Austin Ludwar’s Queen’s Park classmates recently had a chance to see, or not see, just how the world looks through his eyes.
Donning their special shade glasses rendering them legally blind, the Grade 4/5 students were taught the sport of goalball, with only their senses of touch and hearing to guide them.
While this was only a game according to program organizers, it was an excellent way to bring home to children how life is everyday for those with limited or no vision.
“Sometimes my students don’t want people to pay attention to them because they don’t want anyone to know that they have a disability,” said Lynn Langille, Austin’s vision resource teacher. “But days like this, instead of being embarrassing for Austin, are kind of exciting because he gets to have something a little extra special but it’s still something he can participate in with his whole class.
“Also, all of the other kids are blindfolded so they’re going to get a taste of what it’s like to be visually impaired or totally blind, which gives them an appreciation of what it’s like.”
Suffering from congenital motor nystagmus since birth, Austin has, with the support of his mother Sharon Preston and his special education assistants, been able to attend regular school and lead a near-normal classroom life.
But according to Preston, there are still some very frustrating times for her son, one of those just happened to be earlier in the day.
“This morning he had hockey practice with the school and when I arrived to pick him up at quarter after eight he wasn’t on the ice,” she recalled. “When I went into the dressing room he was really upset and I said ‘what’s up?’ and he said ‘I don’t like to play hockey because every team I’m on lose because I can’t see and play as good as the other kids.’
“So today with everybody being blindfolded it makes them all equal and this will really boost his confidence after being so down on himself.”
And mom was right.
Coming out of the school gym after a couple of shifts on the court and at least one goal to his credit Austin was all smiles.
“It was really just fun,” he said, the grin widening. “I think everyone really enjoyed it. I think my friends would say it was fun, awesome, cool, hilarious.
“I think it’s good to do this because then they (other kids) know how I feel and just have to adjust.”
His good friend and hockey teammate, nine-year-old Max Curtis agreed: “It helped me realize actually how hard it can be to do things when you have seeing problems. This is important because it helps those who aren’t so good at seeing not feel so bad.”
Instructing the skills training for the children at the school was Mike Lonergan of B.C. Blind Sports.
In goalball there are three players on the court who roll a ball with bells imbedded in it back and forth trying to get it past the defenders into a goal.
It became a Paralympic sport in 1980 and currently another Penticton sight-impaired athlete, Ashlie Andrews, is a member of Canada’s national team.
“We are just thrilled to have Mike come to our school to help bridge communication and understanding between our students,” said Nicole MacIntyre, a special ed worker at Queen’s Park. “Social responsibility and empathy are an important part of learning and living.”