The following is one in a monthly series featuring the extraordinary people who make up the LightHouse staff.
“Being an Orientation and Mobility Specialist is a perfect fit for me,” Katt Jones tells us. “I love teaching one-on-one, and empowering people to live their lives. I also value people’s stories, which I get to hear as I teach them how to safely travel as a blind person. She adds, “There’s more to learn about O&M than white cane travel, like using auditory cues to know when to cross the street, or explaining how weather can change the skills a blind person should use to travel.”
Katt, one of our newer Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialists, reminds us that O&M is more than white cane travel. “I love nerding out about smartphone apps, GPS and other means of travel. Though I don’t teach in-depth technology training—that’s what our LightHouse technology specialists are for—I do introduce my students to technology they may not be aware can help them.”
Katt earned her Master’s in Special Education with an emphasis on Orientation and Mobility at California State University, Los Angeles. Before she worked for the LightHouse she gained experience working as an O&M Specialist, and also unofficially began to learn independent living skills, which allowed her to more easily spot when someone needs additional training.
When students work with Katt to enhance their O&M skills, they get someone who listens. She says, “At the University of California San Diego, I studied sociology and psychology to understand how the individual fits within society. This led me to running support groups, where people come together to share experiences, learn and grow. When I’m working with a student, lots of personal things surface. We talk about independence, which often leads to conversations about family and friends being overly protective and not understanding. For students who are naturally shy, we talk a lot about how to respond to strangers who offer unsolicited (though well-meant) help because they see someone with a white cane. Family dynamics come up a lot, and I listen to students’ stories and help them talk through solutions. Mostly, however, I remind my students that they are in control of their lives.”
She goes on to say, “People have so many ideas about what it means to be blind. If you’re new to blindness, it’s easy to let it consume your attention. When I’m with a student, I’m teaching them blindness skills, but I also try to remind them of their hobbies and interests. It’s ironic that students of mine spend a lot of time talking to relatives and friends about blindness, and when they come to me, we start talking about theater, dancing, and hiking. I tell my students that it’s ok to say ‘stop talking about my blindness!’ My first priority is O&M instruction, but sometimes people need to be heard—what they really need is someone who sees them as a whole person.”
Katt encourages her students to come up with locations of interest to travel to during their lessons. “Several of my students want to learn how to get to the de Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, or how to hop on the F-line and get out to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf so they can check out the shops and the sea lions. They get really excited when they can show family members from out of town how to get to these iconic San Francisco locations. Just today I got to work with a student who has a membership at Cal Academy of Sciences and wanted some instruction on how to navigate the stair lifts when it is rather dark. I have another student who has been learning how to get to a San Francisco bakery so she can bring back delicious pastries and sourdough bread to her family back home in the East Bay. I try to let my students dream up any route they want or any location they want to get to so that they can focus on learning the skills while on the way to a place that they really would love to get to.”
Very much a people person, Katt runs a co-op in Oakland where she and five other housemates ensure a constant homey vibe. “We eat dinner together, share chores that we rename ‘spheres of influence’, and encourage each other.” In addition to creating a loving home, a portion of the co-op’s rent is given to nonprofits of their choosing. “Living in a co-op means we know how important community is, which is why we also support nonprofits that enrich and support the community around us.”
Katt truly embraces life and the people around her, from her students who are learning new blindness skills, to a team of performers in a local showing of the iconic film the Rocky Horror Picture Show. “I love music and dancing,” Katt says with a twirl of her head, “and I regularly attend live theater.” She reminds us all, “get up, get out, and get along.”
If you’d like to brush up on your O&M skills, or if you’ve been holding off on learning them, Katt has some words of advice: “Take the leap and let’s laugh while learning.” Contact the LightHouse at 415-831-1481 to get started.