RHODY LIFE

Not special or different

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I spent this first week of August at the summer camp for children who are blind or visually impaired. One important thing they would like everyone else to know is that they are not “special” or “different,” they are just like any other kid, they just do things differently.

They love to play games, a favorite being very large print or Brailled UNO. A few of them know Braille, but most of them use large print. Using twelve-inch cards, they can get close to see the number and color and are able to handily beat their camper friends. Another group plays Connect Four where they can easily see the two different colors to distinguish when they have four in a row. For those students who have no color vision, a hole is drilled in the middle of one color of so they can be distinguished tactilely. Just for fun, a giant Connect Four stands outside on the lawn, where they laugh and say that it does not need to be THAT big for them to see. They also love to play volleyball. They may miss a volley, but the worse thing that would happen would be they would be hit in the head by the very enormous beachball that is used, something that generally causes the recipient to dissolve into fits of laughter. There are beeping volleyballs available for children who are blind, but we have learned that by the time they hear the beep, they have already been hit in the head by a volleyball made of hard rubber which is not so much fun!

Vision, and being “legally blind,” is a confusing concept for many people. Generally speaking, no one who is blind is “totally” blind, that is, with no light perception. Only a person who has had their eyes removed, (enucleated) have NO vision. Generally, there is at least some light perception which can be used to identify windows and help orient a person to the setup of a room. People who are “legally blind” have varying levels, the best of which can only see the big E on the eye chart twenty feet away, (20/200), which includes blurry vision in between. Perhaps the best way I can describe this is to use my son, Francis as an example. He has 20/400 vision, (meaning he would have to be 10 feet away from the eye chart to see the big E.) When he was about three years old, he came traipsing into our living room where I was sitting on the couch next to a good friend watching the original television show Dynasty, (which dates me as to when this took place.) He came over to the couch and climbed up on my friend’s lap, an unusual activity for him to do because he was so shy. She exclaimed, “Hi, Francis!” at which point he shrieked and jumped down. The thing was, his vision was such that he was able to identify two blurry figures on the couch, but could not see the details, and he chose the wrong person.

At our summer camp, funded by the RI Lions Sight Foundation and supported by many local Lions Clubs, including the Greater Warwick Lions Club, vision is not an obstacle. All the activities are modified to be accessible. Their favorite activity is archery where they shoot at targets that emit a high-pitched beep. They get super excited when they hear the arrow has hit the target. Another favorite is BINGO, in Braille and large print, where the campers are as serious and sit as intent as the senior citizens who play BINGO at the local senior center.

The camp affords students who are blind or visually impaired one week out of the year when they are with their peers, and the camaraderie is palpable. For the children with Albinism, there are other students as white and blonde as they are, including a few African American campers. The bond formed by the campers is a reassuring pat on the back that they are not alone. They are not “special” or “different.” They are just students who do things a little bit differently than fully sighted children.

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