From darkness to light: Girl Scouts learn firsthand about blindness

Photos by Sue Suchyta

Girl Scout Kyleigh Watson (top), 9, looks through vision impairment goggles to simulate being legally blind. Girl Scout Haleigh Williams (above), 9, tries to avoid a Christmas tree while moving around the room blindfolded with a cane. The Girl Scouts were in Taylor Dec. 1 visiting the Penrickton Center for Blind Children.

Sunday Times Newspaper

TAYLOR – Seeing is believing.

And for a dozen fourth grade Girl Scouts, not seeing turned out to be much more difficult than they’d planned on.

During a Dec. 1 trip to Penrickton Center for Blind Children in Taylor,
members of troop 40725 experienced through blindfolds and other physical simulations the challenges faced by blind children with multiple disabilities.

Penrickton Center for Blind Children is a private, non-profit residential day care promoting independence in daily living for blind children ages 1 through 12 with at least one additional disability.

In addition to experiencing disability simulations, the Girl Scouts toured the center, met some of the disabled children, and helped stuff envelopes for a fundraising mailing before they left.

Troop leader Colleen Czarney said the purpose of the Girl Scout troop’s visit was to “open up their world a little bit.”

“I think that some of them haven’t experienced this type of thing before, so I think it was really good for them,” Czarney said.

Volunteer coordinator Sharlene Garcia took the Girl Scouts through exercises that showed them what it was like for a blind person to do everyday tasks like tying shoes, eating from a plate with a spoon, walking around a room with a white cane and fitting pieces of a puzzle into a frame.

“Some of our kids are the same age as you,” Garcia told the Scouts. “The kids live here Sunday night through Friday, and then they go home on the weekends to be with their families.”

Some of the Scouts also had their thumbs taped down, or a vibrating unit strapped on their wrist while eating to simulate what a blind person with cerebral palsy or other motor skill disabilities might experience.

Kyleigh Watson, a 9-year-old fourth grader from Lindemann Elementary School in Allen Park, tried to read an eye chart through a pair of goggles that made things appear blurry. She said it was really difficult to read the letters, but she thought that reading Braille with her fingertips would be even harder to do.

She said the experience was fun, and it was cool seeing her fellow Scouts trying things and working hard to overcome the simulated disabilities.

Lindsey Patten, a 9-year-old fourth grader from Lindenmann, experienced being led by a fellow Scout while she wore a blindfold. She said the hardest part was trying to walk around without hitting anything.

She said she got around the room by feeling things and by listening to her friend’s spoken directions.

Meagan Hayes, a 9-year-old fourth grader from Arno Elementary School in Allen Park, had to try to put on and tie her lace-up boots while blindfolded and with her thumbs tied down.

She said having a blindfold on was “scary and uncomfortable.” She found herself relying on her hands and her sense of touch.

She was surprised by the colorfulness of the blind children’s rooms until Garcia explained that the colors cheerπ up the parents when they drop their children off at the center.

Meagan was surprised that the center’s toys were a combination of regular toys as well as everyday objects, like kitchen utensils, with which the teachers wanted the blind children to become accustomed so the objects wouldn’t seem frightening when they later learned to use them.

Maria Snider, a 9-year-old fourth grader from Cabrini Elementary School in Allen Park tried to tie her tennis shoes while blindfolded and with her thumbs taped down, which she said she found difficult and frustrating.

“It (was) so embarrassing… I never made it past getting an X,” Snider said.

She added that she was surprised how much she depended on her sight to do things, and she found she was listening a lot more when she had the blindfold on.

Ava Hill, a 9-year-old fourth grader from Lindemann, tried to fit puzzle pieces into slots while blindfolded. She said it made her angry that she could only place one puzzle piece into the slot during her time blindfolded.

She said she has more respect for what blind people have to do, and she said she now she feels bad, because of all the things she can do that they can’t.

Troop leader Amanda Hayes said the visit was a good experience for the Scouts, who all learned a lot.

She said her Scouts were surprised by the blind children’s self-sufficiency.

“They’re able to do a lot of the stuff on their own,” Hayes said. “I think that really had an impact on (the Scouts).”