NOMC / COMS O&M -- Is There a Difference?
In January, 2006 I had the privilege of attending a conference of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (the organization that certifies NOMCs).
It gave me a lot to think about, and a few weeks later I wrote the following message to the NBPCB leaders who had presided over the conference:
I thoroughly enjoyed being at your NBPCB conference, and learned a lot. I had never really understood what separates what you call the "traditional" O&M model from the NFB model, even after years of reading NFB literature and observing and reading about what they've been doing at their centers. But now that I've attended your session, I think I understand what separates us. I'm going to run it by you, and I'd like to discuss it with your NOMC certificants on their listserv, if I'm permitted to join and participate.
We all teach problem-solving, we all use blindfolds, we all (or at least those of us who faithfully ascribe to one of the two models!) have high expectations, but what I now realize separates us is 2 things:
1) Teaching model:
We believe that there are many ways to teach the same thing and reach the same goal, depending on the needs and skills and learning / teaching styles of the consumer and the instructor, whereas my impression from the discussion Sunday is that the NBPCB folks believe there is only one way to successfully teach O&M.
For example an administrator at your conference said that one of his instructors has claustrophobia which makes it extremely fearful and difficult for her to walk through a tunnel with her students. The administrator said (and none of the leaders corrected him) that if she couldn't walk with her students through that tunnel, she "would not be any good for her students" which I understood to mean that her students couldn't learn what they need to learn unless their instructor walks with them through that tunnel.
Also during an informal discussion after the session, an NOMC with some vision said with firm conviction that he could never have learned to use and trust the cane if he hadn't been blindfolded, and I know that this is what the Federation model asserts -- everyone must be blindfolded to build the confidence and teach the skills, there is no other way.
I think that this principle (that there is only one way to teach successfully) is at the core of our concern when agencies adapt your model -- it's why we feel, as you said, "threatened." The instructors at the agencies that adopt your model are all forced to teach everyone the same way, which we believe strips the instructor of many effective strategies and tools for instruction, such as partial occlusion, intermittent occlusion, and any number of other possible teaching techniques, and doesn't allow them to adapt to fit needs (the needs of both the student and the instructor), and sometimes forces them to teach in a way that might be difficult or impossible for them, such as the instructor who was forced to teach by walking through a tunnel.
It is my belief that the NFB model works extremely well for a segment of the population, and in fact those consumers are indeed best served with that teaching model. But there are many consumers who do better with a different model of instruction.
One of the topics that your participants wanted to learn more about at the next conference is how to use the NFB model to instruct elderly people, people with both hearing and visual impairments, and children. The effective instructor is not hampered with requirements to instruct everyone the same way and use blindfolds and walk through the tunnel, but is respected and trusted enough to develop instruction that is optimal for that student with that instructor. And if the best way for a student to learn is to do something the instructor can't do because of a disability or even a phobia, the effective instructor will figure out adaptations, such as sending the student through the tunnel with a blind mentor who doesn't have claustrophobia. But apparently the instructors in your model must teach exactly as the model requires, and every student must go through the same learning process that everyone else does, such as wearing a blindfold and learning to cook for 40 people.
2) Expectations and goals:
I'm embarassed to say that some of us COMS believe that we know what's best for our consumers and refuse to teach someone who, for example, won't use a white cane or cross the street the way we teach them to cross. However, many of us believe that the consumers know what's best for them, and our role is to educate them about their potential and possibilities so they can make educated decisions, and teach them some of the ways they can achieve that potential. We believe they will make the right decisions, even if it's different from what we would do.
It seems that many (but not all) NFB instructors have high expectations not only for what the consumers can do, but also how they should be doing it.
For example, if I understand correctly from the NFB literature I've read and programs I've observed, they must do it 1) nonvisually, 2) without unnecessary assistance, 3) using a cane rather than a dog (because a dog is a visual tool) and 4) without any unnecessary environmental adaptions such as accessible pedestrian signals and detectable warnings. If they aren't willing and can't be convinced to shed their preconceived notions about what they can do and how they will do it (such as using blindfolds and walking through tunnels), they often are not served by the agency / instructor or are written up as having a bad attitude, as happened with several of my clients who had attended NFB centers. An NOMC once told my client that the instructor and their agency can't serve him unless he considers himself "blind."
This is why, at your conference, I stood up and said that consumers of the NFB model are pre-selected in that they are ready and willing to shed all notions not only of what they can do, but how they will do it. The others (such as those who don't want blindfolds or don't consider themselves "blind") usually manage to avoid going to the center and are either unserved (if they're in a state like Hawaii that won't provide alternatives) or served by a COMS.
3) Development of curriculum / techniques
I think there may be a third difference, which is the manner by which strategies and ideas are introduced and accepted by the profession.
The strategies and concepts of the NFB model and the philosophy seem to be developed by the leaders and passed down to the practitioners, as one person explained during the meeting when I asked how you folks share ideas and concerns.
He said these issues are discussed among the national leaders, and then discussed at the state/regional level, and then "trickle down" to the practitioners.
"Our" model, I've learned, is not developed that way, although I often think it would help if it were!
I think the reason it doesn't trickle down from the leaders is that there is no "unified" approach.
Even though the lack of a unified approach to teaching has its drawbacks, such as when O&Mers continue to teach street-crossing strategies that no longer work and are, in fact, unsafe [see "Changing Best Practice - Centralize O&M Innovation?"], I strongly believe that the alternative of rigidity of instruction is a great disservice to many of our consumers.
Well, what do you think? Do these features differentiate our approaches? Or have I gotten a misconception of the NBPCB approach?
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