Vantage Point is the name of a training program used by some departments of AHRC NYC, in which new employees spend their first work day gaining perspective on what a person with disabilities faces in everyday situations.  Staff participating in the training program might wear blindfolds to experience the feeling of sight impairment, or they might spend the day in wheelchair, to experience obstacles encountered by people with mobility impairments.  Although it is not possible for a person without a disability to really know what it feels like to live with a disability, the program allows new staff to experience some of the feelings and obstacles encountered on a daily basis, by persons with disabilities.   The program prepares new staff in AHRC NYC’s Adult Day Services and Residential Services departments to work with people receiving supports through various programs.

Vantage Point Training in Adult Day Services

Elvira Sinelikova, who has worked as a Community Support Professional at AHRC NYC’s Adult Day Services facility, the Joseph T. Weingold Adult Day Center since 1998. She runs the Vantage Point program in her facility. Vantage Point Program trainee, Yacoubou Amadou, (a Sub, who was recently hired to work at the Fisher Adult Day Center in Manhattan,) was a participant in one of the groups that meet daily to discuss various topics including:

> Social relationships
> Pedestrian skills
> Problem solving
> Appropriate social behavior in the community
> Life goals

Gaining a Perspective on Mobility Impairment

After his morning arrival at Weingold Center, Yacoubou was asked to sit in a wheelchair, and to conduct all of his activities for the day while remaining seated, in order to gain some perspective on what it is like to have a mobility impairment.

It was a great program. They put me in a wheelchair and we went out into the community. Later in the day, we did a lot of work, packing supplies into boxes,” said Yacoubou, describing the day’s activities. When asked how he felt when the group walked through the local neighborhood, Yacoubou added, “When people saw me and I was in a wheelchair, I noticed the way they looked at me, and I wondered about their impression.”

As the day ended, Yocoubou joined Yelena Akbasheva, Program Supervisor and Laura Cucinotta, Social Work Supervisor, for a coordinator-trainee debriefing, where he identified some of the emotions and obstacles that he experienced while participating in the Vantage Point program.

Vantage Point Training in Residential Services

On November 4, 2011, eight newly-hired Direct Support Professionals attended Vantage Point Training at AHRC NYC headquarters, conducted by Keith Turpin, Residential Training Director. This training had the same goals as the training at the Joseph T. Weingold Center, however; this training included perspectives on sight impairment. Residential Department staff hired to provide services at Tenafly IRA, Fresh Meadow Lane IRA, Hirsch IRA, Gus Jacobs Residence, and 58th Avenue IRA were asked to pair off for a trust exercise in which one member of each pair wore a blindfold, to approximate the condition of being blind.

The Value of Trust

As he introduced the group to the upcoming exercise, which would include a partner-guided walk through the local community, as well as a feeding exercise, Keith emphasized the importance of safety. “Take this very seriously,” said Keith. “You are completely responsible for the safety of your partner, as you will be responsible for the individuals who we support.”  After the trainees were partnered for the exercise, one trainee per pair put on their blindfold, and the group was led into the elevator, out of the building, and into a chilly downtown Manhattan.

Gaining a Perspective on Visual Impairment

As soon as the group reached the sidewalk, one of the trainees noted that the weather was cold and uncomfortable. “We go out on cold days,” answered Keith. “Our residents go out in the rain and the snow, so we will do this exercise, regardless of the weather, unless there is a blizzard outside.”  Those who wore blindfolds had been instructed to only answer their partners’ questions using the words, “Yes,” or “No.” Many of the people who the trainees will support may have a limited capacity to communicate verbally. In order to ensure the safety of all trainees during the exercise, the group was accompanied by two AHRC NYC staff, who made the trainees aware of crosswalks and parking garage entrances. Halfway through the walking tour, the paired trainees were asked to switch their roles, so that everyone could experience the feelings a person with sight impairment might encounter while traveling.

Trust and Communication are Essential Aspects of Direct Support

Upon returning to the Maiden Lane offices, the trainees took part in a feeding training exercise. As with the community walking exercise, the trainees were partnered, one wearing a blindfold, and the other playing the role of the feeder.

I’m scared!” cried one of the DSP trainees, as she moved her blindfold into position, covering her eyes. Keith provided the group with doughnuts, and (unbeknownst to the blindfolded eaters,) asked the feeders to rush while feeding. Because the eaters in the exercise could only communicate using “yes” or “no,” some found it difficult to eat with comfort.

That felt horrible!” said one DSP, during a de-briefing that followed the exercise. “It wasn’t a good feeling.”

“I didn’t even want to open my mouth!” added another DSP.

Do you see what it’s like to put your trust in a stranger?” Keith asked the group. “It is important to ask questions when providing care, but understand that some may not be capable of answering clearly,” said Keith.

It showed me that you have to have a good rapport with that person you support, because you’re going to be their eyes and ears,” added one trainee. “That was a very rewarding experience.”

Although the Vantage Point Training prepares new staff to think about the day to day obstacles that those who they serve face each day, it is not possible for a person who does not live with a disability to truly understand what it feels like to live with a disability.  When the Vantage Point Training exercises end, those who participate are allowed to stand from the wheelchair, or to take off their blindfold. The exercise of navigating each day’s obstacles does not end for those who live with disabilities, but the Vantage Point Program prepares support staff to be mindful of these needs, and the importance of their responsibilities as they assume Direct Support roles within AHRC NYC departments.