BELL Rings Again in Ohio

by Marianne Denning and Debora Baker

Editor’s note: Marianne Denning and Debbie Baker were the instructors in our third Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Program this past summer. Here is their report on this year’s program:

The NFB of Ohio held the third BELL Camp at OSSB during June of 2015. We had seven students between the ages of four and twelve and nine staff for the entire camp. We included activities from the five major skills categories of the BELL curriculum (nonvisual, blindness, Braille reading, Braille writing, and group). We had one field trip, O&M instruction provided by an O&M student in the OSU program, and assistive technology.
January 4, 2016, will be the date when we make the transition from the English Braille code to Unified English Braille (UEB). It is critical that our campers be prepared for this change. We discussed the upcoming changes and composed sentences that included the changes in the code. Our campers did not have any trouble reading the new code. We suspect that adults may struggle more with the code than our campers will.
This year we used three cafeterias as classrooms. Each cafeteria had four doors, two of which had cane holders by them. Campers were constantly losing their canes because they could not remember the number of the cafeteria or the door where they left their canes. They, like many blind people of all ages, were used to sighted people finding anything that they had lost. Barbara Pierce and Marianne Denning invented a mobility lesson to orient all of the campers to the layout of the rooms. After that we were happy to discover that they were more likely to remember where they had placed their canes.
This summer we were pleased to have an O&M intern from OSU who worked with the students individually. She completed an assessment on each student and wrote some goals their school districts or the Ohio State School for the Blind could incorporate into the IEP during the 2015-16 school year. One afternoon the intern worked with the students to make purchases at Target. Aleeha Dudley accompanied each student to Target using Uber. She did have some challenges with Uber drivers refusing to take her and her guide dog, and the students had questions about the discrimination they observed first-hand. Each student had $10 to spend in the store. The student worked with the O&M instructor and Aleeha to use blindness skills to negotiate the store, pick out items to purchase, and swipe a credit/debit card to make their purchases.
This year for the first time the campers spent time working with technology. Abby Bolling and Aleeha Dudley assessed typing skills. Sadly, many blind students are not introduced to a computer until third grade. We used Typability and Talking Typing Teacher with the students. The campers also baked cookies one day. They had to go to the website to search for and read the directions for the cookie mix. The cookies were excellent.
We worked on tactile graphics again this year. We had maps of the Midwestern part of the U.S. that we used to teach them beginning map reading. They also drew with the In-Tact drawing board, described and discussed in the Braille Monitor by NFB leader Al Maneki. Tactile graphics are very important in education today, especially considering visually based assessment requirements for k-12 students.
Sudoku is a very popular game and can be adapted for Braille. Our own Sudoku expert, Barbara Pierce, and Marianne Denning made Sudoku games for the campers. One of our students really liked the game and was an excellent player.
We had a field trip to Ohio Historical Connection in Columbus. We contrasted the sizes of bones of a mastodon with those of an elephant and a buck deer. Campers visited an original house that was made entirely of steel. We were allowed to touch everything in the house. Our group was split into smaller groups, each led by a docent who was dressed in period costume. We went outside to a pioneer village and were allowed to have many hands-on experiences–visiting the schoolhouse, doctor’s office, toy store, etc. Everyone had a wonderful time, and we are thankful for this opportunity to the staff and volunteers who worked there.
Eric, Marianne, and Debbie thank everyone who volunteered two weeks to make this another wonderful camp. Some who participated say that it was the most successful BELL Program yet. Perhaps this is in part because we welcomed one new student this year, and the others returned for either the second or third times to the camp. In addition to Eric Duffy, who directed the camp, and teachers Marianne Denning and Debbie Baker, our volunteers were Barbara Pierce, Aleeha Dudley, Paul and Bernie Dressell, Abby Bolling, Cassandra Proud, O&M student Kathy Keller, and Wendy Patrone and Shelly McCoy, who went on the field trip with us. We had volunteers help out with other events. We hope our volunteers will return next summer and convince their friends to join us. Both campers and their parents asked if we will offer BELL again next summer, and, if so, the kids wanted to come again. We hope they will.