Eighteen years ago, I received a call from Scott McCall, former president of CVI. Scott noticed an increased number of requests from clients. Although they enjoyed the benefits of their orientation and mobility training, they felt that one critical piece could be added. They shared their concerns that in the urban wilds of a large metropolitan city such as Atlanta, personal safety was of great importance.
Scott heard about the other work I was doing with a wide array of people with disabilities. He was interested in having me teach self-defense classes at CVI. I’d been teaching personal safety classes to paraplegics and quadriplegics at The Shepherd Spinal Center. I have always believed that regardless of abilities, we are only as safe as our individually crafted “personal safety plans” render us. Knowledge is indeed power, but I had no previous experience teaching the visually impaired and I didn’t know if I was up to the task. I reasoned that behaviorally, the keys to avoiding conflict could be adapted in almost exactly the same way as for sighted people by using awareness, intuition and boundary-setting.
So I set to work, investigating how it would be to be blind and have to fight someone. I quickly discovered the key element to fighting for one who cannot see. I blindfolded myself and attempted fighting another man. I discovered rather quickly that it was all about my proximity to the attacker. When my opponent was outside my grasp, I was consistently punished and had a very hard time accurately knowing what to do. But as soon as I could latch onto that opponent and feel a familiar point on his body, it was a whole different story. This is called the “universal reference point” which is the spot on the human body where the neck and shoulder meet. In fact, I discovered that once attached to the “bad” guy in this way, anything was possible. The same principals of fighting became available to blind people in the same way as sighted people.
Scott contacted Dr. Wendy David, a staff psychologist at the Veterans Administration Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, Washington, who had done a considerable amount of research into cognitive and psychological strategies for blind people and together the three of us began the creation of Safe Without Sight. Safe Without Sight is a two-week, intensive but fun education in how to live life more safely.
Scott, Wendy and I got together, assigned each other writing tasks and set about creating the course content and later a published book. It was at first tested by CVI’s staff in July 1995 and is still being used today.
The Safe Without Sight classes focused on two areas:
1. How to lessen the likelihood of becoming a victim of violent crime.
2. How to physically defend one’s self against an attacker.
After teaching hundreds of clients over the years our track record is impressive. Although we never want to hear of someone being harassed, pursued or attacked, and there are no guaranties made to those who take the course, positive stories from clients have come back to us. I have yet to hear a story of a client who was called on to use what they learned in the course in a real-life scenario, who didn’t emerge with a positive outcome.
Since the creation of the Safe Without Sight class at CVI, Scott, Wendy and I have been asked to create courses in a few other visually impaired rehabilitation agencies across the country. The enthusiasm and gratitude of both staff and clients in all of them has been moving. I leave you with a free tip, pulled from the philosophy of Safe Without Sight: “Live your life, every day, exploring the world and it’s many adventures, utilizing your own personal safety plan - as if It was important! Because it is and you are! Happy sightseeing!”
For more information on CVI’s Safe Without Sight self-defense class or other services for those with vision loss call 404-875-9011.