Visually impaired youngsters need to learn more than the academics required for graduation. They need to learn the daily living, mobility, recreation and social skills that enrich life and lead to independence.
Now they have the Utah Foundation for the Blind and Visually Impaired to help them toward these goals.The foundation was incorporated in September and is now raising funds to underwrite its goals, said Tony Jepson, a member of the board of directors of the new non-profit private foundation. Other board members are Bill Massey, Steven J. Smith and Lee Robinson.
The foundation will fill a gap in services for sight-impaired students but will not compete with existing programs, said Massey. As the program develops, it will, in fact, tap into recreation and other programs already providing services to handicapped youngsters.
One of the first activities will involve a skiing program sponsored by the Park City Handicapped Sports Association. Bowling, water skiing, swimming and other sports will be added to the agenda in season.
The State Board of Education provided a $5,000 grant through the Visually Handicapped Trust Fund to help the foundation establish itself and begin to mobilize resources. The Utah Lions Foundation, which is involved in several programs geared to saving sight and helping the visually impaired, also contributed $1,500.
"We want to create a sizable trust fund to operate on," Massey said. Ultimately, the foundation would like to expand services to visually impaired adults as well as children, but for now, its emphasis will be on those 5 to 18.
Jepson said a survey of parents of children with sight deficits identified several areas of need that are not being filled. Most frequently mentioned were training in daily living, recreation and social skills.
Government-sponsored education programs concentrate on academic training for these children and just don't have the resources to meet the needs identified by the parents surveyed by the foundation, he said.
As an educator involved in special education, Jepson said he has been acquainted with several students whose ability to function in society was hampered by lack of training in these areas.
Among them he recalled a 17-year-old who was anxious to live on his own but couldn't shave himself, do his laundry or perform such simple tasks as pouring milk on cereal. And he told of a 13-year-old girl who stayed home from a skating outing sponsored by her church because she had never learned to skate.
The foundation hopes to provide opportunities to remedy these problems and will rely heavily on volunteers, Massey said, especially until enough donations have been received to put the group on a solid footing. Individuals interested in contacting the foundation may write to 2056 W. Carriage Ave., Riverton, UT 84065.
Initially, the foundation will provide instruction to small groups of students, hoping eventually to be able to work with youngsters one-on-one to meet individual needs. That aspect of the program will begin next spring.
Massey said many other states have developed private foundations to supplement the usual education and rehabilitation programs offered for the visually impaired and that they have been very successful.
"We have a great vision of what we can do for our children in Utah," Jepson said.