Dr. Namita Jacob discusses how to train people who have no experience in working with students with visual impairments and multiple disabilities in this brief interview.
While it is critical for students with visually impairments and multiple disabilities to have access to highly trained teachers, there are many occasions when these students interact and work with people who have no background knowledge or experience. Providing some basic training to regular education teachers, paraprofessionals, scout leaders or athletic coaches can make a big difference. Dr. Namita Jacob, Education Specialist for Perkins International Asia/Pacific Region, has provided training all over the world and speaks to us in this column about her expertise providing this kind of basic, introductory training.
This situation forces you to pay attention to what is essential to know – what does someone who is going to interact with a child who is deafblind need to know? The right attitude is important, for example, and a good understanding of how the child may experience the world.
Often, when training in Asia, we must plan trainings for people who have had no prior experience and no formal academic training, but who are required to work directly with children with visual impairment and multiple disabilities, including deafblindness. The situation forces you to think of the essence of working effectively with our students – having an open mind and seeing possibilities, understanding how the student may experience the world and being able to use this to engage with the child and enable exploration, learning and communication. These are the skills and attitudes you want to pass on in your training.
Plan a lot of simulations so that participants start to have some way to understand. Give them a chance to experience some of the things we see commonly happening when interacting with children – forgetting to help them anticipate what is going to happen, using a pace that is too fast or too slow for the child, giving unclear and confusing instructions. Have them reflect on their experience and write down their observations when their colleagues are using simulators as well.
Bringing family in is one fail-safe way of teaching a group with no experience what this is all about. Here is a group of people who speak from direct and deep experience. Families are very effective in helping participants recognize them as a resource, a storehouse of knowledge and ingenuity and deserving of great respect – a lesson that is good to learn before they start to work with their children!
Equally important is helping the audience work together to identify the problems they feel they may face in providing services, and the resources that always exist if you can think creatively. I always have with me a stock of stories and examples from all the work we have done around the world. So many of the battles are the same, so many worries, so many sticking points. It helps to hear of others who were in similar situations and who were able to find ways to get beyond it.
Having stories, simulations and other activities is also helpful when you find you have come to conduct a training, and there is no projector or no electricity for the day! Add a chalkboard or any drawing space, and you have enough to run an exciting, engaging session. I even moved a training outdoors when all else failed and drew on the dampened sand as the group sat around.
I always make a power point as a way to organize my own thoughts, but find that I nearly never use it while I teach. Instead with a single picture, a short video clip or a story and a handful of photographs, you can engage the participants and have active discussions that are often more helpful to the participant than the theory or neatly laid out points on a screen.