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by Dona Sauerburger [

Reprinted, with permission from: Metropolitan Washington Orientation and Mobility Association Newsletter - May 1999 This newsletter is published by WOMA six times a year. It is sent at no charge to DC-MD AER members. Those outside of the DC-Maryland area can subscribe for $5.00/year ($7 for both DC-MD AER and WOMA newsletters); address checks to "DC-MD AER." All unsigned articles are written by the editor: Dona Sauerburger, COMS, Editor (301-858-0138 V/TTY) 1606 Huntcliff Way, Gambrills, MD 21054 e-mail:   

On May 16, at a conference in Kalamazoo hosted by Western Michigan University (WMU) and coordinated by Bill Wiener, an association was formed for Travel Instruction for people with disabilities other than blindness. This was the culmination of a landmark project funded by Project ACTION to develop standards for Travel Instructors for people with disabilities other than blindness, and a curriculum to train the instructors. This fall, WMU will start preparing Travel Instructors, using the curriculum. There were 85-90 people at the conference altogether. They included Travel Instructors who had been teaching people with disabilities other than blindness to travel independent for more than 20 years, as well as those who were just getting started, employed by or contracting with transit companies to train their paratransit riders to use the buses. There were also several O&M specialists, representatives from universities interested in training Travel Instructors, and consumers. 

[picture shows Bill Wiener speaking at podium looking over his glasses; caption says, "Dr. William Wiener, Chair of WMU's Department of Blind Rehabilitation, and Coordinator for Project ACTION's Independent Travel Project, coordinated the conference."]

Association Ends Isolation 

We O&M specialists know what it's like to feel unrecognized and alone -- it's one of the reasons we like WOMA! Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine how isolated some of the travel instructors felt when they developed their programs decades ago. With the exception of those in New York City (where the public school system has 40 Travel Instructors!), many Travel Instructors developed their programs without knowing that others were doing the same thing. Each of them learned the hard way what to teach, and how to teach it. Some of them met other Travel Instructors for the first time at this conference or in the Steering Committee that organized it.

Common Elements of Travel Instruction 

Travel Instructors who have trained people with disabilities long enough learn that there are elements that are necessary for travel instruction besides teaching routes and street-crossing and bus-riding skills. The programs of these experienced Travel Instructors have these elements in common, even though many of them were developed in isolation. These elements include "stranger approaches" (colleagues or plain-clothes police pose as "strangers" who entice students to be sure they respond appropriately and safely), and teaching problem-solving skills and how to cope with being lost or having their route blocked. 

[One picture shows Patti looking to the side and another shows Steven, hand reaching out, looking toward us; caption says, "Patricia Voorhees, Travel Training Specialist with public schools in Pennsylvania and Steven Garcia, Travel Instructor from New York City public schools, discuss problem-solving skills."] 

At the conference, Travel Instructors Patti Voorhees and Steven Garcia led a session on teaching problem-solving skills. One story that was shared at their session illustrates the importance of this professional training instead of simply teaching people how to get to their destination. It took place in suburban Maryland about ten years ago. A man who is cognitively disabled was trained by a Travel Instructor to get to and from work by bus. He learned it very well and traveled independently for several years without incident. However one day he took the wrong bus. He had no skills to handle these contingencies, had never been taught how to problem-solve or recover when lost, or even how to phone for help. He lived on the streets of Washington, DC for several days until he was finally found. He was then shown how to call for help, and how to handle unexpected events.

 [One picture shows Millie looking to the side, another shows Ed putting an overhead on the machine; caption says, "Millie Santiago-Liebmann, one of several parents of people with disabilities at the conference, and New York City Travel Instructor Edward Sherman led a session "Issues for Parents and Advocates."]

[At the top of the next page, one picture shows Jack Gorelick leaning dynamically toward the microphone at a podium and speaking seriously; second picture shows Jack smiling and holding a plaque with Pggy who is smiling broadly; third picture shows Becky at the podium speaking; caption says, "Jack Gorelick (left), considered by many to be the Grandfather of Travel Instruction, receives the Distinguished Career Award from Margaret Groce, coordinator of the New York City public schools travel instruction program. Becky Allen (right), Executive Director of the ARC of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, shared stories that illustrated the need for standards and preparation curriculum for Travel Instructors."]

Saturday evening's banquet was truly inspiring. Rebecca Allen, who had experienced travel instruction as a program supervisor and also as an advocate, talked about the need for the profession of travel instruction, relating her personal experiences. Then the Distinguished Career Award was presented to Jack Gorelick, who is the first person we know of to establish a travel instruction program for people with disabilities other than blindness. He began more than 30 years ago. I was struck by the parallel between his work, at a time when he said everyone was convinced that people as severely retarded as his clients could never travel independently, and the work of Russ Williams twenty years earlier. Russ has told me that the administrators at Hines Hospital were very courageous to overcome the liability issues and concerns of other staff who didn't believe that blind people could travel safely by themselves, and who thought that the blinded veterans should not be allowed to travel outside independently. Two decades later, Jack overcame similar ignorance.

[Eight pictures show men and women speaking; caption says, "Throughout the conference, professional issues were discussed and shared with the participants, such as (from left): program standards and quality indicators (Peggy Groce and Elga Joffee); certification programs (Eileen Siffermann); body of knowledge; ethics (Jack Gorelick, not shown, and Bruce Blasch); staff development (Rosanne Bopp); and university personnel preparation programs (Helen Lee) as well as association issues such as by-laws (Bonnie Minick) and newsletters and publications (Chris Wright-Penov).]

A Professional Association is Born 

The morning after the banquet, Rick Welsh gave an articulate, inspiring overview of the need for a professional organization. The participants then unanimously voted to establish the organization. One of the Travel Instructors, who had taught people with disabilities other than blindness to travel independently for 15 years before realizing that anyone else was doing the same thing, she was moved to tears when the vote took place. Others were also deeply moved; one dedicated Travel Instructor with 10 years' experience explained later that she hoped that the formation of an association would help legitimize her beloved profession. 

[Picture shows Rick Welsh speaking, caption says, "Dr. Richard Welsh asks the key question; participants enthusiastically respond, and an association is formed."] 

Sessions were then held to begin the process of establishing the organization with by-laws, a newsletter, a code of ethics and a mechanism for awarding certificates of proficiency. It is hoped that this organization will be able to establish a certification program so that there will be some assurance of quality for people hiring and being taught by travel instructors. Forms were distributed for charter members to join the association, and membership forms were taken for colleagues at home. The by-laws will be mailed to all charter members, and after they are approved, officers and board members will be elected. To find out more about the association, contact Dr. William Wiener at Western Michigan University (616-387-3453; E-mail: ).

[Picture shows people sitting at tables, with one woman speaking earnestly. Caption says, "During the Town Hall Meeting at lunch (above), participants discussed issues of concern."]

[One picture shows Ernest sitting in front of a poster, smiling broadly; the poster says "Travel Training Program" and pictures of people near or on buses. Another picture shows Norma smiling and holding up a poster with many pictures too small to see. Caption between pictures says, "Travel Instructors Ernest Sheeler with Transit Plus in Ohio, and Norma Munoz with Pittsburgh Public Schools were among those Travel Instructors who proudly displayed posters of their programs."]