Bridging the Great Health Divide: Blind and visually impaired children learn independence at West Virginia summer camp

Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 5:51 PM EDT
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BRIDGEPORT, W.Va (WDTV) - An annual summer camp in Bridgeport teaches blind and visually impaired children skills they need to be more independent.

During the Children’s Vision Rehabilitation Program’s Summer Institute camp, the kids learn how to do every-day tasks-- cooking, recognizing social cues, and walking outside-- all on their own.

“We have to teach them skills and ways to manage the sighted world,” says Director of Outreach at WVU Eye Institute and camp organizer Rebecca Coakley.

She says that blind and visually impaired children tend to get the help they need to succeed in school, but they don’t always learn how to be independent outside of the classroom-- and that’s what she says is the main focus of the camp. She goes on to say, “What we were finding is that kids could go to college, but they couldn’t last. And it wasn’t because of academics, it was because they didn’t have the skills they needed.”

12-year-old camp participant Drew Moorman Jr. was born blind in one eye, but a few months ago, contracted a virus which caused him to lose sight in his other eye, making him completely blind. He says, “When I could see, I basically did a lot of things by myself, so for me, being more independent means getting more normalcy back in my life.”

Bethanie Mateer is a certified orientation and mobility specialist, and she teaches the kids about how to navigate the world safely. They start by practicing with blocks and maps inside, and then eventually begin to practice these skills outside. When Bethanie was in school, she spent an entire year using a blindfold. She had to complete street crossings completely under the blindfold, without being able to see where she was going. She says having that experience helped her better learn how to teach kids.

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