve a greater level of independence. The three C's are:

  • College, in the broadest sense of the word, providing suggested methods for securing, scheduling, and maximizing both readers and tapes.
  • Computers, with the emphasis being on solid, basic skills and what might be appropriate skills and needs to possess before acquiring equipment.
  • "Cane-nine," importance of having good, solid O&M skills and when is it appropriate to consider the use of a dog guide.

It is becoming more and more evident that advanced education/training from high school is necessary for an individual to become employed. This advanced training is not just limited to college, but rather any program that offers advance training in any field.

Computers and technology are here to stay and if a person with a visual impairment wants employment, it is essential that they can operate computer access equipment for their respective visual impairment.

Cane-nine - It is also imperative for the individual to be able to travel to the employment site, whether they use a cane or dog guide.

These are not separate skill areas, but rather interrelated. Each can stand alone separately, but when combined, presents a much stronger and more complete person.


Planning and organization are the most important keys to being successful when in college and ultimately when employed. This planning and organization needs to begin in high school or hopefully earlier, especially being organized.

Books and Readers

All of the following will assume that a student will be going on to some type of college, whether it be a community college for the associates degree, a college or university for a bachelors, or to a technical school to develop a trade skill. All or part of these materials will be applicable.

Books on Tape

By the end of the student's sophomore year he/she should be able to:

  • Order their own tape recorded books from Recording For the Blind and Disabled (RFB&D). In some high schools this may be required each semester, but in college it will definitely need to occur.
    Subordinate Skills:
    • Telephone etiquette. Can the student use long distance directory assistance? Do they know how to place a long distance call, understand about toll free numbers, or how calling cards operate and who pays for them?
    • Does the student know all the questions to ask RFB&D, i.e., membership number, fees required, what information does RFB&D require for them to locate the proper book(s)?
    • Ability to approach respective instructors to request the necessary information for obtaining the books.
    • Do they have a method for recording the information, braille, skills, large print writing, portable note taking device, or tape recorder, etc.?
    • Do they know the deadlines of both the school and RFB&D for when books can be ordered and still arrive on time for the beginning of school? (colleges usually have a later deadline then RFB&D.)
  • Does the student know of alternative tape recording sources? Research skills, means of developing a resource file.
    Subordinate skills:
    • Means of developing a method of imputing of material and retrieving that same material in an organized fashion.
    • Braille reading and writing skills,
    • Large print reading and writing skills,
    • Use of a file box and ensuring that the materials are readable from within the box and not having to pull each card out separately for reading purposes (braille in particular}. Suggestion: Using a braille file card system requires rolling the file card all the way into the braille writer, advance it out to the stop, then write the name, (last, then first) then roll the card in manually one line, place phone number or address next depending which will be used more frequently. then place the card in the file box with the braille to the back of the box, and the name of the organization being the last part of the card into the box. This allows the braille readers fingertips to curl over the back edge of the card to read the name with the file card remaining in the box.
    • Portable notetaking system, in the student's respective learning media or possibly in a database on a desk top computer. (See Computers section for more details about computer skills.)


Locating readers

  • Announce in the class that you need readers, offer that there is minimal pay or volunteer positions are sought. I suggest terms like "advertising for a reader" or "hiring several readers" etc., not "I need a reader" or "I want someone to read to me" the latter two sound like you are less in control and are desperate or have lack of self-confidence.
  • Post advertisements on dormitory or cafeteria bulletin boards, school newspaper, or make announcements at dorm meetings, sororities and fraternities on campus that require community service work as part of the membership, etc.
  • Contact outside sources from the college community, such as senior citizen centers, volunteer organization, or the Delta Gamma sorority. Readers from outside of the college setting will not be as affected by mid term and final exams as the college based readers.

Scheduling Readers

  • Schedule readers for no more than one hour blocks without a break, this is for their reading and your listening readiness.
  • Always provide some type of liquid refreshment for the reader.
  • Do not rely on one or two readers, have at least five or more. This allows for flexibility, fall back options if a reader cancels.
  • Some reader may be better in specific subjects than other.
  • A reader only working one hour will be less likely to quit then a reader that is responsible for several hours, feeling less overwhelmed.
  • Arrange readers in their areas of knowledge or major to maximize their ability to describe or explain graphs, maps, etc.
  • Separate your reading session by at least ten minutes.
  • Physically move around during the rest period between readers.
  • Try to establish a consistent hour and day that someone reads to you,
  • Do not date your readers.
  • Minimize the amount that you rely on family for reading. The reason is that there is a tendency to have higher expectations of family members, but a much lower patience level.
  • Arrange time to develop a level of rapport with the reader at the beginning once you have hired or selected them as a volunteer.
  • Try to gain an understanding of what motivates your reader to the process of being a reader, so that you are sure their needs are being met, especially with a volunteer reader.
  • Some reader's schedules will not match with yours. Provide them with a print copy of the book, a tape recorder, and the syllabus and indicate how many days ahead of the syllabus date you need the tape version to allow yourself time to read the tape.
  • When selecting readers always have a practice reading session for you may find that some people do not read aloud very well.

Hired versus Volunteer Readers

Hired readers offer:

  • More control over becoming sidetracked from the reading assignments for you can remind the reader that the meter is running for their reader fee.
  • Choice of releasing a reader if they are not working out or making scheduled appointments.
  • With hired readers the motivation may be clearer, versus volunteer readers.


The following will provide a series of questions and checklists that will address equipment, skills, and abilities that need to be considered when obtaining computer access equipment.

The primary point to remember is: Technology does not replace basic skills. It can only enhance those basic skills.

General Questions

  • What does the user need?
  • What tasks will be performed?
  • Why does the user want it?
  • Does the user have the skills to use the device?
  • What are the warranty/repair/extended service terms and costs? (on site/off site).
  • Is the documentation in an accessible form? Is telephone help available? Is there on line help?
  • Is there training available?
  • What is the standard package?
  • What accessories/additions are available?
  • What is the upgrade policy (free vs. fee)? Will you get notification about upgrades? Send in your REGISTRATION card!!
  • Can you get a list of present users to contact for information on utility and reliability?
  • Does the vendor install the equipment?

Basic Skills for a Low Vision Student

  • 30 wpm. minimum typing speed before equipment is provided for students with the capability of typing with both hands.
  • Received a current low vision evaluation to insure that the student is operating with the most current information about the functional level of their vision and have the best reading aids.
  • Has the student received adequate training with any low vision devices that have been prescribed?
  • Method of taking notes in a non-electronic means. This can be a tape recorder, only if they are planning on transcribing them into large print for easier retrieval then playing with a fast forward and rewind control of a tape recorder.
  • A large print technology assessment should be conducted before acquiring an access program. (There should be at least two different large print programs shown to the student).

Basic Skill for a Blind Student

  • 30 wpm. minimum typing speed before equipment is provided for students with the capability of typing with both hands.
  • Method of taking notes in a non-electronic means. This can be a tape recorder, only if they are planning on transcribing them into braille or disk for easier retrieval then playing with a fast forward and rewind control of a tape recorder.
  • A Speech and braille technology assessment should be conducted before acquiring an access program. (There should be at least two different speech synthesizers and speech programs shown to the student before a decision is made.)
  • The additional decision to be made is whether or not braille will supplement the speech or vise versa, if it is indicated that the student learns both tactually and auditorilly.

Word Processing Skills

The following are suggested skills that an individual can perform with confidence prior to beginning a higher level of education. These are basic word processing skills that will serve as a good solid foundation for producing most assignments and papers. (These may be tailored to suit the type of assignments that a student will be expected to produce based on the curriculum the student is participating.)

  • Write text in the file.
  • Review text with the cursor movement keys.
  • Save a file through the quick save feature.
  • Retrieve files through the "load a file" feature.
  • Retrieve a file through the "list files" feature.
  • Insert text at the cursor.
  • Use the "typeover" mode for correcting single character errors.
  • Demonstrates a knowledge of the differences between insert and typeover modes.
  • Delete current characters.
  • Back space over previous characters.
  • Demonstrate a knowledge of when to use the delete versus back space features.
  • Underline, bold, and center text.
  • Search for text.
  • Operate the spell checking portion of the program.
  • Print a document.
  • Use the "help" screens.
  • Use the manual.
  • Block text.
  • Delete, copy, and move blocks of text.
  • Copy and delete files.
  • Operate the thesaurus.
  • Set and change the margins and tabs.
  • Set and change the colors on the screen (this is necessary if speech access system is looking for certain colors).
  • Search for and replace text.

Question about Laptop Computers

  • How much does it weigh?
  • What is the estimated battery life?
  • Does it have a user replaceable battery pack? Cost?
  • What is the CPU type and speed?
  • How many and what configuration are the cursor movement keys?
  • What is the diagonal measurement of the screen?
  • What is the hard disk size?
  • What type of display is available?
  • How much memory is installed (system and battery backed)? Can the memory be expanded?
  • What ports are available?
  • What synthesizers are available for the machine?
  • What extras (mouse, carrying case, modem, etc.) are available?
  • What warning beeps are available? (close cover, low battery).
  • What power saving settings are available?
  • How good are the student's/consumer's mobility skills?

Laptops: Possible Advantages

  • Portable.
  • All materials are available because they are all in one location, on a single hard drive, or floppies, data base, spread sheet, word processor, and telecommunication.

Laptops: Possible Disadvantages

  • When reviewing the weight of a lap-top computer, include the power adaptor, extra batteries, and the floppy disks that might be carried along, as well as the speech synthesizer, its cables, and power adaptor.
  • Maximum battery life, three hours. (Always needs power source as a backup).
  • Does the student have a medical condition that will prevent him/her from carrying a maximum weight of ten or fewer pounds, such as retinal problems.
  • Remember: It is not IF the hard drive crashes, but rather WHEN! All hard disk drives crash, sooner or later.
  • If you only have a lap-top and the hard disk crashes then you have lost all your information that is not backed up onto floppy disks.

Questions Screen Readers

The following questions will begin the process of thinking about the minimum requirements that a speech access program for Windows will need to possess to have beginners success with Windows.

  • Is there speech available while installing the Windows access version? Does it track the traditional cursor or a different one while in the installation process.
  • It will be important to learn the vocabulary that a sighted person might use for teaching the program.
  • Do you need two different speech programs, one for DOS and one for Windows?
  • What level of training comes with the purchase of the Windows access software?
  • Will the synthesizer you have be compatible with the Windows access version that you want to use?
  • Can the level of punctuation be controlled separately for the keyboard input versus the screen output?
  • Does your computer meet the minimum requirements for Windows and for the Windows access program you have chosen to use? Do not assume that because you like the DOS version of software that you will automatically like the Windows version or that it will give information in the way that you learn best.
  • It is helpful to understand how you learn. Do you want a great deal of detail information and then sort out as you go, or do you want the screen review package to make some decisions for you?
  • Can you set, save, and retrieve speech settings? Can you control the key echoing options (characters, words, silent)?
  • Is there a system for labeling icons with minimum or no assistance.


Whether a student uses a cane or a dog guide, it is very imperative that they secure a working knowledge, mental map of the campus. This could be by way of self orientation or with the assistance of a friend, family member or mobility instructor.

Either use the actual schedule, if that information is available, or make a mock schedule using the buildings that the classes are generally held.

  • Learn the numbering systems of the buildings.
  • Establish known landmarks that a sighted student would relate to should you become disoriented.
  • Be sure to attempt the newly acquired route when there is a summer session in progress, to get the sense of how the route will be during the passing periods.
  • Learn the essential elements of the campus during the summer and add details/new areas as the semester(s) progresses.

Cane or Dog Guide

Many wish to have advantages and disadvantages listed between cane and dog guide. That is not the issue, it is a choice that a person makes. Similar to the sighted person who chooses to drive a truck instead of a car. Which system of mobility is a person the most comfortable with?

  • Good travel skills, intersection analysis, awareness of basic orientation methods and general decision making and problem solving skills make working with a dog much easier.
  • The ideal situation when returning with your dog guide to the home environment is that the dog guide user is familiar with the local area so that the new dog guide user can direct his/her dog with confidence and awareness. This familiarity makes the transition from dog guide school to home environment easier. Thus allowing the person and dog to become a smoother team.

Characteristics of an Applicant to THE SEEING EYE, INC.

  • Good health, such that the person could walk between two and three miles through the COURSE of a day. It does not have to be at a fast speed, rather a steady pace that is comfortable to the individual.
  • Limited residual vision such that it will not interfere with the dog's performance of his/her duties. In short, be able to learn to know when to use the remaining vision to supplement with the information you receive from the dog, not let the dog supplement your vision. (We do assist individuals with this training).
  • A person with a hearing impairment may be considered for instruction if they can accurately auditorilly assess traffic movement through an intersection.
    • Note that the above two items did not specify acuity or decibel levels. The Seeing Eye believes in basing each person on their own merits, not creating categories then trying to make people fit those groupings. We are much more interested in the individual and their respective skills.
  • Mental stability such that the person will be able to provide the dog with accurate and consistent command structure and can implement the training techniques taught during the instructional class at The Seeing Eye.
  • Emotional and maturity level such that the student will be able to provide the dog with the proper amount of affection and discipline to guarantee consistent behavior from the dog.

Other Resources

Hadley School for the Blind offers four classes with a fifth on the way for the student needing to prepare himself/herself for college.