There are nine keys on a braillewriter. Teague Niebrugge is nearly an expert on those keys.
Teague is 8 and lost his sight when he was about 5. He remembers colors and animals — especially sharks, his favorite. He wears a piercing shark-tooth necklace. He can tell you about every shark known to man.
He can see a glimmer of light on sunny days and dark shadows of objects. Teague said he knows his mom is pretty but can’t remember her face.
He’s never seen his cane, but he hates it, said his mom, Joey Niebrugge.
He’s broken at least half a dozen canes “by accident” during the past few years, because they’re something that makes him feel different.
However, last summer, at Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning camp, he used his cane every day, just as the other campers did.
BELL camp is a day camp designed for children who are blind or have low vision or other visual impairments. Last year, there were only four kids in the camp.
The camp is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Aug. 8 at the Oklahoma Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, 300 NE 18.
“Do you want to meet more kids in BELL camp this year?” Teague is asked as he sits with his mom at the Library for the Blind.
“Yes, but more boys,” the soon-to-be third-grader at Deer Creek said with a big, toothy smile as he punched away at his braillewriter.
BELL, a program implemented by the National Federation for the Blind, challenges blind campers with projects, games and other activities that help them learn to function better in daily life. Field trips will include visits to the Harn Homestead, the Oklahoma Science Museum and the Oklahoma River Sports Complex, where children and volunteers row in a dragon boat on the Oklahoma River.
“Ooh, ooh, I rode in a dragon boat,” Teague said, bouncing in his seat in front of the braillewriter. “I rode in the back. One person got to be a drummer but not me. I have another word that I can braille. Great. G.R.T.”
Campers will get to explore the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Rolling Thunder Book Bus, which will visit the Library for the Blind. Each student will get a free book as part of the basketball team’s campaign to promote reading and literacy.
Braille is literacy
It’s hard to estimate exactly how many blind children live in Oklahoma. The U.S. Census doesn’t distinguish between blindness and deafness; they’re both in the category of sensory impairments.
According to the state Department of Education, about 575 Oklahoma students from kindergarten through 12th grade have visual impairments, but many more may have visual problems as symptoms of another primary condition.
For blind and visually impaired children, learning braille is imperative to their success.
“There are so many blind adults who can’t get a job,” said Tamala Young, coordinator of the BELL camp program. “It’s just like in the sighted world: If you are illiterate, you’re going to be at the bottom of the totem pole.”
She wants the kids she helps at the camp to become far more literate than she currently is. She became blind a few years ago due to diabetic retinopathy. She lost one eye and wears a prosthesis.
Before she lost her sight, one of her favorite things to do was to read stories in colorful voices to children at the Head Start program where she worked.
“Dr. Seuss was my best friend,” she said.
The day she went blind, which happened within one hour, she became illiterate. Now, she can only listen to audio books.
Learning braille is especially hard for an adult. Many blind adults never learn braille. She hasn’t.