In November 2015, we at the Portland School of T’ai Chi Chuan received a request for Tai Chi instruction for a person with impaired vision due to retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary condition which results in blindness. Stephen is a local acupuncturist and qigong instructor who works from his home.
Early on, we realized instruction in a group setting would be difficult. Upon visiting him to assess the situation, I found a person with very good kinesthetic awareness. He had also viewed several films of the Professor’s tai chi form and had a good idea of its structure.
The challenge for me was to discover tools to help Stephen feel and experience the positions and transitions in his own body. I used verbal indications followed by demonstration. He would touch my feet and hands/arms to determine their placement in each position. I also placed my hands on his hips to help him feel direction and levelness in his hips. By doing the form in close proximity, we were able to synchronize the speed of our movements.
He has learned very quickly and well, and he also practices often between our weekly classes in his home. We review at the beginning of each session before adding any new moves. I observe Stephen’s form and we work on any issues identified by either or both of us.
This has been a great experience for me to teach someone who can’t watch me and follow along. I’m amazed how often I use visual cues. Focusing outside the visual process is very important, as is putting movements in terms the student can feel kinesthetically. I think the experiment has been successful; and I now have skills which I can apply in other situations as needed.
Commentary from the student’s perspective is featured in the Oct. 2016 TCF newsletter for members (members are both public and apprentices), as well as being blogged here.