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Montana Association for the Blind hosts Summer Orientation Program

Montana Association for the Blind.png
Posted at 5:37 PM, Jun 21, 2024

Throughout the month of June, the Montana Association for the Blind has been holding their Summer Orientation Program where they instruct visually impaired and blind individuals on safe mobility, adaptive equipment, and assistive technology.

In its 77th year, the program has 28 participants from across Montana with sight ranging from some residual sight to total blindness.

The program is designed for adults who have lost their vision for a variety of reasons ranging from hereditary to age-related diseases. Classes include orientation and mobility classes, as well as learning to utilize new technologies for day to day life.

The students are learning to work with a variety of accessibility technology ranging from apps that will read text aloud from their phone and glasses that can identify aloud what is happening in a photo.

Joceyln DeHaas, executive director of the Montana Blind Association explained, “This program is a place where people can go to get training, and not just training, but also a sense of community. Because oftentimes when someone loses their sight, they're the only blind person they know. This is a big rural state, so it's hard for blind people who are living in small towns to get services. We have orientation and mobility class, and that's learning to walk with a white cane and also learning to walk into a strange room and kind of orient yourself, know where you are.”

Participants learn to navigate some of the fear that comes with losing your sight as well as gain their confidence in being able to live more independently. Students are able to participate in the program for two years.

Second year participant and Helena native Carleen Layne says, “It's been such a it's been such a gift for me to be to be around other people, to know I'm not the only one to find out that, you know, they people here really have a sense of humor about things and are doing amazing things with less vision than I have.” After returning home from her first year of the program, Layne says she felt like she “had more confidence about, you know, being able to go places and to and to do things that I had to do. I've flown four times in the last year. I feel like I can travel, I can ask for help.”

This is the first year the program is taking place in Great Falls, with students and staff taking up residence in the historic Ursuline Center on Central Avenue.

So far, the students have been exploring the community and practicing with the transit system. The participants in the program are not charged, and all tuition, room and board, and staff costs are covered by funds raised by the Montana Blind Association.

The students also choose from a variety of elective courses like woodworking, cooking, braille, and computers. The program is having a silent auction to raise funds, featuring items created by students during the program like ceramics, paintings, and woodwork.

To learn more about the Montana Association for the Blind and their Summer Orientation Program, click here.