A day in the life of… an independence trainer for students with vision impairment

Post date: 
Wednesday, 11 January 2017
Photo of Caroline in the kitchen

Caroline Gillett (pictured) is an independence trainer at RNIB College Loughborough, which is for young adults with vision impairment and other disabilities. Caroline has been in the role since August 2010.

I’m responsible for…

Supporting students to develop the skills and experience they need to become more independent. Each week I teach lifestyle sessions that help our residential students do their chores, which includes washing laundry and grocery shopping.

My typical day…

Starts with supporting students to strip their beds and put on a load of washing. Over the years I’ve learnt tricks, mostly from the students, that I pass on to make it easier:
  • Use sock pairers or good quality plastic pegs to keep socks together in the wash.
  • Buy washing tablets, rather than powder, as they are easier to put in the machine and the softener is already included.
  • A laundry bag for small items can be really helpful as you know you’ve got everything out of the machine.
  • For communal laundry rooms like ours, we have name signs with braille on to help students find their washing. The sign says “This washing belongs to…”, so if other people need the machine they can take out the washing and put it in a basket with the sign on top.
  • We then head back to the rooms to put a change of sheets on the bed. I’ve found many of our students struggle with getting a duvet on. We support them to turn it inside out and grab the corners, but I think it is just a case of practice.
  • For ease, the students mostly use tumble dryers to dry their washing.
To ensure hygienic cleaning around the students' flats, we put different coloured cloths in zip plastic wallets with braille on, so students can read which cloth to use for which cleaning activity.
 

When it comes to grocery shopping, the first thing we do is check the cupboards, prior to meal planning. To check what they have already got in the cupboard, students use a PenFriend, which is an audio labeller. When menu planning, some of the students use Dictaphones to record their menu and shopping list, while others may prefer to use a braille list.

Going shopping can be a challenge, as first the students have to familiarise themselves with the route, and then they also have a cane and pull-along shopping trolley to cope with. At the College, we have a mobility and independence trainer who helps the students learn routes and build their mobility skills.
 
Once we get to the shop, students will ask for shopping assistant support and go round with the assistant to identify the items they need. Even the tills can be a challenge as students are trying to use the self-service tills and pack bags. These aren’t very user friendly because they don’t talk to you, but with practice you can remember how to work them.
 
It is great getting to watch the students become more confident and independent since starting at the College. 

What I love about what I do is…

Seeing students achieve personal milestones, for instance some of the students now are mastering the self-checkout tills at the supermarket. I also enjoy having the opportunity to get out and about with students, like going down to the shops. It feels like a real social activity, rather than just part of their course.

A tough part about what I do is…

Getting the right balance of support and independence. Some of the greatest challenges students face are everyday tasks like crossing the road. You can’t hear cyclists and sometimes traffic appears from nowhere, and some students also have hearing difficulties. It is hard to support them to build their confidence without taking their independence away in a high risk situation.

It's important to remember…

Some of our students also have autism and they often want to do particular things at set times. If there is a change of schedule this can be a real struggle. In these situations, it is all about positive encouragement, as we don’t want to make students do things. They are all adults, so it is about encouraging them to make good choices.
 

About the College

RNIB College Loughborough offers specialist education, care and work experience for young people and adults aged 16 plus from across the UK who have vision impairment and other disabilities, which include learning disabilities, autism, Asperger's syndrome and communication difficulties.
 

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