Life Matters

The blind leading the blind

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When I was a teenager, our school went on a class trip to New York City. Ah, New York City! A friend and I decided we were going to venture off to the shopping district, and our naive, overly confident selves jumped on the subway. It soon became apparent that we were headed away from where we wanted to be, and when we got off and surfaced into the sunlight, we shockingly witnessed poverty beyond what our young lives had experience. Frightened and wanting to go in the other direction, we saw a "Subway" sign across the street, quickly ran there and zipped down those stairs so fast we almost slid down. What? It was the same station we had just emerged from. What were we on, “The Twilight Zone?” Starting to panic, we approached a security guard for information, and he assured us that the subway went in both directions. Our way back to whence we came was simply accessible on the other side of the tracks. Whew! What an experience. We were like the "blind leading the blind.”

Only we weren't. Last week the RI Lions Sight Foundation sponsored a summer camp for children and teens that are blind. With the exception of two, twelve of the camp counselors were blind themselves, and they did an admiral job leading the campers through a multitude of activities.

By placing a sound source behind marked straw targets (a boom box playing the best of Taylor Swift and the Backstreet Boys) the campers lined up and one by one learned how to shoot a bow and arrow. Using their hearing and whatever fuzzy vision they had, they were gleeful as the arrows went whomp, whomp, whomp and hit the target. It was a particularly glorious moment when one of the girls, age 12, hit a bull’s-eye, as witnessed by one of the sighted counselors and celebrated by everyone. What an accomplishment!

One craft activity was string art. Using a hammer, the campers pounded nails into a piece of wood. Using colored string, they wove intricate designs between the nails. Some of the campers could see the colors if they held it right up to their eyes, some asked the sighted activity guide for specific colors they wanted, and still others played it more impulsively, weaving whatever color they could get their hands on. The resulting works of art may not have been museum quality, but they were definitely an artistic expression from each camper, who proudly felt the results.

Making sea slime was another great adventure. Pouring all of their glue into a cup, they then squirted blue or green or a combination of the two to get what they imagined would be the perfect color of the sea. Using a teaspoon, each child measured and added the baking powder and then gave their concoction a few squirts of saline solution. Colored, tactile sprinkles were then added. Stirring and kneading the combination turned it into slime that could be molded and squeezed. As a final challenge, little sea creatures were added to make it even more of a tactile experience.

In the evening, all would sit around a campfire. They would learn tricky hand motions by description (left knee in the air! Right hand twirling about your head! Clap, clap, clap!). Led by the vocal chords of the counselors, they would sing silly songs and laugh when they made mistakes.

Before bed, they would relax and play board games; extra large Uno, Connect Four with marked pieces, and Trouble with auditory dice. A large group of children amused themselves with Play Doh, seeing who could shape the kookiest animal. They chatted, they bonded, they laughed, supported each other, and had great fun, just like any other child their age.

One of the campers' favorite activities happened at the waterfront. Of course swimming was available, but so was boating, kayaks, canoes and paddle boards (although I am not sure how the latter fits into the boating category.) The lake was small and had no surprise outlets, so the campers and counselors had the freedom to paddle wherever they wanted to without having to depend on others. Some were singing or laughing so hard they were like foghorns, sounding off so others would not run into them. Still others were quiet, but the sounds of the paddling could still be heard to prevent them from bumping into each other. Boating was a real hit! One time years ago a different camp told the campers their boats were "all broken.” How could they be broken when the group before them had been heard carousing around the lake in them? Aha! They were broken because somehow the lifeguards thought that children who are blind are "broken"; that the blind leading the blind has a negative connotation and they couldn’t possibly do boating independently. The Lions Sight Foundation Camp proves that children and adults who are blind are far from broken, but capable individuals to be encouraged for their skills. They may do things differently, but they can still lead a full, happy and normal life.

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