Saturday, February 16, 2008

Third graders experience visual impairment

For the sixth year the third graders at Dennett Elementary School in Plympton participated in a disability day where they learned what it would be like to be visually impaired or blind. Although they had the ability to open their eyes if they were scared or felt uncomfortable, they also experienced how different getting around their classroom would be if they didn’t have the ability to see.

Divided into small groups the children received different lessons on visual disabilities. In one classroom children participated in hands-on activities where they closed their eyes and tried to feel their way around the classroom using a guide cane. In order to get the feel for the different levels of visual impairment the children also looked though special goggles designed to demonstrate the various points of vision loss.

Children who are used to seeing clearly had to describe how a person or objects in the room looked through the goggles from stages of 20/40 vision to 20/200 vision. One child described their teacher as looking like a monster when looking at her through the distortion of 20/200 vision goggles.

“The goggles show the children what it would be like with different vision types,” Julie Narciso, an Orientation and Mobility Instructor conducted the hands-on lessons at the Dennett said.

Narciso and Joanne Hutchinson, who both work with blind and visually impaired children, teach visually able children about what it is like to live with a visual disability. The goggle exercises allow the children to see through the eyes of a visually impaired person Narciso said. After the children have seen through the eyes of the many stages of visual disabilities they take on the role of a blind person and complete exercise using a guide cane and the use of a guide person. Each child takes turns as the being the guide and the visually impaired student to understand the trust involved in relying on another person and other sensory organs.

“You can open your eyes at any time, a blind or visual impaired person can’t do that,” Narciso said to the children as they used guide canes to feel around the classroom. “This is a snapshot of what challenges visually impaired persons face.”

In another classroom children were set up in different learning station. Third grade teacher John Girard gave a lesson on the parts of the eye and stages of being visually impaired.

Over on the other side of the room third grade teacher, Diana Seyfert, helped the children type their names on the Braille typewriter. Each child was able to feel how their name would be in Braille and see some of their favorite storybooks, like the Bernstein Bears, with both words and Braille words in them. The children learned the letters of the alphabet in Braille, and experienced eating their lunch and opening food containers without being able to see what they were doing.

“The books with both Braille and written words were made so blind children and children of sight could read and enjoy a book together,” Seyfert said.

According to The American Foundation for the Blind, the term “blind” and “blindness,” be used for persons with no usable sigh at all, and the terns “visually impaired,” “low vision,” or “partially sighted” be applied to person who have some usable vision.

Hutchinson explained there were many phases of visual disabilities and many variations on individual people. Visual impairment may be due to a loss of visual acuity, the measurement of how clearly people see. If a persons visual acuity is 20/200 or less in the better eye after correction with conventional glasses, he/she is considered legally blind. Visual impairment may also be due to a loss of visual field. Visual field is the total area that can be seen without moving the head or eyes. If a person has a visual field of 20 degrees or less, he/she is considered legally blind.

“This exercise is to help teach children what it would be like to have a visual disability,” Narciso said. “It exposes them to different kinds of people.”


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