January 21, 2020

Experience can be the best teacher.

That’s why, for the past two years, Lufkin State Supported Living Center’s new direct support employees take turns either being led through the center’s campus while blindfolded or leading a blindfolded co-worker to train them on how to help residents who are blind or have visual impairment. Orientation and mobility students from Stephen F. Austin State University accompany the employees to help provide guidance.

“It really brings it home to our team members, what it’s like to have visual disability and rely on somebody to help them, and what it’s like to help somebody with a disability,” said Joyce Jackson, Competency Training and Development director at Lufkin SSLC.

This exercise is part of the center’s orientation for new employees. D.J. Dean, a clinical instructor and orientation and mobility internship coordinator at the university, and her students teach the blind mobility portion of the orientation.

The training, usually done twice a month, involves showing employees an instructional video of basic guide techniques for people with visual impairment. Dean and her students also have employees wear blindfolds and give them objects to identify by touch. Employees pair up to take turns guiding one another throughout the center’s campus.

Dean said the training provides her students the opportunity to experience what it’s like to train people who will be working with others who have visual impairment, which is part of their chosen career.

“It’s another piece of the puzzle they need to do as professionals in this field,” Dean said.

Jackson said having Dean and her students come to the center and share their knowledge and experience has been invaluable. According to Jackson, 47 of Lufkin SSLC’s 275 residents require some type of visual aid.

“They maintain an enthusiastic approach for each class, showing them the proper way to guide and help people ambulate as independently as possible, and our facility provides an opportunity for the SFA students to practice teaching their skills,” Jackson said. “We are extremely appreciative for their dedication to helping our residents through training our staff.”

The orientation and mobility class is just one example of how Lufkin SSLC collaborates with area institutions of higher learning to benefit the center’s residents and staff, as well as the institutions themselves.

Lufkin SSLC has had students from Angelina College, Stephen F. Austin University and other universities volunteer or intern at the center for many years. Opportunities include having nursing students complete rotations and social work students intern at the center where they work with professional social workers to help residents. University students and faculty also volunteer at different events hosted at Lufkin SSLC.

Staff at the center said the opportunities develop a pipeline for future employees and give the community an inside look at how the center cares for its residents. 

“Our hope is that students come out here and have a good experience and consider employment here while still in school or after they graduate,” said Lynn Hopper, Lufkin SSLC community relations director. “We hope to build a future workforce.”