Caleb Hyndman is no ordinary teenager.
After all, not all 15-year-olds train police officers and first responders. In this case, the training focuses on how to work with blind and visually impaired people.
It’s something Hyndman considers himself an expert on. The freshman at Lewiston High School has been legally blind since birth, although he has some vision.
“I’m basing it on what I already know,” he said. “Then I help them (the people I train) with more information that they may not know.”
The idea for the training came when Hyndman met Capt. Jeff Klone of the Lewiston Police Department during a visit to the Idaho State Police with the Idaho Commission for the Blind and visually impaired. The tour was designed to help blind and visually impaired people touch and experience a police car and the equipment used by officers. Klone and Hyndman started talking and the idea came up for Hyndman to do officer trainings based on his experience and expertise.
The first such work was carried out Thursday during three training sessions for law enforcement and first responders in the Asotin County Fire District No. 1 area of Clarkston. The free training will then be used throughout the state of Idaho. Jeffrey Riechmann, executive director of Courageous Kids Climbing, a group that provides opportunities for children with special needs and disabilities, also participated in the event.
The training allows officers to gain experience driving blind and visually impaired people, while wearing an eye mask. Two officers would take to the front of the stage and perform various scenarios under Hyndman’s direction, including driving a blind person, doing an examination to see if a visually impaired person was injured, working with a blind person who uses a cane, and assisting a person blind or visually impaired to get out of an emergency. Once the agents staged the scenario, Hyndman offered tips and advice on what they did well and areas they could improve.
One of the first things Hyndman emphasized was directing people who are blind or visually impaired by letting them grab the officer’s elbow, not his hand.
When the blind person holds a person’s elbow, Hyndman said, it allows them to follow rather than being pushed by the sighted person. It’s also safer for the blind person because the arm is more sensitive to obstacles like doors. Hyndman said that when the sighted person comes to a door, pull on the elbow to let the visually impaired person know a door is there.
“Plus, if they’re holding your hand, it looks weird,” Hyndman said.
Verbal communication is also essential. “Tell them what you’re doing so they know something’s going on,” he said.
Part of that verbal communication is announcing who you are and telling them what you’re doing there. He noted that a blind or partially sighted person won’t be able to see a uniform so they wouldn’t know if a person was a law enforcement officer or a first responder.
Sighted people should also tell a visually impaired person what they are doing when being driven, such as going up and down stairs, indicating how many steps there are. If there is a door, tell the blind person whether the door pushes or retracts, and whether it opens from the right side or the left side.
Caleb Hyndman’s grandmother, Cynda Hyndman, who helped raise Caleb Hyndman, helped introduce her grandson by talking about some myths about blind people. Caleb Hyndman and Cynda Hyndman dispelled the misconception that blind people hear best, that all blind people are good musicians (even though Caleb Hyndman likes to compose music), and that blind people can recognize people by their voices.
Caleb Hyndman said he couldn’t tell people immediately by their voice and people would test him by asking, “Can you tell who that is by the sound of my voice?” is rude.
“It’s not right for people to do that,” Caleb Hyndman said.
Caleb Hyndman also stressed the importance of not grabbing a cane from a blind person.
“Imagine if that’s the way you see it,” he said holding out his cane. “It’s important that I have my cane and that it is nearby and can be used at all times.”
Riechmann mentioned another reason not to interfere with a visually impaired person’s cane or service dog — it’s illegal. The Idaho code states that intentionally interfering with a blind person’s cane or service dog is a citable offence.
With guide dogs – not to be confused with therapy dogs – which are specifically trained to assist a blind or partially sighted person, touching a dog can be considered interference.
“While this guide dog is working, no one can touch it,” said Caleb Hyndman, except for the handler the dog is trained to listen to.
Caleb Hyndman said that if an officer needs to direct a visually impaired person who has a guide dog, have the handler grab their elbow and then take the dog’s leash, that way the dog will know he is not doesn’t need to work. “They’re trained to be guide dogs and to be normal dogs and that’s about it,” he said. “And don’t beg for food.”
At the end of the training, Caleb and Cynda Hyndman reminded law enforcement and first responders during the training that people who are blind and visually impaired are people who live their lives like anyone else. Caleb Hyndman is a normal teenager, who also writes and presents training sessions for a new statewide program.