The Disability Diaries: Blind Teens Take Summer Camp in Stride

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. KUHF Health, Science and Technology Reporter Carrie Feibel is going in-depth to explore the law and other real-life issues for those who have a disability. For the third story in our series, she visited a summer camp for blind teenagers in Burton, Texas.
All of the campers here are legally blind, but the similarity ends there. Some use canes to walk, others don’t. Some have zero vision, others wear thick glasses. And while some campers have no problem shoving a worm onto a fishhook, others, well, forget it. Still at Camp for All, which is accessible and barrier-free, they can try all the typical outdoor experiences. Like paintball...

Camp for All
To see more photos from the summer camp, click here.

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Or a ropes course that requires Tarzan-style swinging 35 feet off the ground, and ends in a glorious zip line back to earth.

[whoo]

That’s Amelia Pellicciotti, who has been completely blind since birth from a retinal disease.

Amelia attends Jersey Village High School. She reads Braille fluently, and is definitely headed to college.

“You know I’ve got some career interests, but I’m not completely sure what I want to DO yet. I think I might get into politics or radio.”

But camp counselor Fernando Rivera says other campers are still struggling — at school, and on the path to adulthood.

“If you don’t have confidence when you’re out there mainstreaming, trying to mainstream, you’re just not gonna make the cut.”

When these teenagers grow up, they have a good chance of being unemployed. Only 30 percent of adults with visual impairments have full-time jobs. That’s in spite of computer technology and adaptive tools that — theoretically — mean a blind child can grow up to be a lawyer, a repair technician, even a scientist. But it takes the right training, and the motivation.

[Jobardy music theme] 


Angela Price works for the Texas Division for Blind Services. After lunch, she puts on the theme music to Jeopardy and tells the campers to get ready to play what she calls “Jobardy.”

“We’re here for camp and we’re here for fun, but because you all have the same goals in mind as far as, everybody in this room should have a goal of getting a what someday?”

“A job!”


The campers use clues to guess various jobs that they could do, like 9-1-1 dispatcher or dental lab technician.

That kind of career focus is crucial for teens like Brittanye Thompkins. Retinitis pigmentosa struck when she was 12, and her vision declines every year. Brittanye will be a junior this fall, and she realizes she has a lot of new skills to learn before graduation.

“Two weeks ago, I went out to eat with my mom and my dad. And we met this family who was asking me about my cane. And the man was completely blind. And he didn’t know how to work with his cane. He didn’t know how to read Braille. He couldn’t do anything on his own. And I don’t want to be like that. I want to be prepared.”


The campers may not fully realize it, but their summer camp is really a jobs-skills program, sweetened with s’mores and disguised as a day at the lake. Again, counselor Rivera:

“It’s not kayaking as a job, or fishing as a job. We’re teaching them, you know, when you’re fishing, you have to have patience. There’s skill in certain things, and there’s a reward after that. There’s a reward, when you’re patient.”
[Campfire chants]


And sometimes the reward is that after a hard day of writing skits, swimming, throwing stink bombs in the boys cabin, throwing revenge stink bombs in the girls cabin, it’s time to just throw up your hands and dance around the campfire.

[dancing and singing to YMCA]

Carrie Feibel KUHF News.
Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...