A window inside life at Augustana College

An Amazing Experience

As the school year drew to a close, I began to get more and more excited for my trip to Florida. I was one of 6 that were selected to partake in a week long internship at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, Florida. I was the only sophomore (going to be junior) that went on the trip. The others are all going to be seniors.

As the morning came for us to fly down to Florida together, we got the unfortunate text that one of us was really sick and wouldn’t be able to go. Some of us did not know others prior to this trip, but by the time we were boarding the plane, we were all laughing together and making jokes.

The first day at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind was both exciting and overwhelming. There was so much to see and so many questions to ask and so much to learn that we couldn’t imagine leaving at 3 for the day. As the week progressed, we met amazing teachers and students. These individuals changed our lives and impacted us in ways that they will never know.

The 5 of us were able to visit any part of the school and any grade level. Going into the trip we had talked about grade levels and subjects that we were interested in seeing. I had thought about elementary for the deaf. Casey and Emma had thought about middle/high school science for the blind. Derek was interested in P.E. for both the blind and the deaf. Aubry was interested in kindergarden for the blind. When we got to the school, these interests expanded and soon we all wanted to see everything. I started out in a 2nd grade class for the blind and had an amazing experience that everyone else visited the classroom as well later in the week. Derek was learning so much in P.E. that we all felt the need to experience P.E. for the blind and the deaf. We then ended up going together during the week to all the different classrooms. We spent most of our time in P.E. and in preschool. The picture is of a few of the preschoolers and I. Preschool was a mix of kids who were either deaf or blind. The preschoolers taught us so much over the course of the week. The 5 of us became so caught up in the sign language that each night at our hotel, we all sat in one room together and learned simple sign language together. We all know our ABC’s and the numbers 1-10. Other signs that we learned are a lot of animals, and family words like mom and dad. From the preschoolers, we learned the continents, the days of the week, and much more. It was a lot of fun to be able to sign with preschoolers. It was interesting and fun to watch them realize that we knew hardly any sign and then see them adjust their conversation with us to basic and simple words.

 We even spent 2-3 hours one day pushing the preschoolers on the swings outside. It was fun to learn the sign for swing. This picture is one of my little preschool buddies who is totally deaf and I. Besides pushing them on swings, we were in the preschool classroom observing and working with the students. It was fascinating to watch the students who are blind feel a surfboard that one of the teachers had brought in since the theme was beach week. Have you ever had to explain what a surfboard looks like and what it feels like to someone who has never seen one before? It is difficult. Watching these preschoolers stand on the surfboard and then feel every inch of the board and the fin really opened my eyes to what I take for granted. Being able to see is a huge part of my life and these kids, for some, have never seen someone smile, a bird, a rainbow, or anything else. It was an amazing experience to be a part of the learning process for students who have to learn a completely different way.

The P.E. teacher and coach was an amazing man. The games that he comes up with for these students are remarkable. If you have ever played football, try doing that with your eyes completely shut. Try catching a baseball with a blindfold on. Try playing fooseball with your eyes covered. We had the opportunity to learn about how individuals who have a visual impairment play these sports and games. The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind has a football team made up of all students with a visual impairment. How do they play if they can’t see? They listen for the ball. Inside of the football is a rattle or other noise maker. When the ball is thrown, they can hear exactly where it is and be able to catch it. We learned that the spectators have to be extremely quiet during plays in order for the players to hear the ball, but after the play is done, the spectators go nuts! Fooseball was changed by the P.E. teacher to adapt for a visual impairment. The students play human fooseball. There are 4 bungee cords stretched across the playing area, that each have 3 PVC pipes on them. The students hold onto a PVC pipe and then move back and forth on their bungee cord and listen for when to kick the ball. The school has also won a large amount of national championships for a game called Goalball. The students are blindfolded so that no matter what their vision level is, they are all on the same playing field. There are 3 on a team and have to roll/throw the ball and try to get it into the other teams’ goal. How do students with visual impairments know when they are out of bounds? There is tape with a piece of string over all of the lines on the gym floor. They can feel the raised string under the tape and know that they are at the out of bounds lines. Such a simple accommodation for an important rule of the game.

The P.E. teacher was incredible. He brought the 5 of us on a bike called a conference bike. This bike is used for students who have a visual impairment. Imagine riding your bike with a blindfold on. How difficult would it be to know where the sidewalk was and where the fence next to it was? How could you know when there is a fire hydrant or a big bump in the sidewalk? It would be near impossible. The conference bike was created for just that reason. This gives the students a chance to ride a bike and not have to worry about those things. This is a $15,000 bike that we got to ride on. The bike allows 6 students and a driver to bike together. They sit in a circle, but everyone pedals. The driver is able to control where the bike goes with a steering wheel. We actually got to ride the bike with the P.E. teacher all over campus. It was awesome to see that students with a visual impairment can still ride a bike!

 

The P.E. teacher also showed us goggles that gave us an idea of different vision levels. In this picture, from left to right, Casey is wearing goggles that have one eye as a blood filled eye and the other as a totally blind. Derek is wearing one eye as pinhole vision and the other as cloudy vision. Emma has both eyes as pinhole vision, and I have one eye as a pinhole and the other is totally blind. When we put those goggles on, we all become quiet and in awe. Having just a brief moment of understanding of what various visions are like, we quickly developed much more respect and awareness for all of the students we’d met. It was crazy to try to walk around a table only being able to see out of a hole a little smaller than the size of a hole on the edge of notebook paper. We were very lucky to have that experience. The teacher even told us that the reason they have those goggles is because some of the kids who were deaf began complaining that they felt as if the students who were blind had more freedom and seemed to be walking by themselves around campus. The P.E. teacher tried to explain that although it may seem that they are alone, there could be an orientation and mobility specialist hiding and watching the student practice using their cane. He then brought out the goggles and had the students who were deaf wear the goggles and try to run laps around their track. He said that the kids came back and said they would never complain again because they could not even imagine being blind or having a visual impairment like that. It was great to know that the students, both blind and deaf, have respect for each other and are learning about each other.

There was so much that happened in the course of the week that I could have spent a week writing about, but this is good for now. If you have questions about what we did at the school or about anything I had talked about, feel free to comment and ask! I’d love to answer them!

The week at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind changed all of our future goals. We now all want to go to school after we finish at Augie for either orientation and mobility, deaf education, or visually impaired education. Thank you to our wonderful advisor, Deb, who made this trip possible, and also for planning the national conference that we will be presenting our experiences at next spring in San Antonio. Thank you to all of the FSDB teachers and students that made our week as incredible as it was and for changing our lives in so many ways! We love you all and miss you!!!

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