2002 Conference Proceedings

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Ancil Torres
Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind
1120 20th Street NW, Suite 750 South
Washington, DC 20036
Telephone: (202) 454-6400
Fax: (202) 454-6401
Email: atorres@clb.org

Rehabilitation of individuals with disabilities holds special challenges when the disability has resulted from a sudden, unexpected, traumatic accident. To successfully enable a person to adjust to and master their new disability requires more than simple adherence to proven rehabilitation techniques. It often demands a personal commitment on the part of the rehabilitation professional to try new approaches and think out of the traditional strategies, to offer consistency to clients and to work collaboratively with other agencies involved in the rehabilitation process. In the wake of recent violent attacks against innocent civilians and the increase of traumatic accidents as the cause of disabilities, expanding beyond traditional rehabilitation techniques is critical. Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind will share some of its experiences in helping victims of traumatic accidents learn new independent living skills and professional skills while learning to live with their altered life circumstances.

Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind has had the privilege to work with the United States Department of State in providing rehabilitation services and assistive technology training to an individual severely injured in the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya. As a result of the explosion, this individual lost his vision and parts of his memory. The Department of State was committed to rehabilitating this individual and having him return to his job. Columbia Lighthouse joined with a team of doctors and other rehabilitation professionals to provide rehabilitation to this individual as soon as he was medically stable. Within a few months of sustaining his injury, this individual started receiving training in orientation and mobility and independent living skills as well as receiving occupational therapy and physical therapy. The team of professionals met regularly to assess the progress of the case during the three-plus year rehabilitation.

The consistency of the team and their cohesion provided a reliable foundation of support for the individual.

As the rehabilitation progressed, Columbia Lighthouse began offering assistive technology training. Ancil Torres, one of CLB's assistive technology specialists, worked with the individual, a skilled computer professional prior to the bombing, to teach him assistive technology. That path led to this individual reclaiming his position at the U.S. embassy in Kenya this past summer. Over the course of two years, Ancil learned not only how to pass on technical skills, but also how to impart hope and encouragement. During this session, he will share his insights with you.

The success of this rehabilitation was due in part to the relationship that developed between Ancil and his client. Their relationship was characterized by trust, consistency and perseverance. Ancil took on the role of mentor, offering encouragement when hope was thin. This relationship proved valuable early on when learning assistive technologies seemed too difficult to achieve. Ancil's personal encouragement inspired his client to stick with his training, and Ancil's teaching focused on imparting knowledge in a way that his client could receive and comprehend. Ancil also brought inspiration as a role model. Legally blind himself, Ancil proved firsthand how a blind person can work with technology. This provided a constant reminder to his client that working in the technology field was an achievable goal.

Reestablishing the individual in his former job and reintegrating him into the workplace took more than just individual rehabilitation. This past July, Ancil traveled to Kenya to help his client reestablish himself at and adjust to his job. Much of the training that took place taught the individual's supervisors and co-workers how to interact with and offer direction to the client. Even now that the individual is back to work,

Columbia Lighthouse continues to follow up on the case. Ancil and his client stay in touch, and his client grows more comfortable in his job.

In providing rehabilitation to individuals with disabilities resulting from traumatic accidents, Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind has found that several factors outside of traditional rehabilitation techniques are critical to a successful outcome. Consistency and commitment on the part of the agency provide a reliable foundation for individuals in a new, confusing world. A strong support network such as employers and fellow colleagues or friends and family helps reinforce the efforts of the rehabilitation agency.

Rehabilitation professionals, by their very jobs, serve as mentors and can offer hope and encouragement to their clients outside of the technical knowledge they impart. They should also be flexible enough to recognize the way their clients learn and offer follow-up past the conclusion of the rehabilitation. Rehabilitating an individual who has suffered a traumatic injury is a long road, sometimes years in the making, that requires consistency, dedication, and a focus on the end goal - independence and reintegration into the community -- with flexibility on the means to get there.

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