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Camp Helps Teens Who are Deaf-Blind Gain Independence

photo of Gerald Abner and Nathan Bradley using a tablet device
Gerald Abner with Kentucky Deaf-Blind Project young adult Nathan Bradley working with an augmentative and alternative communication app.

A camp with strong ties to the University of Kentucky is helping individuals who have a combination of vision and hearing loss, known as “dual sensory loss” or “deafblindness,” master life skills to prepare for their futures.

Eight teenagers attended camp in early July at General Butler State Park in Carrollton, Ky. Graduate students in the UK College of Education’s Teacher Preparation Program in Visual Impairments served as camp mentors, with support from other specialists.

The camp is part of the Kentucky Deaf-Blind Project, which is a state-wide initiative based at the UK College of Education. The project provides statewide technical assistance and training to people from birth to age 22 who have deafblindness, and also works with their families and service providers.

Called the Expanded Core Curriculum Camp, the camp annually focuses on training students in areas outside the traditional curriculum taught in school, such as reading, writing and math. The students, instead, practice skills that will help them establish independence.

Kentucky Deaf-Blind Project Mac Cawthon with his intervener Barb Martin
Kentucky Deaf-Blind Project young adult Max Cawthon with his intervener Barb Martin

The road to gaining self-sufficiency often includes mastering the use of assistive technology and skills like Braille and sign language. Learning adapted recreational and leisure activities is also important to fulfillment, said Gerald Abner, a clinical instructor in the UK College of Education’s Department of Early Childhood, Special Education, and Rehabilitation Counseling.

“At camp this year we took campers through steps to complete life skills such a preparing a meal,” said Donna Snyder, state coordinator for the Deaf-Blind Project.  “We created meal plans, made shopping lists, went to a grocery store, and came back and cooked a meal. This is an empowering process for our students. At the state park we had a lot of fun riding paddle boats, making tie dyed shirts and learning about dulcimers. Plus, the campers got to explore what it would be like to work at places such as a state park or home improvement supply store.”

They also received special recognition as the cities of Carrollton as well as nearby Madison, Ind., proclaimed Kentucky Deaf Blind Week in their communities.

photo of Cate Milburn, Gerald Abner, and Alex Hitzelberger looking at a tablet device
UK Teacher Preparation Program for Visual Impairment student Cate Milburn with Gerald Abner and Kentucky Deaf-Blind Project young adult Alex Hitzelberger

UK College of Education students from the Teacher Preparation Program in Visual Impairments gained hands-on teaching experience while serving as mentors at the camp.

“There is a nation-wide need for teachers to assist students with visual impairment,” said Donna Brostek Lee, a clinical assistant professor in the UK College of Education’s Department of Early Childhood, Special Education, and Rehabilitation Counseling. “Often, a teacher of the visually impaired will work across all grade levels in a district. They travel to classrooms to help teachers uniquely adapt the way assignments are given, making it possible for students with blindness and visual impairments to learn alongside their peers.”

To learn more about becoming a teacher of the visually impaired, click here.