On an average day in Broad Ripple, it’s likely to see blind and visually impaired youths roaming the sidewalks with an accompanying instructor. This is because the nearby Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) often uses the neighborhood to train its students on how to navigate the world both safely and successfully.
As part of the ISBVI’s teaching curriculum, almost all blind and visually impaired students are trained in what’s called orientation and mobility, which ISBVI orientation and mobility specialist Megan DeWester describes as “travel-based independent skills for people with a visual impairment.”
“Basically, what that means is we teach navigation skills to the kids at the school,” says Jessica Hunt, another orientation and mobility specialist at ISBVI. “We teach them how to use a cane. We teach them how to cross streets. We teach them how to be independent in getting items from a shopping list.”
As part of the school’s orientation and mobility training, the instructors teach students ages three through 22 in a variety of different public environments. According to the orientation and mobility specialists at ISBVI, Broad Ripple is a great place for both “residential” and “semi-business” lessons, which usually begin around the age of 7.
“Broad Ripple is nice because it’s a neighborhood,” DeWester says. “With traffic patterns in the neighborhood, you get enough traffic that you know the kids will learn whether there’s a car coming or not. But at the same time, there are breaks, so it’s not constant traffic where they’ll never get a chance to cross the street.”
Along with things like crossing the street and safely walking along a sidewalk, orientation and mobility also helps blind and visually impaired individuals learn how to shop in a store. For this reason, the Broad Ripple area’s many street-side businesses also come in handy with the training.
“It’s very helpful that the employees at a business say hello when students enter,” Hunt says as a suggestion to Broad Ripple shop employees. “Because a lot of times, we teach them to go request assistance inside businesses.”
Because the students are learning to navigate everyday life, it’s also important that drivers and other people go about their days ordinarily too.
“I always tell people to just remember that they’re people just like you,” DeWester says. “Just because they have a cane doesn’t mean they’re any different at all. The only difference would maybe just be to announce yourself more often.”
All in all, however, the ISBVI orientation and mobility specialists have found that Broad Ripple residents and business owners are both friendly and helpful.
“One thing that I really enjoy when going out into Broad Ripple with my students is that the people in the neighborhood are really nice,” says ISBVI orientation and mobility specialist Jill Pangle. “They’ll even come out and greet some of the kids.”
The Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired is located at 7725 North College Avenue. To learn more about their other programs and curriculum, you can visit in.gov/isbvi/ or call 317-253-1481.