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Summer program teaches blind students life skills in Helena

Woodworking, sewing, using the computer - for the seeing world, these things are often taken for granted, but these are just an example of the types of skills people who are blind or who have low vision are learning this summer.

Ed Worrell lost his vision to diabetes a little over two years ago. With the help of the Montana Association for the Blind, he's re-learning skills he used to know when he could see, thanks to the summer orientation program held at Carroll College in Helena.

"I have a visual of what the screen should look like anyway. It's not always the case, the screen reader isn't always on the section I think it's on, but we make due pretty well with it because it describes the functions and everything pretty well," Worrell said.

For those with low vision, instructor Chris Siller teaches people about tools they can use to magnifiy text and see things they couldn't before; Siller noted, "Our primary objective is to help individuals access information and make them more independent."

Using a projector system with a camera that can magnify just about anything, Siller explains people can see just about anything.

"Not only can i look at something directly in front of me and I can read a catalogue or look up a phone number, same thing, I can still zoom into it, but now I can look out my window and I can see birds and I can see my kids playing or my grandchildren or I can even read signs across the street," Siller said.

Along with these kinds of skills, students can learn Braille, tools to help them be more independent around the house, even sewing.

Cherrie Albrecht is the sewing instructor at the school, and she said, "It's just so fascinating and encouraging to see these women being able to start from nothing and making something they haven't even done for years or maybe not at all in their life," Albrecht said.

Although having to learn these skills - or in Ed's case, re-learn these skills - might be challenging, he's positive about it.

"I've also had a good support group with my family and my wife's family and everything, so it's been a pretty easy transition," Worrell said.

The Montana Association for the Blind has offered the summer orientation program for over 60 years.

For more information visit the Montana Association for the Blind Web site.

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