MORGAN TOWNSHIP | Visually impaired students who attend Morgan Township schools to receive services, such as learning braille, turned the tables on their classmates on Monday afternoon when they taught about the many challenges they face every day.
The idea came from Sydney Burrell, a sophomore who has been blind in one eye since age 7, due to a condition called Von Hippel-Lindau disease, and this year she lost vision in her other, rendering her totally blind except to some sensations of light.
“It was really hard for me to adjust to school. You would think that most students here would understand us because we have a program here for the visually impaired, but they don’t. They avoid me. They don’t talk to me. They knew me with my vision, but now don't," Burrell said.
As a result, Burrell went to her guidance counselor, Diane Klikus, and the two decided to put up stations to educate students with tasks such as walking blindfolded with a cane around obstacles, playing a game of catch with no periphery vision, locating a partner using only hearing, reading and writing with special goggles, typing a text in braille, and eating spaghetti while blindfolded.
“I don’t eat at lunchtime because I’m too embarrassed I might make a mess, so I’m hoping that when they try it they’ll see how hard it is,” Burrell said.
Junior Jessica Dillard said that after trying to eat spaghetti without the benefit of sight, she did experience the understanding Burrell had hoped to convey.
“We had to rely on our depth perception, bringing the fork to our face. You never think about seeing when you eat, but it was really hard,” Dillard said.
Six severely visually impaired students attend Morgan Township’s program, while an additional 39 students who have varying degrees of visual impairment receive services at their home schools throughout Porter County.
For Mikaela Smith, a seventh-grader who has been blind since birth due to a condition called optic nerve hypoplasia, Monday’s event was a way to teach about possibilities.
“I’m hoping that students will learn about misconceptions of visual impairment. Many people who are visually impaired are more capable than some people think,” Smith said, demonstrating the way around a "Harry Potter" book typed in braille.
“This is a chance to learn experientially,” said Klikus, “to show students what it’s like every day being visually impaired. We want our visually impaired students to enjoy a school where they don’t feel isolated and they feel acknowledged. We want them to live so they are not invisible.”