Teens with limited vision learn skills in Duluth

19 July 2023

DULUTH When Amy Arias goes to her first class at the University of Minnesota Duluth this fall, she’ll know exactly where to go. The incoming freshman spent July 13 learning routes to her classes as part of a summer camp with the Lighthouse Center for Vital Living’s Transition Program.

The camp focuses on transition-age youth, meaning ages 14-21, who have a degree of visual impairment or blindness develop their hard and soft skills in order to succeed in high school, college or the workforce.

“It’s all oriented towards helping our students live independently at college or on their own after high school and being able to get around using public transportation, how to navigate the community and advocate for themselves,” said program manager Chris Correia. “Students come from all over the state for these weeks of summer camps and we get together once a month for weekends during the school year and check in with them at home.”

The day at UMD was a chance for students to learn to navigate a campus even if they weren’t planning on attending it in the near future. Arias’ group focused on her fall schedule so she could figure out some routes around campus and then reverse those routes to find her way back.

“It’s definitely a little confusing,” said Rebecca Kalas, vision rehabilitation therapist with Lighthouse. “But as I told Amy, she’s going to find what works for her. It kind of comes down to memorizing and using other milestones like markers and signs. Though sometimes accessible signage is hard to find.”

Arias found that out while trying to find a classroom that had the same room number as an office space connected to it.

“Now, I’ll just have to remember that it’s the next door down,” Arias said. “But at least I won’t be standing there on the first day of class confused.”

The day at UMD was one of several activities planned throughout the camp week. The students volunteered June 12 at the Sidewalk Shuffle in downtown Duluth and two students participated in the race.

“I enjoyed my race yesterday,” said Mason Archibald, camp member. “That was pretty fun.”

The students also had an opportunity to go rock climbing and meet some sled dogs, while also learning soft skills like cooperation and communication.

The program is just one of several provided by the Lighthouse Center for Vital Living. The Lighthouse, formerly known as the Lighthouse Center for the Blind, still offers many resources, such as the Transition Program, for people with visual impairments or blindness. The center has also expanded over the past few years to help people challenged by any disability, vision loss or aging.

“We have occupational therapists and assistive technology professionals who can serve people who are having difficulties leading an independent life,” said special projects and grants manager Robin Politowicz.

An example of the center’s wider focus includes a new program coming to Lighthouse this summer, the creature comforts club, which will bring pets such as puppies to residents at King Manor, Tri-Towers and Grand View Manor. Politowicz said the program is aimed at helping residents “greet some fluffy, cuddly animals” and also “interact with other humans as well.”

“People have begun to feel more and more socially isolated over the past few years, so this is a way of getting people out of their routines and enjoying the company of both a fuzzy animal and other people,” Politowicz said. “You could be the world’s biggest introvert and still enjoy petting an animal. It’s meant to serve everybody.”

The puppies are scheduled to visit the Rainbow Center on July 29 and the Lincoln Park Resource Center on July 30 at 1 p.m.

The Lighthouse Center is also primed to make a physical move, though not until August, to 309 W. First St. once an elevator has been installed. Politowicz said the move was highly anticipated as it will allow their clients better access to public transportation and opportunities to learn how to navigate the cityscape, like the students in the Transition Program.


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