I described in This post about axe-throwing how activity directors or guides tend to react when I walk into their lives, cane or dog in hand. They either freeze up and start dithering about being unsure of safety and having to talk to their boss, or get inspired and start exploring their career field with a new perspective. The same thing has happened to me in almost every class I have ever taken, too.
Three colleges, every martial arts course, training classes, yoga, extra-curricular and continuing education…teachers either see my disability as a monkey wrench that will disrupt the class or an opportunity to level up their teaching skills and educational material. Today I’m going to make the argument for why you as a teacher, educator, trainer, instructor, sense I..whatever you call yourself should WANT a blind student in your class.
1. It’s an Opportunity for Assessment
I attended my first in-person yoga class this week. the teacher told me, as many have before, “wow, you’re really going to make me think through how I do this! I’m going to have to pay more attention to how I use my words!” If a yoga instructor stumbles over their words, they can usually just demonstrate the form to get their point across. But this instructor knew that wouldn’t help me. I needed her to be consistent, constant, and precise with rights, lefts, fronts, behinds, and other directions.
You think you’re a good teacher? Good at explaining things? You think you have a fully inclusive environment? When you can’t rely on your paper hand-outs, your visual aids, or wave your hands to express your point, how good are you REALLY?
Probably pretty good, by most standards. Don’t let Imposter Syndrome paralyze ou. but even the best teacher can become better. Imperfection isn’t as lonely as it sounds.
The yogini I learned from got to see just how many of her poses she knew in her body AnD could recite at the same time. And described to me after the class how she planned to practice the ones she had trouble verbalizing.
She had stumbled across her words more than a few times, mixed up her directions, but always caught herself and asked for feedback as she experimented real-time with her methods. She wasn’t afraid to fail, and that gave me the courage to challenge myself to try poses I thought were beyond me.
2. It Inspires Whole-Brain Learning
You can describe an apple to someone. Or you can describe an apple while showing them a picture of a Pink Lady. Or you could describe the apple’s skin texture, plant characteristics, and flavor while showing a picture of an apple on a tree. Or you could do all of that while having your students pass around an apple, a twig and leaf from an apple tree, and a little packet of apple seeds.
Whole-Brain Learning means incorporating as many senses into the lesson as possible. The above example adds up to four senses (eyes, ears, fingers, and nose). Five, if an ambitious child takes a bite out of the apple — or the twig. But most lessons only include two senses, eyes and ears.
And, when you remove eyes, you’ve just cut down your information transmission by half!
You can worry about the blind student muddling through the lesson, or take inspiration from their presence to re-vamp your whole approach. Just adding one more sensory channel through which information flows will improve every student’s experience, and your training outcomes. You’re welcome!
“But having objects that everyone can pass around will take time and resources my institution won’t give me!”
So…don’t use an object. The brain functions Most efficiently at forming new memories and preserving existing memories when the imagination is fired up and actively engaged. Paint your students a multi-sensory word image. If the concept is abstract, pick a good, relatable metaphor for that word image. Metaphors are just infographics of the mind, right?
3. You yourself will know your material better
They say you never learn so well as when you teach. That means that having to re-think your teaching strategy is like taking a continuing education course in your field. As you explore new ways to present the same material, practice reciting information that you normallyshow, you’re establishing new neuronal connections, strengthening your own whole-brain connection to the material, and improving your own Neural plasticity, which is good for long-term brain health.
That’s right, people with disabilities like blindness are good for your brain!
I studied training and development in college, I’ve done my share of instructing at churches and in dojos, and I do a lot of psycho education in my counseling practice. I know very well that “deer in the headlights” feeling when presented with a student who throws off your groove. But the resulting exploration and experimentation can yield some results that are life-changing for student, teacher, the entire class, and sometimes the entire institution.
There are a lot of altruistic reasons to encourage inclusivity in education and training, but also a lot of more self-interested ones. Imagine the opportunities for growth, improvement, and enhancement that are lost when institutions or teachers or guides balk at a student whose differences push against the boundaries of normal operations.
Today your favorite blindfluencer challenges you to list three ways in which you are good for someone else’s health.