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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Abigail Clark, 5, gets a high-five during Camp Abilities, hosted by the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, at Weber State University in Ogden on Friday, July 12, 2019. The camp is designed for students in grades K-12 who are blind or visually impaired.

OGDEN — For 14-year-old Marilyn Parker, going to summer camp is about more than being the best at a sport or activity.

Twenty-two students flocked to Camp Abilities, a five-day sports fitness and recreation camp designed for children living with a visual impairment, at Weber State University this week.

“I like going to these programs because everyone has one thing in common and there’s no judgment,” Parker said. “It’s always really nice to talk about our visual impairments without feeling awkward, (and) just be ourselves without feeling like we have to be something else.”

Robbin Clark, Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind expanded core curriculum coordinator, said the program’s campus and events are free to Utah children living with a visual impairment.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Students carry Ashton Hintze, 16, during Camp Abilities, hosted by the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, at Weber State University in Ogden on Friday, July 12, 2019. The camp is designed for students in grades K-12 who are blind or visually impaired.

The Camp Abilities Utah chapter opened four years ago, and its events attract students from Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind campuses, as well as elementary to high school-aged children from all over the state

Clark said this year’s theme — going for your personal best — is about setting smart goals and learning its OK to fail.

“I’ve learned that it doesn’t really help comparing yourself to other people’s personal bests when you can do your personal best,” Parker said. “I’m here to improve and do my personal best in what we’ve been working on.”

Clark said students are organized into four groups based on their age and ability. The four groups then rotate on different activities including aquatic sports, track and field, and five-a-side soccer, a Paralympic sport and variation of soccer where each player is blindfolded.

During a camp exercise, a group of students wearing blindfolds passed a soccer ball that made a noise among each other.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Students race during Camp Abilities, hosted by the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, at Weber State University in Ogden on Friday, July 12, 2019. The camp is designed for students in grades K-12 who are blind or visually impaired.

She said the program focuses on developing the speed, agility and quickness of the students — skills she says are as equally important as academic instruction. Traditionally, when children develop their athletic skills it's oriented on what a child can see, she said.

"A lot of times kids with visual impairments just don't get the chance to get high level instruction (or) coaching, and so we wanted to change that," she said. "We just get right to those foundation movements so our kids really acquire those important skills."

On the last day of the camp, students showcased their talents at the camp’s talent show.

At the show, 16-year-old Isiah Smith, from Provo High School, showed off his magician skills by making a coin disappear. He later asked a member of the audience to check their pocket where the coin had reappeared.

Other talent show events included a poetry slam, stand-up comedy, singing and dancing, where campers supportively erupted in cheers as their peers performed.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Students cheer during Camp Abilities, hosted by the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, at Weber State University in Ogden on Friday, July 12, 2019. The camp is designed for students in grades K-12 who are blind or visually impaired.

Casey Reyes, 18, a mentor at the camp, said his favorite part of the job was teaching campers a skill and later watching them improve on it.

"Blind people can do a lot, they just need more processing time," said Reyes, who used to attend the camp as a participant. "It's good to just be an example for the kids and help encourage them."

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Clark said side-by-side peers, who are similar in age, accompany the children throughout the camp in order to squash the idea that students who are visually impaired need adults to accompany them.

Additionally, the camp's staff is made up of certified adaptive physical education teachers.

"We have a really nice multidisciplinary staff that's well-trained to provide the best instruction possible for students," she said.

According to its website, Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind's expanded core curriculum also features theater and STEM summer programs.