IDAHO FALLS – Two Bingham County women have spent the past two weeks teaching visually-impaired and blind children in the Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) program.
The day camp went from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday through Friday, for two weeks. Classes were in the Parks and Recreation building in Idaho Falls. The camp ended last Friday.
“We help children become more confident in what they do,” said Vicki Bateman from Shelley.
“With more confidence comes the understanding that it’s O.K. to be blind,” said Sandy Streeter from Blackfoot.
“Blind and visually impaired people do what everyone else does; we just do it in a different way,” Bateman said.
During the day camp, students were taught how to read and write Braille. They also practiced cane work.
To walk with a cane, students are taught to keep their arm extended and the cane moving from side to side about the width of their bodies. It’s held closer to their bodies when moving among a lot of people.
“Canes are not to be used as weapons,” said Bateman.
During camp, students measured ingredients and made no-bake cookies. They took field trips, painted with scented paint, played musical instruments and played baseball games following the direction of the teachers’ voices.
“We tried to make it fun for them,” said Bateman.
Bateman said as an adult she lost her depth perception. With her right eye, she can see movement and she has low vision in her left eye.
She carries a magnifying glass with her so she can read.
“I wish I knew how to read Braille,” she said. “I think it’s easier to learn when you are younger.”
Streeter had congenital cataracts when she was born. By the time she was 7-years-old, she was completely blind.
“I grew up in Dallas,” Streeter said. “I was the second of six children.
She was bused across town for school until her sophomore year in high school when she attended the neighborhood high school.
“The difficulty was, I didn’t have any friends in high school because I had attended different grade schools.
“In high school, I participated in a lot of different clubs to show people that I could do things,” said Streeter. “I still didn’t have friends but I have two sisters and three brothers.
“Because of new technology, many blind people don’t know how to read Braille,” she said. “I’ve been reading Braille since the second grade.
“I don’t know what I would do without Braille,” said Streeter. “I do my grocery list in Braille. I can’t imagine not knowing how to read it.”
The BELL program was developed in Maryland by the National Federal of the Blind. By the next year, the program was in Maryland and Georgia.
Since 2010, it has spread across the nation.
In Idaho, the BELL program is in Boise and Idaho Falls. Officials hope the program will be in northern Idaho next year, said Bateman.
The Snake Valley Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind meets at 6 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month at the Parks and Recreation building in Idaho Falls. Contact Bateman at (208) 357-7403 for more information.
The Gateway Chapter meets in Pocatello.