Main content

Alert message

Summer 2009 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Sarah Barnes, Parent, Austin, TX Published with permission from author.

Abstract: A parent describes her reactions when seeing her daughter with a visual im pairment and additional disabilities independently ride the escalator. She reflects on the upcoming changes for her daughter as she moves from elementary to middle school. Key words: Blind, visual impairment, children, orientation & mobility, special education, self-confidence, independence, growing-up, letting go I’m on the upper level of Highland Mall hiding between Children’s Place, a clothing store, and Radio Shack. It’s a weekday morning with few shoppers, so it’s a perfect time to spy on my daughter Meredith. As a fifth-grader with a visual impairment, she comes here once a week with her therapist, Marjie Wood, who is trained in orientation and mobility therapy [Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialist] with the Austin Independent School District.

Marjie and Meredith have been together for a decade conquering obstacles that most of us don’t even give a second thought. Meredith didn’t walk until she was 5, and that was on even surfaces. It took another two years for her to traverse grass, potholes and wood chips, and she still sometimes needs help to get on and off curbs.

One of the reasons she sometimes stumbles is because her legs are uneven and compensating for the steel rod in her back sometimes throws her off balance. But it’s her vision that might have the biggest impact on her mobility.

Meredith was born with the center part of her brain underdeveloped, and for reasons no one can really explain she cannot use her eyes together. She uses them one at a time, which is laborious, but it works for her. This makes things like stairs particularly challenging because without binocular vision, she loses much of her depth perception.

With all this going on, it’s remarkable how Meredith finds the energy to start the day, but here she comes into the mall, undaunted. The first thing she does is look for the mall map. She’s right below me, so I bend a little to hide behind a plant. Marjie glances up at my post and spots me. Game on.

Meredith makes a beeline for the escalator. This is why I am here, because Marjie says Meredith can now get on and off, but I’m skeptical. In fact, I avoid escalators when I’m alone with Meredith because I’m worried she’ll lose her balance and send us both tumbling. It also takes Meredith a full two minutes of standing at the escalator to work up the nerve to get on, and then usually I end up lifting her on.

And so today I watch and, hopefully, see for myself what Marjie has been telling me for weeks.

I’m guessing at any second Marjie will get in front of her and start giving her verbal cues to coax her on the escalator.

But my guess is wrong. Marjie stays behind her and with virtually no prompting, Meredith hops on the escalator without a nanosecond of hesitation.

Huh? My hands are over my mouth, and I’m whispering to no one in particular ,”Oh My God.”

Marjie and Meredith are about half way up when Marjie turns around to find me and our eyes meet. I throw my hands in the air, and Marjie flashes me a thumbs-up sign. Marjie and I have learned how to communicate about Meredith with virtually no words spoken between us. It’s a true gift to have a therapist who loves your child as much as you do, but it’s a greater gift to have a therapist who can read the mother’s mind.

I continue to spy as Meredith gets off the escalator—an equal challenge—with absolutely no trouble. Then she runs over to the down escalator. Marjie follows, and the two begin to look like a game of cat and mouse as they go up and down, up and down.

I can’t help but see the metaphor for my life here.

Meredith has become a different kid this year in fifth grade, her final year at Gullett Elementary School. In addition to her escalator surprise, she recently began tracing letters, meaning some day she might write her name. Her social life is beautifully hectic. She can now carry her own lunch tray, and she proudly sits with her friends in the lunchroom buzzing with conversation. Meredith’s world, largely created by Principal Janie Ruiz and teacher Bonnie O’Reilly and a classroom of energizing fifth-graders, is defined by a seamless culture of inclusion where kids with disabilities and kids without disabilities learn side by side.

But despite all these poignant leaps in physical and mental development, I was told in a recent school meeting that Meredith will be getting a new label next year: “Mentally retarded.”

I was told I could think it over. The reasoning is that the label better fits her disabilities and that technically the definition is correct for Meredith based on her school testing. I tried to think about it logically on my drive home that day, but all I could think about was that other label — “retard” — and how that was going to feel if anyone ever used it to refer to my child. By the time I was at the corner of Koenig Lane and Burnet Road, the tears were racing down my cheeks. And that would be the down of my escalator.

It’s not just that my baby is growing up; it’s that so is everyone else. It’s a mixed bag of grief and hope for a parent who has to reconcile the idea that while other kids are continuing to move ahead in academics, his or her own child has not kept pace and will never catch up.

Meredith learns differently, but I didn’t know until I visited her middle school that vocational activities are pushed for special  education students as early as sixth grade. A child like Meredith, who has spent 60 percent of her day in a regular education classroom, will be excluded from nearly all these same classes in middle school.

She won’t see her friends nearly as often either, because her friends’ world will becomeone of advanced placement classes and extracurricular activities. There is no pity here, but in coming months I will have to explain to Meredith how different her day is going to look. To be fair, Meredith might not be in the classroom with her peers in regular education all day, but her curriculum is inventive and exciting, and under her special education teacher’s skillful guidance, I know she will learn much.

And if I know my daughter, she will tackle this new experience with hundreds of questions for her teacher and an unapologetic enthusiasm for learning the names of all her fellow sixth-graders. I’m not sure what she’ll do the second day.

Back at the mall, I continue to watch in amazement at Meredith’s escalator prowess. I don’t see a daughter with mental retardation. I see a daughter who at times can demonstrate the mental concentration of a tightrope walker. I see a daughter who is blessed with the curiosity of a scientist and the devil-may-care attitude of a fifth-grader. I see a girl who has won the attention of a classroom full of fifth-graders who go out of their way to help her on the playground. They invite her to birthday parties, and they are bummed out that she will not go to their magnet schools next fall.

I understand labels exist for reasons of testing and placements and other hard conclusions, but it’s my hope this new label for Meredith will remain in the file cabinet.

Editor’s note: Sarah Barnes writes occasionally in the Austin American Statesman about the joys and challenges of raising a child with disabilities. You may reach her at <>. She won’t see her friends nearly as often either, because her friends’ world will become one of advanced placement classes and extracurricular activities. There is no pity here, but in coming months I will have to explain to Meredith how different her day is going to look. To be fair, Meredith might not be in the classroom with her peers in regular education all day, but her curriculum is inventive and exciting, and under her special education teacher’s skillful guidance, I know she will learn much.

Fall 2009 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Announcement from the Helen Keller National Center Website

Abstract: this article is about a research study and requests consumers and/or parents to participate by responding to a questionnaire.

Key Words: blindness, deafblindness, CHARGE Syndrome, research, Dr. Kim Blake, Dr. Nancy Salem-Hartshorne

If you are 13-years or older, and have There is still little known generally about CHARGE syndrome, Dr. Kim Blake and Dr. the problems older people have when Nancy Salem-Hartshorne would like to in-they’re growing up with CHARGE syndrome. vite you and/or your parent or guardian to Dr. Blake and Dr. Salem-Hartshorne would participate in our current research study. like to ask you questions about your past life and your present life with CHARGE syndrome. The questionnaire will take approximately 30-45 minutes to fill out and some of the questions will be about the things that are good in your life and not so good. This is described as “the quality of life.”

This research study is being conducted by a medical doctor, Dr. Kim Blake, and a Psychologist, Dr. Nancy Salem-Hartshorne, who also has an adolescent son with CHARGE syndrome.

If you volunteer to participate, a packet will be sent to you that will include consent forms and the questionnaire to be sent back to us.

Please contact Dr. Blake or Dr. Salem-Hartshorne via email or telephone if you would like to be a part of this important research!

Nancy Hartshorne:

(989) 774-6469 (Eastern Time Zone) Dr. Kim Blake:

(902) 470-6499 (Atlantic Standard Time)


Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired – Outreach Program Honors Texas Fellows

Recognizing VI Professionals in their Role as Recruiters

Texas Fellow Karla Cantu Tashia Garcia Lani Simonton Brian Jones Emma Lee WilsonMary KainerCecilia Cox HayesMyleah RhynesPat HarperBarbara Kline Carol DancyBonnie Rudel

Candidate Guadalupe Garza-BrownKaren Baker Cathryn KingTrish Duke Harriet PageKathleen McGann Gayla BrownBeth Wallace Shonda Prater Julia Sohns David CarabajalNorma Freimark

Fall 2009 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Press Release from The Media Access Group at WGBH

Abstract: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Partners with WGBH Media Access Group

to Deliver Descriptive Video Service on Home Video Titles. Key Words: blindness, vision loss, descriptive video service, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, WGBY Media Access Group

Culver City, Calif. (Sept 3, 2009) – Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will partner with WGBH Media Access Group to release select film titles on DVD with Descriptive Video Service®, or DVS®, as an optional feature for audiences who are blind or have low vision. Descriptive Video Service provides carefully crafted narration of key visual elements inserted into natural pauses in dialogue. Key visual elements are those which viewers with vision loss would ordinarily miss and include actions, costumes, gestures, facial expressions, scene changes and onscreen text. On DVD and Blu-ray™, the DVS track is an Audio option, listed alongside alternative languages, where the menu selection will read “English Audio Descriptive Service.”

The ability to enjoy movies with descriptive narration on DVD and Blu-ray Disc™ is extremely important to the nation’s 12 million movie fans with vision loss, and is the single most requested service of the Media Access Group. Among the first Sony Pictures Home Entertainment titles to be released with the description feature are The Taking of Pelham 123, The Ugly Truth, Julie & Julia and District 9.

Sony Pictures has been a leader over the last decade in providing descriptive audio for theatrical releases in movie theaters equipped with WGBH’s Motion Picture Access, or MoPix® systems. Beginning in the fall of 2009, all Sony Pictures theatrical releases with descriptive audio will also include the feature when they arrive on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.

about the media access group at Wgbh

The Media Access Group at WGBH includes The Caption Center, the world’s first captioning agency, founded in 1972; Descriptive Video Service (DVS), which has made television, film and video more accessible to blind and visually impaired audiences since 1990; and the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM), a research and development entity that builds on the success of WGBH’s access service departments to make existing and emerging technologies more accessible. Members of the Media Access Group’s collective staff represent the leading resources and experts in their fields.

Additional information about the Media Access Group at WGBH can be found at .

The Media Access Group maintains a list of DVDs with DVS at this page of its site: / resources/accessible-dvds.html>.

about sony pictures home entertainment

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is a Sony Pictures Entertainment company. SPE is a division of Sony Corporation of America, a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Sony Corporation. SPHE’s global operations encompass motion picture production and distribution; television production and distribution; digital contest creation and distribution; worldwide channel investments; home entertainment acquisition and distribution; operation of studio facilities; development of new entertainment products, services and technologies; and distribution of filmed entertainment in 67 countries. Sony Pictures Entertainment can be found on the World Wide Web at .

Fall 2009 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Press Release from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D)

Abstract: this article reports recent funding which provides free individual memberships to RFB&D. Key Words: blind, deafblind, visual impairment, audiobooks, RFB&D, Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic.

Thanks to major funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, Grant #H327D090001, and support of private donors, RFB&D Individual Membership is now free to individuals with proper certification*.

Member benefits include:

  • Free access to the nation’s largest audiobook library of textbooks and literature titles;
  • Human-narrated audiobooks with descriptions of images, tables and graphs;
  • Easy-to-use online catalog;
  • 24/7 online member services and phone support; and
  • Various audiobook downloadable formats, including DAISY and WMA (Windows Media Audio).

Register online for immediate access: ;

Or download an application: .

*Learn more about Certification: .

Section Links:

Applications and Forms: .

Copyright Acknowledgement: .

Fall 2009 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Liz Eagan Satter

Editors’ Note: Karen Crone, COMS, for many years the vision and deafblind specialist at Region 4 Education Service Center in Houston, and a friend to many of our readers, passed away unexpectedly on September 28, 2009. Liz Eagan Satter, who often worked with Karen during her time in Region 4, summed up the impact she had on so many with this personal story.

This is perhaps my favorite picture I have taken of Karen. This was taken July 15, 2006 at the Snowbird Lodge in Utah. We were out hiking during a break from AER sessions with Sheryl Sokoloski. Shortly after this photo was taken I lost my cell phone and then the “hunt” was on! I noticed it’s absence as it was my daughter’s birthday and was about to call her. Karen, being the kind person she was, offered me her phone so I could call her. Sheryl and I went on to find the phone, while Karen headed back to man the Region 4 booth in the vendor area.

The three of us spent a lot of time exploring the lodge and nature. Karen encouraged me as I attempted to overcome my fear of heights by taking the tram ride all the way up to the top of a mountain. Never once did she make fun of my obvious nervousness; she only provided support and praise.

Then the three of us decided to do the zip line. This was an activity where you are in a little seat strapped to a wire and you speed down a steep hill to the base where you have a sudden stop. Karen yelled at me not to forget to breathe. I kissed the ground once at the base. While Karen told everyone how much she hated them and that we forced her to do it. After much laughter and calming breaths later, we continued to explore the area and vowed to NOT do something clearly death defying again!

This is how I hope you all remember her—a ready smile, a genuine laugh, and a shoulder to lean on. I celebrate her life as I know this is what she would want. She was an amazing woman with so much talent, knowledge, but more importantly heart. The tears will fade in time, but her determination and faith in each of us will live on!

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”

—Helen Keller

Fall 2009 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Reprinted with permission from Oregon Deafblind Project Summer 2009 Newsletter

Abstract: this is a book review of poems written by Nella Black, a 96-year-old woman

who is deafblind. Key Words: blind, deafblind, disability, Nella Black, poetry

The News and Star, Sunday, 14 June, 2009 has an article about Nella Black by Steph Johnson. Nella is deafblind—and this is her first book. The really “cool” part is that she is 96 years old! The news article states that the book is a “celebration” of Nella’s life, “a story of determination and a fight for independence”. Nella became deaf at 3 years old and had limited vision until 12 years before this article was written. For much of her adult life, Nella cared for her mother who had suffered from strokes. She was 34 when her mother died. Nella was sent from England and lived in South Africa for a while—first with her brother and then in a home. She had a failed romance with a man who was also deafblind—mainly because her brother thought it was “indecent” for them to marry! With the help of a friend and a charity, Nella returned to England when she was 48.

“Nella has been writing poems since she was 21, keeping them safe in a box and hoping that one day they would be published. “Her ambition has finally been achieved and Poems from my Life is on sale at W H Smith and Waterstones. The realisation of Nella’s dream has been a team effort from her friends, Oriel Temple provided the illustrations and Brian Rudd designed the layout. Nella is able to communicate thanks to a friend who signs questions onto her hand. “And if the public agrees Nella will be able to fulfil another desire and help others with disabilities because the proceeds from Poems from my Life will go to Deafblind UK. She told the News & Star: “I’m pleased with the book, it’s turned out very well.” (News and Star)

Thank you Angela O. of DBCI-CHAT for this info! / Poems-From-My-Life/Nella-Black/ e/9781438939148

ISBN: 1438939140 ISBN-13: 9781438939148 Format: Paperback, 64pp Publisher: AuthorHouse

Fall 2009 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By William “Bill” Daugherty, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Abstract: Superintendent Bill Daugherty discusses future planning for TSBVI and invites dialogue with stakeholders on this topic.

Key Words: William Daugherty, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, blind, visually impaired, deafblind, future planning, collaboration, partnership

The Texas School for the Blind and Visu-educators and blind adults, among others. ally Impaired (TSBVI) is in the middle of so This statewide system in Texas is widely much change with its construction project regarded as the best in the country, and that it makes us think a lot about the future moving forward we all sure want to keep it of the school. By the time all the building that way. TSBVI is very well resourced by is over, we will have sat at 1100 W. 45th the state legislature, but these resources Street in Austin for about 95 years. So what are far from infinite and there is constant does the next 95 look like? A picture from vigilance from our lawmakers to ensure the original 1916 construction shows men that there is real value for every tax dollar and mules standing in the blazing summer they invest. So in thinking about the future, heat. It looks almost unbearable, and the we have to think beyond simply adding new mules speak to a bygone era. A picture programs and services as a way to grow from three months ago shows men toil-the school’s mission and effectiveness.

ing in the exact same spot in 105 degree weather. I TSBVI Outreach Services stood there too, and it was indeed almost unbearable. So maybe 95 years from

and Summer and Short-Term Programs grew out of needs expressed to us by now is not a future so fan-the ISDs as ways to protastic that all of our troubles have been solved by invention and technology. Maybe vide additional supports to students who attend their local schools. These initiawe are still in the business tives have been successful of educating kids with visual impairments, and if so, what parts of what we do by any measure, and that’s a good thing because they require a significant part of now will still be relevant to the school’s resources to Texas, and what parts will not? operate. Now we see these fine programs as foundational parts of our service Breaking that long view delivery system, and we will down into decades, we at continue to grow and refine

TSBVI are trying to think how our school them and do more with them. But to “do can make its best contribution to the state more” by adding major new programs such as a whole over the next 10–20 years. TSB-as these is not likely in the near term. The VI sees itself as but one part of a statewide discussion we are beginning to strike up with system that includes the ISDs, ESCs, TEA, stakeholders right now is how to do more DARS/DBS, the two universities, and all of by leveraging the potential of the statewide the advocacy groups representing parents, system as a whole. Terms like cooperation, collaboration, choice, role release, partnerships and parental involvement define the leveraging as I intend it here.

We all recognize that among the 8000+ students in Texas that there are students who are underserved. Sometimes we think of these as individual kids, and sometimes we think of them as groups. The recent surge in advocacy for students with deaf-blindness by parents and educators alike is an example of an underserved group for which new service delivery supports like interveners are coming on strong. I have to think that among every age group and among every group of learner types—on grade level, not on grade level, multiply disabled, etc.—there are underserved children. What TSBVI is trying to figure out is how we can do our part, and perhaps immodestly, say how we can provide statewide leadership, to ensure that all students have a state-of-the-art education in both the core and expanded core curriculum. Our school somehow has to go about this in a smarter fashion, because as I said before, just adding on and funding new programs is unlikely.

Here are two things I believe many of us think we know on this topic right now. First, students come to our campus or our staff comes to yours only because those of you in the ISDs ask for it. This simple formula covers about 99% of what we do. Second, there are students at TSBVI now who would be best educated in their local schools, and there are students in the ISDs now who really need the intensity of specialized services TSBVI offers. In some important ways both of these groups of students end up being underserved, and this applies to all type of learners.

In the ISDs it seems that the major challenge is time. Itinerant TVIs and COMS are spread thin to say the least. At TSBVI we have the time in comparison to the itinerant model, and often our big challenge is how to ensure that the intensity of services we provide leads to learning and skills that can be generalized to the next environment after the three years that is the norm for students enrolled here. That next environment is never a campus full of specialists who have teaching access to the student for upwards of fifteen hours a day in classroom, community, and residential living instruction. Both educational settings—the ISDs and TSBVI—are searching for ways to address these two challenges. Kids attending local schools now often have locally developed summer and after school opportunities to fill in some of the gaps created by the time crunch. ISDs continue to inform us about the types of outreach, summer and short-term programs they want from TSBVI. TSBVI continually strives to zero in on the reasons for enrollment at our school, and on the readiness of each student and of the “next environment”, be that the ISD or post-school experience, to be a successful match.

As TSBVI looks forward to the next two decades with a desire to do its part—one part among many—in moving the entire statewide agenda in the direction of continuous improvement, we want to engage all stakeholders in an honest and open planning process about our school’s future within the context of the 8000+ kids and their widely varied educational needs. If that process can look at the statewide system as a whole, rather than a loose amalgamation of individual organizations, Texas will stay at the forefront of what is best for all of the students we serve. Please let us know what’s on your mind regarding this broad topic; I am always available at . We’ll soon be approaching many of you in a more formal fashion on the topic to hear your ideas and issues on how to guide our system as a whole moving forward, and how to best partner with you on your local efforts to make your district or region reach the goals you went into this field to accomplish.

Fall 2009 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Barbara J. Madrigal, Assistant Commissioner, Division for Blind Services

Abstract: this article describes Microsoft’s DigiGirlz High Tech Camp for girls where Assistant Commissioner Barbara J. Madrigal, Employment Assistance Services Manager Susan Hunter, and Special Assistant Bill Agnell served as coaches.

Key Words: blind, visually impaired, disability, DARS Division for Blind Services, Digi-Girlz High Tech Camp, Microsoft, accessibility

This summer, several staff and consum-technology and business roles, thought-proers had the exciting privilege of participat-voking exercises, and interesting Microsoft ing in summer camp. Not just any summer product demonstrations. By participating camp—there was no horseback riding or in the Microsoft DigiGirlz Day, young womtarget practice and we didn’t need any sun-en can find out about the variety of opporscreen. This was the DigiGirlz High Tech tunities available in the high-tech industry Camp for girls, sponsored by Microsoft. and can explore future career paths. The Microsoft DigiGirlz High Tech Camp DARS Division for Blind Services sponfor girls was established in 2000. It aims sored three campers who attended the Di

to dispel stereotypes giGirlz camp in Dallas of the high-tech indusalong with Employment try and seeks to pro-Assistance Specialist vide young people a chance to experience, firsthand, what it’s like Freda Striplin. Transition Counselor Kevin Markel reported that DBS purto develop cutting-edge chased transportation technology. There are DigiGirlz camps across the United States. and Orientation and Mobility services to assist a consumer from Fort Worth in attending During students Microsoft the camp, interact with employees the camp, and Micro-soft purchased JAWS for the student’s camp and managers to gain computer. Ms. Strip-exposure to careers in business and technology and to get an inside lin met the consumer the day before camp to help familiarize her with look at what it’s like to the environment. She work at Microsoft. For observed that this very four days, participants experience tours, quiet and shy consumer was almost afraid discussion groups, seminars, job shadow-to get out of the cab—she didn’t know anying, networking, and many other activities. one and was unfamiliar with the surround-This exciting event provides girls with ca-ings. After one day of camp, however, she reer planning assistance, information about was chattering with her new friends and told Ms. Striplin, “Look, I’m okay. You don’t need to hover!” Both Ms. Striplin and Mr. Markel noted significant gains in confidence as she became more independent in her travel as well as her technology skills.

The camp was so successful that Micro-soft indicated they plan to ask for consumer and staff involvement in planning the camp for next year. All reported that they had “lots of fun” and are looking forward to attending next year.

I also had the privilege of attending camp along with my colleagues, Special Assistant Bill Agnell and Employment Assistance Services Manager Susan Hunter. We attended the DigiGirlz camp at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, where we served as coaches to the young women participating in the camp. We were each assigned to a group of students and accompanied them as they moved from one class to another.

We observed students as they learned to write SQL (a programming language used for developing databases), toured the Microsoft campus to learn about the variety of jobs in the high tech field, used the Microsoft Robotics SDK to program a robot, learned how to market technology, and designed and created their own super girl character! Oh, the things we learned!

One of the “funnest” events was the “Shoutout Board” where coaches or campers would post compliments whenever they noticed something outstanding. Once a day, all the campers and coaches would congregate at the Shoutout Board to cheer the shoutout recipients. For example, campers were recognized for actively participating in groups, for presenting a different or unique point of view, or for an accomplishment in a workshop. It was great to see these young women develop pride and confidence in their unique skills and abilities.

During our time in Washington, we had the opportunity to meet with Daniel Hub-bell, Microsoft Technical Evangelist, or head of the Microsoft accessibility program. Mr. Hubbell was very passionate about promoting accessibility, and he was very receptive as we shared information about blindness and visual impairment. In fact, he knows most of the DARS-DBS vendors, as our vendors have attended week-long vendor conferences at Microsoft to ensure that they are knowledgeable about and familiar with new Microsoft products. Mr. Hubbell emphasized the importance to Microsoft of having a diverse workforce and finds that employment of people with disabilities provides a valuable resource in helping to ensure that Microsoft products meet customer’s needs.

And that concludes my report on summer camp! I also had “lots of fun” and learned so much about technology, which is really equalizing the playing field for people with disabilities. DBS is looking forward to Digi-Girlz 2010!

Fall 2009 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Kate Hurst, Statewide Staff Development Coordinator, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Outreach

Abstract: Visually impaired and blind students traveled to Fort Davis for Camp Real World, and learned about science, history, and career planning. The students also enjoyed many recreational and social opportunities.

Keywords: Effective Practices, visually impaired, summer camp, science, history

Sometimes the real world is a great place to be. It is filled with interesting and fun people, scenic surroundings, and fascinating experiences. Sometimes everything comes together perfectly and you find yourself a part of something truly enriching. Vacations often provide this type of experience, and this year mine was no exception.

In the heat of July I traveled to Fort Davis, Texas and the Prude Ranch to participate in Camp Real World. This camping experience, sponsored by the Ft. Worth region of the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, Division for Blind Services (DARS-DBS) and Region 15 Education Service Center in San Angelo, took place July 20-24, 2009. It included 22 visually impaired individuals and 12 of their sighted peers ranging in age from 6–19. Also participating in this wonderful camping experience were numerous staff members from DARS-DBS, Region 15 Education Service Center, and some of the local school districts where the students are served.

There are few places in Texas that can compete with the Ft. Davis area for beauty, history, and nature. Climbing into the Ft. Davis mountains, after leaving the interstate highway at Balmorhea, the air changes and the oppressive heat and exhaust fumes dissipate. Though still warm by some standards, when I arrived at the Prude Ranch, just outside of Ft. Davis, rain has washed the world clean. In the large, rustic dining room campers were already digging into their cowboy grub. The din of chatter and laughter echoed off the rafters.

Everyone was glad to be there though some were a little homesick. We all wandered around the campground after supper, trying to find our cabins and a cell phone signal so we could phone home. No luck with the cell phone signal, but with some adjustments people unpacked and headed to the meeting hall for dance lessons. Boots were scooted, hips were hopped, and everyone got down and funky. Talk about your ice-breakers! There is nothing like a crowded dance floor to bump into people. Some of us even learned to dance a decent two-step and the Tango Slide.

A Cowboy Breakfast is the only way to get going when there are so many things to do. First there was the trip to the Ft. Davis National Historic Site. The park ranger began our tour with some history of the fort and the region. Ft. Davis was an army post built in the mid-1800’s. Cavalry stationed there served to protect the pioneers and traders traveling west. Though destroyed by fire shortly after the Civil War, it was rebuilt in 1867 by Lt. Colonel Wesley Merritt with four companies of the 9th U.S. Calvary, the first of the African-American troops known as Buffalo Soldiers. Touring the barracks and other sites at the fort, students learned how hard life was for the early Ft. Davis pioneers and the soldiers who occupied the fort. There were many opportunities for hands-on exploration of the gear and equipment the soldiers used.

Returning to Prude Ranch for lunch, we hardly had time to catch our breath before we were trekking down the mountainside to participate in a ropes course. Working in teams the students had to scale a 14 foot wall, get each other through a “spider web” of ropes without disturbing the “spider”, and race on long board “skis” across the rocky ground. Besides brains, teamwork, and physical stamina, this course required everyone to overcome their fear of failure and/or heights for the good of their team.

Thank goodness we all had time for a refreshing swim and dinner before we climbed on the bus again for a trip to the McDonald Observatory. What an amazing experience! Mark Cash, our guide, took us into the observatory of the 107-inch telescope, where we got a hands-on experience of all things telescopic. Students had the opportunity to explore the telescope as it was rotated and positioned while they learned a lot about the work the astronomers do at McDonald. Watching the enthusiasm of some of the students, I was struck with the notion that one of these students might someday work there, now that much of the observation and data collection was done with computers. Leaving the observatory we participated in science demonstrations to understand the size of our own solar system. Then we joined the “Star Party”, looking through smaller telescopes to see Saturn, twin stars and other celestial wonders. One of our students with very little vision was stunned to learn that the spot of light he was seeing was a star. Though he could tell you many facts about stars and space, he had never known that a real star was seen by sighted individuals as a speck of light, not a five-point object. It made me realize how often our visually impaired students have faulty concepts about the world because of the way we teach these concepts. Even students who were totally blind, came away with a much better understanding of the universe and the types of careers that exist in the field of science.

Staff at the observatory have developed a number of innovative ways to teach visually impaired students about astronomy and the universe.

On day three of Camp Real World, Tamee Argo, DARS-DBS Transition Counselor, had organized a series of activities for the students to learn about another world—the world of work. They competed in teams to match various job titles with salaries and training requirements. They learned about safety and first aid. They also participated in work simulations in the areas such as archeology, clerical work, bicycle repair, and using a cash register.

In the afternoon, campers were treated to a living history lesson by the Traylor family. This husband and wife team, along with their daughter, son-in-law, and son, shared information about life in the region during the late 1800’s. Dressed in period costumes, they also gave the students an opportunity to learn about horses, milking cows, and making butter with a churn. They discussed typical jobs that each family member had during that time. Campers even had the opportunity to actually milk a cow and make fresh butter, a tasty snack when spread on crackers that tided us over until supper and homemade ice cream for dessert. Did you know you could make ice cream in a baggie?

No need to worry about gaining weight from the extra treats. Everyone had great fun after supper playing in our Camp Real World goal ball tournament. Many of the campers had never played goal ball before, and found they had a real talent for the sport. Vance Lankford from Region 15 ESC, with help from the DARS-DBS staff, taught us the game and served as coaches and referees during the tournament. Walking up the hill that night to my cabin, I hadn’t felt so tired in years.

Despite the fatigue from the night before, we were ready bright and early to travel to the Chihuahua Desert Nature Center. Everyone was amazed at the variety of plants and animals that are native to this desert region. The students carefully explored the cactus, sniffed the sage, and learned how bats and other creatures help in pollination. One of the students was especially interested in what he learned, and talked about getting a job like our guide when he was older.

This camp gave the students so many “real world” lessons it would be hard to say what had the most impact. However, I particularly enjoyed the lessons and skills that were utilized later that evening as they prepared for the end-of-camp dance with all the other campers at Prude Ranch. After an afternoon horseback ride and another swim, preparations began for the dance. The girls and guys dressed up in their best camp finery and made a promise that they would not turn down a dance invitation from their fellow Real World campers. Then it was off down the hill and into the throng of dancers in the gym. It was so much fun to see how well our group mixed with the other campers. There were a few wallflowers at the start of the dance, but before the night was over, everyone had seized the opportunity to boogie down.

It was a tired crew that found their way into the mess hall the next morning and made their way to the bus for the ride home. As I drove back down the mountain towards Austin I reflected on what a great experience going to camp was.

We are fortunate in Texas to have so many dedicated education and rehabilitation providers who work to pull off summer camp experiences for students with visual impairments. I don’t think you can underestimate the impact of such an experience. These students learn that they can go away from home and do okay. They learn both social and academic skills. They learn about taking on a challenge, even when you are a little afraid of it, and succeeding. They make friends. They learn about their visual impairment in terms of what they CAN do rather than what they can’t. As an educator, I am reminded of how important experiential learning is and how many lessons can be taught while climbing a wall, milking a cow, learning a new dance, or playing goal ball.

If your son or daughter has never participated in a summer camp experience, you should consider letting them. Many of the DARS-DBS offices and Education Service Centers have day camps or overnight camps throughout the summer. Ask your TVI or O&M instructor what opportunities are available in your area. If you are an education or rehabilitation professional, consider volunteering to help with some of these camps. A summer camp experience is special for any kid, but especially for kids who are blind, visually impaired, or deafblind. Besides re-discovering the joys of camp, you’ll get some great ideas for instruction when the summer is over and school begins again.