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Independent living skills for deaf and blind students

A blind high school student wearing a yellow shirt uses her hands to mix a large silver bowl of granola, as her teacher, a man wearing a blue button-up shirt, observes her progress.
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A school for deaf and blind students takes building life skills seriously.

A school for deaf and blind students takes extra steps to prepare their pupils for life after graduation. 


CARINA GROLL (STUDENT, VSDB): Anything's possible if you really put your mind to it. As a person with a disability, you can be successful in your life independently.

JOHN MATHENY (OWNER, NU-BEGINNING STORE): We got two jugs, I think the first one was-

CARINA GROLL: The first time I heard about the work study program was when I was in elementary school. I believe it's going to benefit a lot in teaching the necessary skills that you need to work cooperatively and independently in the workplace.

PAT TRICE (SUPERINTENDENT, VSDB): The VSDB Work Study program, we actually call it Achieve Transition program, is an off-campus/on-campus work study program. When they have worked on campus and they're ready to go off campus and they have been practicing their skills, then we start placing them in off-campus sites that they're interested in.

JOHN MATHENY: When we first heard about the program, to me, it was a no-brainer. It's an amazing program, so we're honored to be part of it. Carina is absolutely amazing. She is articulate, she's intelligent. There's been times that I've had issues with the iPad, which is our computer system here, and she is on point, knowing exactly what the problem is.

CARINA GROLL: I really like working with John because he understands my needs and he really cares about the team.

JOHN MATHENY: The work ethic of all the kids that we've had, they want to do the best job possible.

PAT TRICE: This building here is Price Hall. It houses our independent living apartment program, which is our flagship program. Inside there are five apartments with a teaching apartment downstairs. The students are learning how to live in an apartment, they understand what a lease is, they're learning how to cook, they're learning how to clean, they're learning how to budget, how to prepare foods, how to prepare their shopping list. So it truly is an independent living apartment experience for nine weeks.

KAYLA SIMMONS (STUDENT, VSDB): I think this school being here definitely will help me be ready for my future after graduation. Everything I'm able to learn here, everything that I'm able to do here, especially with the independent living apartments, some of those classes. In the classes, we learn about, you know, cooking for ourselves, about keeping an apartment clean. We talk about planning our meals, what we would like to cook that week, things like that.

PAT TRICE: They get the experience of probably for the first time in their life what independence, true independence feels like.

CARINA GROLL: This is Price Hall, and this upper floor here has the apartments. How I felt in the beginning stages of moving in was excitement and overwhelmed. When you're on your own, at first, it's going to be really hard to set a structure for yourself. They're setting us up to succeed in an environment like this through mostly hands-on experience.

KAREN CORBIN (INDEPENDENT LIVING SKILLS TEACHER, VSDB): We have just been shopping and they got the groceries for this week. We also got some items for our ILA students who go into the independent living apartments and they're going to be making some things in the kitchen of their own apartments this week as well. We have our cabinets and drawers are labeled in both braille and large print, for both the blind and visually impaired students that we teach. We have several items to help them. We have a little drink alarm at which they can put on a mug and fill it with water and it will beep so they will know when they have filled it to capacity. Obviously, to be out on their own, independent and be able to do things for themselves is big. We all want to be independent. Everyone wants to be able to do things for themselves, and these students want to show everyone that they can do just that, that they are perfectly capable of doing everything that a sighted person can do.

PAT TRICE: When the students come in to the ILAs, they are literally coming in to a furnished apartment. However, they don't have dishes, they don't have forks, they don't have a vacuum cleaner, so we give them $50 kind of on paper and they have to figure out what it is that they need to furnish their apartment. The microwave is expensive. So many of the students don't want to spend their money on a microwave, and so they decide, oh, I'm going to get a blender instead. They figure out real quickly, I don't need the blender, I need the microwave, and they will come back, like a store and return their blender and get a microwave.

CARINA GROLL: The microwave is adapted with dots on the numbers. There is also a stove, there's a dot on the top. It lets us know how to set the temperature on it, so if I know the dots on the bottom, it's on medium. The school is allowing us to do these things early on and to get a better idea of what it's going to be like in the real world while in a controlled environment.

PAT TRICE: Through all of these programs that we have, all of these are teaching these students to be responsible, accountable, to follow directions, we're teaching them a work ethic, to budget, good judgment and problem solving. We are teaching them skills that will help them in every area of their life.

CARINA GROLL: I love doing food preparation. I think the best part about doing the granola is mixing, for sure, because it's so therapeutic, especially with your hands. I feel really proud to be here because a lot of people with disabilities don't get to experience a lot of work-based learning opportunities, so having this experience, I just feel super grateful to have it.

JOHN MATHENY: The kids have not only the ability to do the job, but they have the desire to do the job. And we've got a door. Hiring people of any disability or ability is absolutely good for business. The customers will absolutely love the interaction, it's an opportunity for the customers to have an interaction with a person with a disability that they may not have had before. And if you're considering taking on any kind of a worker, regardless of age that has any kind of a disability, hearing impaired, visually impaired, physically impaired, do it, you'll be amazed at how much you learn from them. Okay, looks good, that's it for today.


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