2000 Conference Proceedings

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The Wayne Gretzky SCORE Teen Camp: An Experience to Remember

Ken Patterson
Coordinator Technical Aids Services
CNIB-AB N.W.T. Division

Every July for the last fourteen years, blind and visually impaired teenagers have travelled to Toronto from all parts of Canada to take part in a CNIB computer camp. Most of the teens travel alone. For many of them it is their first time away from their family. For some of them it is the first time they have met blind or visually impaired people of their own age. It is a scary experience for them, and it is a nerve-wracking experience for many of their parents. When they arrive, some are subdued and nervous, missing home already.

Fast forward 24 hours. You would think that they have been friends for ever! There is noise, laughter, groups are forming. Fast forward to departure time. There are tears at parting, undying friendships are proclaimed. A few weeks later and some letters arrive, from parents, from teachers. They tell of teenagers whose lives have changed, turned around somehow, with a new purpose and direction. Years later, speaking with blind and visually impaired adults who attended SCORE as teens, they talk of their experience at SCORE as the turning point in their lives.

Purpose of SCORE

The idea of SCORE arose in 1984 from a conversation between Dr. Euclid Herie, CNIB President and CEO, and Walter Gretzky, the father of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. The topic of the conversation was, "What can we do to help blind teens in Canada?"

There were several things on the minds of CNIB staff in those days:

  1. Most of the country was moving towards, or had already implemented, the integration of blind and visually impaired children into the local public school system, instead of sending them away to specialized schools for the blind, and notwithstanding all the positive benefits of integration, this had already begun to foster a sense of isolation and a feeling of being "different" from other children, especially in communities where there were very small numbers of blind children.
  2. Issues regarding employment of blind persons were very hot in the 1980's, and CNIB faced a lot of criticism for "not doing enough" to help.
  3. CNIB was beginning to find it difficult to attract qualified and skilled blind people into leadership positions within the agency.
  4. Computers were beginning to make their mark on society as a whole, and the possibility of opening up all kinds of occupations to blind persons was starting to become apparent.

The idea emerged of holding an annual computer camp, with the purpose of introducing blind teens to computers and all the latest technology that could help them in their schooling and in their future jobs. By doing this, we would be exposing the participants to possibilities of future employment that they may not have realized were available to them. It was also thought that we should develop a sense of community and leadership within the population of blind teens across the country.

So the camp was to be about computers and technology, about the future and about leadership.

Early Years

The first camp was held near the city of Brantford, Ontario, at a Kiwanis lodge beside Apps Mills Conservation Area in 1985.

24 teens attended, and almost that many staff. Technicians and computers were loaned by IBM, CNIB Technical Aids staff, Rehab Teachers and Career Centre staff helped to run the program. Many of the Technical Aids vendors loaned staff and equipment for the program.

The program ran for three weeks. The curriculum was divided into three major components - something which survives to this day:

  1. Computer classes for half the day. The program had 12 computers, with braille, speech and large print access devices, as well as a whole range of the latest technical aids.
  2. Career classes for the other half of the day. The group of 24 teens was divided into two groups of 12.
  3. Recreation program. After classes, the entire camp, including the staff took off for all kinds of recreational activities available in the local area.

The program continued at Apps Mills until 1993, following which it moved to Toronto. By the time the program moved it had outgrown the facilities at Apps Mills. The program now included:

  1. A curriculum which required every camper to have a computer all day.
  2. A Novell network linking all the computers together.
  3. Internet access for all work stations (Apps Mills had only 4 telephone lines).

The program used the computer classrooms at the CNIB Career Centre. The program used the residential facilities of Glendon College, just a few hundred yards north of CNIB on Bayview Avenue.

In 1998, IBM Canada loaned classrooms at its Markham Education facility to the program.

This had several advantages for SCORE:

  1. It had become difficult for CNIB to maintain up-to-the-minute computers able to run the increasing sophisticated programs and access devices.
  2. The program was in danger of losing its "leading edge" reputation. IBM professional engineers and technicians are on hand to trouble-shoot any equipment problems to reduce down-time due to computer glitches.
  3. Access to the Internet had become an absolutely essential component of the program. The IBM facility has ultra-high-speed connections via its network for all workstations.

SCORE II

Around 1990, a second SCORE program was introduced - SCORE II, pronounced "SCORE TWO." This was conceived as a way of building upon the leadership component which forms the foundation of SCORE. For the first few years, the program took six former SCORE Campers who were over 19 years of age, back into the program to work as "Counsellors-in-Training" with the campers. SCORE II's are counted as staff and paid an honorarium. In recent years, following success in obtaining funding for this program, there have been 10 SCORE II, and they are paid for 100 hours of work.

SCORE International

In the late 1980's an international component was introduced to SCORE. In his travels around the world for the World Blind Union, Dr. Herie invites two a particular country to send two teens to attend SCORE the following year. So far SCORE has hosted teens from Britain, the United States, France, Germany, Sweden, Spain, New Zealand, Japan, and China. Teens from Africa will attend SCORE 2000.

The Program Today

Today the program retains a remarkable resemblance to that first year - in its objectives and in the way the day is broken down. However in every other respect it is unrecognizable! The day begins at 6:00 am with a wake up call. By 7:00 am, the entire camp including all staff must be aboard the three vans ready for transport from Glendon College on Bayview Avenue to the IBM facility at Steeles and Victoria Park. By 7:30 am they are all trooping into the IBM cafeteria for breakfast. At 8:30 am the staff in the cafeteria are holding a briefing before the start of the day, and the campers are beginning to move into the computer classroom. At 8:45 am computer classes begin.

The day at IBM ends around 4:00 pm when everyone boards the vans for the trip to the first activity of the evening recreation program. Somewhere around 6:00 pm the entire forty plus contingent enters a restaurant for dinner. There may be a second recreational activity following supper, and eventually they all return to Glendon around 9:00 or 10:00 pm. It is a long, exhausting day.

Program Elements

The following are the main program elements:

  1. Computer Access Technology Training: Every camper must learn to use an access device appropriate to his or her visual condition. The majority of teens attending SCORE do already know one or more access devices. Although the principal access devices used in the program (ZoomText, JAWS and Window Bridge) are used for consistency, there are many other products on the market. Many of these products are installed on several machines in the computer lab and in the break-out room. Campers are able to take time to explore these products to increase their knowledge of product features. It is also good training for them in understanding not simply what the features are, but what are the underlining variations in principles of technical and ergonomic design. It provides a good foundation for assessing the usability of products in the future.
  2. Internet Communications/Website Design: This component is the main vehicle for the accomplishment of the computer goals of the camp. The stated target given to the campers is for the group to design, produce and mount the SCORE web site for that year. The whole group is divided into web teams, each of five members. To this are added two SCORE II's to act as facilitators, coaches and mentors. Each team selects a particular aspect of the web site to work on. These aspects are decided upon at a group meeting early in the program. For SCORE '99, they were: Camper Biographies, Recreation activities, Career Development, and E-Text. Each group meets to discuss the content and layout of their web pages, to decide what skills they possess between them, to decide what they need to research and learn, who does what, and finalize their project timeliness. Frequent meetings with their SCORE II mentors and meetings between the SCORE II group and the Computer Coordinator help keep the teams on track. Representatives from each group are chosen to form an overall committee that decides basic common elements to the web pages, such as typeface, colours and so on. The web pages must be completed by the end of the second Tuesday of the program, in order for final checking and production of the Compact Disc in time for the closing banquet. Amidst all this activity and the race to get the pages finished, the campers are surfing the web researching materials for the pages or their own interest, developing their own biographical page at the request of one of the groups, developing their own personal web pages, and learning new access devices and other technologies available in the classrooms.
  3. Recreation: After being busy in a computer classroom all day, the recreation program emphasises physical activity. Roller skating, horse-back riding, go-karting, playing physical field games, are some of the after-class activities. The weekend and final day programs encompass larger events, such as a visit to Canada's Wonderland, a trip to the Stratford theatre for a picnic by the river and a play, a visit to Skydome, the CN Tower and of course, shopping in downtown Toronto! Another interesting aspect of the recreation program is food! Since the nature of the program takes the group all over the city, assigning a single location for dinner, is not practical since that would involve a lot of driving the vans across city in the rush hour. Restaurants are chosen near the evening activity location, and since Toronto is such a culturally diverse city, ethnic cuisine of every conceivable type is selected during the program.
  4. Career and Personal Development: The emphasis of this component is upon self-awareness and understanding within a team environment. Activities involve the entire group in team-building exercises such as the True Colours Workshop, an informative and usually hilarious self-awareness exercise which helps people with very different styles communicate more effectively with one another. Successful blind people employed in very different occupations form a panel for a lively discussion about opportunities in the world of work. Other exercises also emphasise fun while having an important message and impact when applied to career development, job search and survival on the job.
  5. Life Skills Development: An important staff member is the Rehabilitation Teacher, usually seconded from one of the CNIB Divisions specially for the program. With blind and visually impaired teens from all over the country, coming to live in a university dorm situation, basic life skills are a must. The Rehab Teacher can be available to help those who need it, to brush up on their skills of keeping their rooms organized, getting the laundry done. The SCORE II mentors are also available to provide direct assistance and direction when needed. In the early days of the program at Apps Mills, meal preparation was a part of every camper's duty in rotation. The opportunities have been less in Toronto, however a recently added component is for each of the teams to cook at least one meal for the entire camp during the program. The CNIB Auditorium kitchen is used for this purpose.
  6. Advanced Orientation and Mobility Training: Whenever possible it is helpful to have an O&M Instructor on staff. Otherwise a local O&M Instructor is requested to help campers to brush up on their cane and travel skills. Orientation to the Glendon campus, to the CNIB office environment, and especially to the IBM facility are all essential for the safe and timely travel of the group. All campers with travel vision are encouraged to provide sighted guide to their blind peers.
  7. Leadership Development: Wherever possible in the program, input is encourages from the campers, SCORE II and staff. As many decisions as possible are groups decisions. The teams provide a forum in which each member of the camp can express his or her views, and also constitute the context in which there is opportunity for leadership to emerge. Since this is a group in which all the teens are blind or visually impaired, there is a great sense of being amongst what is truly a peer group. Many members have never been with such a group of their own age before, and it can be a liberating experience in which talents they were unaware of begin to emerge.
  8. IBM Mentor ship Program: Five blind IBM employees who work in the Toronto area, devote many hours of their time during the program, each joining with a web team to act as mentor. Their role is to help the web team to relate what they are doing to the world of work and to provide them with helpful advice. During the course of this contact they naturally discuss their own jobs with IBM, and describe how they found their own career direction. Some of the mentors were themselves SCORE participants many years ago.
  9. International Awareness and Cultural Exchange: The International program has become another important aspect of SCORE. One of the requirements of this program early on was that of fluency in English. However, it was not always possible to guarantee language fluency before the actual arrival of participants. In recent years, the presence of an interpreter has been a must. Sometimes one of the summer students is fluent in the appropriate language, and sometimes, the international campers come with their own interpreter. If English fluency is problematic for participation in the computer program, of if the computer skills of the campers is very basic (or even non-existent) then a mini-program is set up for them. In all other respects, integration within the program is encouraged to the maximum extent.

Conclusion

Those details provide the background structure to the program, but it is the indefinable qualities of the program that are responsible for the life- changing nature of SCORE. The program itself becomes a backdrop or context for developments to occur within and between the campers. In many respects it is the interaction between campers that makes the difference. It has often been remarked by staff that the campers learn far more from one another than they do from the formal part of the program. This learning relates to their lives as blind or visually impaired teenagers living in a sighted world amongst families and peers who do not fully understand what it is like to be blind. Now for perhaps the first time they are part of a group in which blindness is itself the norm. This enables them to take blindness out of the equation and just be themselves. It is impressive to see some shy and timid campers begin to blossom under this regime, as they begin to feel their self-confidence increase. Indeed, by expecting everyone to be able to for themselves in the program, they all rise to those expectations. No-one is excused because of blindness. They are all equal.


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Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.