Blind and visually impaired children in Nevada have few resources, without a school designated specifically for them, a local nonprofit in Henderson aims to fill in the gaps in education and socialization
In the fall, the Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation plans to open a preschool for the blind and visually impaired, as well as their “sighted siblings,” in Henderson.
“We can serve up to 40 students with the preschool and get them prepared to start school and as they transition into school, they can be on grade level,” said Emily Smith, executive director of the foundation. “With the after-school program we can continue to work with them until they turn 22.”
According to the foundation, 37 percent of the state’s non-institutionalized, 21- to 64-year-olds with a visual impairment have only a high school diploma or equivalent. Nationally, blind people represent less than 5 percent of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce, according to the foundation.
Chief Operating Officer Veronica Atkins said the foundation, based in Henderson, provides hot meals and snacks for children during their after-school programs. After school, the foundation offers homework help, adaptive sports and other programs to build various skills.
“It is staggering here,” she said of the need for the foundation’s services. “We have lost families here because there are no resources. It is heart-wrenching because (they) are moving away from their family members. The families who stay here either have the means to travel out of state for services or they don’t.”
Smith said blind and visually impaired students who lack cognitive or physical differences are grouped in with sighted students in Clark County School District schools. She said sometimes blind or visually impaired students are grouped together at a school; she used Western High School as an example of a school with a concentrated amount of blind or visually impaired students. Otherwise, a teacher specifically for blind and visually impaired students visits the individual students infrequently, she said.
“Kids who don’t get frequent time with visually impaired teaching often get missed,” Smith said. “If you invest in them and support them, they will continue to go in a positive direction, but the second you don’t give them as much Braille time … they don’t become proficient and they give up early on and stop investing resources into that kid.”
The foundation has a Braille teacher who comes in for its after-school program. The foundation says it has the largest Braille library in Southern Nevada.
At the end of the legislative session this year, lawmakers passed a funding bill that allotted $1 million for the foundation. Smith said that funding will go toward the preschool and continuing the other programs.
The foundation is finishing up its summer programming, in which attendees have been able to participate in outdoor activities, field trips, robotics and other themed activities.
On June 18, the teen group of blind and visually impaired students was putting together a “coloring robot” to show the younger students.
Taylor Allison, 17, a student who just graduated high school, said putting together the robot was easy. He is the person to whom the foundation goes to fix everything.
Allison said he likes interacting with the younger campers by “being their mentor and teaching them what skills they’ll need later on in life.” He added that he also likes “teaching them things that they may think they are not capable of doing because of their visual limitations, but we get to teach them how to adapt and overcome and use (the limitations) more as a foundation rather than an impairment.”