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Building life skills for deaf and blind students

A section of a school's hand-made banner that reads "ASL Pride" with the hand sign for each letter is surrounded by drawings of the school's mascot, the Cardinal.
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Visit a school that’s been a haven for deaf and blind students for nearly two centuries.

Virginia’s School for the Deaf and the Blind has been providing a community for students for nearly two centuries. Meet the teachers and teens who make this community unique. 


KAYLA SIMMONS (VSDB STUDENT): I like playing basketball. I like it because we have a common goal of team spirit, working together, improving on our skills overall. Deaf people can do anything except hear. We can get an education. We can be involved in athletics. We're able to communicate easily with each other using sign language. We're able to just talk and have that typical high school experience.

CARINA GROLL (VSDB STUDENT): I think the one thing I love about playing the piano is that you can basically like do whatever you want on it. I don't learn through sheet music or all that. I like to pick up by ear. So I think it's important that you find ways to become independent because when you're an adult, one day, no one is going to be there for you. So you really got to learn how to best support yourself and to do things on your own and to adapt to your needs.

MORRIS KERKULAH (VSDB STUDENT): In Liberia, a person with disability doesn't have most access when it comes to opportunity. Really you don't have accommodation in school and I wanted to continue my education. Not because I'm blind but I should believe that even when I'm blind, I still need to do things as other people can do.

PAT TRICE (SUPERINTENDENT, VSDB): Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind is a very unique organization. We are a state agency. We're the only state agency under the Governor that is a K through 12 school.

PAT TO STUDENT IN HALLWAY: Hello you all, how are you?

PAT TRICE: Currently we have about 65 students. We serve students on the continuum of deafness, so that's hard of hearing to deaf, on blindness, so that's low vision to blind and also students who are both deaf and blind. Hey, Makayla.


PAT TRICE: How are you? One of the important things about VSDB that I try to describe to people is that here, we tell them their child is not the only one. That they are one of many.

KAYLA SIMMONS: We're all the same here, we're using the same language and we're able to make relationships, build friendships because they're deaf just like me. Before, I didn't have any deaf friends. I didn't know anybody really. I was the only deaf student in my local public school. Even in my hometown, I feel like I think I was the only deaf person there. It was very lonely. Before I became a student, I toured the campus and seeing people just signing, just to be able to look around and seeing different groups of people using sign language and realizing, oh, I can just do everything here. I can understand what my teacher is saying. I didn't have a disability, I'm just a person here. I'm just another student here that's learning.

CARINA GROLL: I think one thing that's special for me is that it allows you to accept your blindness or your disability because in VSDB, you're basically in a community of people that have similar disabilities or who went through similar experiences and at VSDB, you're not alone because you will find friends here that you'd otherwise not meet most likely in a mainstream school. I think that's one thing that's special for me here.

PAT TRICE: We prepare our students for life. That is a huge part of our mission and our beliefs is that we are going to help every student that walks through these doors reach their highest potential.

KELLI JENNINGS (ENGLISH TEACHER, VSDB): So this is a CCTV and we use this for our low vision students. The print on here some of our students might not be able to see. So we would put this under and it would make the print bigger. It allows them to get more information, even if they find that CCTVs work for them or when they're learning braille. Like I have had a student who just lost their sight as they were here. So they started to use braille more and now she reads books all the time and so then it's like "Ooh, I can read this, I can read that. Oh, I remember this." It's the best thing in the world for them to actually find out where their strength lies in reading.

COMPUTER VOICE: Extras, ex, programs, utilities.

DAN MARTIN (TECHNOLOGY TEACHER, VSDB): Being a school for the deaf and blind, we want to try and incorporate braille in our curriculum and things that we do. One of the devices I have here is kind of a newer product. It's a BrailleSense 6.

COMPUTER VOICE: Room, classroom.

DAN MARTIN: Think about this as almost being like a little laptop. So a student will come in here, well maybe a teacher gives them an assignment to watch a video on YouTube and answer a few questions. So they could watch the video and they'd go to the classroom app, open it up. Then they would go into say a doc and answer the questions and submit it and turn it in.

COMPUTER VOICE: Voice search, clear search.

MORRIS KERKULAH: I have a phone and I have like a program called Voice Screen Reader. So for me to know what is on the screen, like on the screen, I would know the time.

COMPUTER VOICE: 10:56, Tuesday.

MORRIS KERKULAH: I would know the date.

COMPUTER VOICE: January 23rd.

MORRIS KERKULAH: Now the voice reader is reading to me. That's how I know what is on the screen.

COMPUTER VOICE: Loading videos.

MORRIS KERKULAH: This is a good place because things I never had in my country, those things are here and I'm seeing those things and I'm learning those things and I'm getting the experience that will prepare me for whatever I want to do after I leave high school.

PAT TRICE: What the outside world needs to understand is that you need not to look at a disability. You need to look at the abilities of these students and anybody that is challenged differently, that is differently able because they can do so many things.

MORRIS KERKULAH: I want to continue my education by going to college to be able to take a course that will prepare me for a human rights lawyer. Through me as a blind person to be able to set example that people with disability should be able to be released from a lot of negative thoughts of people.

CARINA GROLL: We're still human like everyone else. Just because we have a disability like blindness, vision-impaired, deafness, whatever, it does not mean we can't do anything. We can still accomplish things, have achievements and we still have big dreams just like you.

KAYLA SIMMONS: I feel like I'm very determined. I have maintained very good grades here. I think I've grown a lot academically. I feel like I attend better, pay attention better in my classes. I'm able to learn I think more easily here. I think just realizing that I could get better, I can improve myself being here at VSDB.


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