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Visually impaired students learning important life lessons

Reported By: Erin Calandra
Written By: Marc Stempka

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Blind and visually impaired students are learning important life lessons during a camp at Penn State University in Centre County this week.

The high school students are taking part in a summer academy and are from throughout the country. They're learning skills to help build their independence.

On Wednesday morning, the students took part in an exercises which involved them crossing busy intersections in downtown State College. As anyone familiar with downtown State College knows, the roads can be quite busy.

"It's a life or death situation if they make a mistake," camp instructor Dan Wood said.

According to the National Federation of the Blind, there are more than 6.6 million Americans who are blind or visually impaired, and many of those people walk down streets and cross busy streets every day.

The students Wednesday morning, like Madeline Link, had the chance to put their skills to the test.

"I have a cone dystrophy, I cannot see a thing out here," Link said. "My dream is to live in a big city, either New York or Washington, D.C., so it's very important for me."

Crosswalks and signals aren't necessarily helpful to some of the kids, who use canes. They have to stop and listen.

"I can hear the push of the traffic, which we call the traffic surge, and I'm able to cross the street that way," student Michael Brown said.

It took some students longer than others before some were secure enough to cross the streets.

"For me, I was a little intimidated because I couldn't tell who was turning, who was going," Link said.

Instructors from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blind and Visual Services guided the students throughout downtown as they came to the different intersections.

Several times drivers paused at the intersections, waiting for the students to cross, but some said that act of kindness is actually more confusing than helpful.

"Just keep going, don't stop," Brown said. "[And] don't gawk."

The students were continuing do other exercises, like stove top cooking and outdoor survival, which included a trip to Shaver's Creek.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times