• Attendance

    July 2012
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  • The “Class”

    Avery, Naim, Aaron

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July 26-29, 2012: Oral Hull Family Camp

Oral Hull Foundation for the Blind is basically a piece of rural land by the Sandy River that was bequeathed to be used as a retreat area for blind people somewhere’s around the 1960s. We went there for a family camp, out of curiosity mostly, and Nik did a little bit of OCB PR work there and a tech demo. I have mixed feelings about segregated recreation for the blind. On the one hand, it shouldn’t have to be that way. We should be able to enjoy the same recreational opportunities as everyone else. On the other hand, the reality is that this is sometimes really hard to pull off. You have details such as transportation that make it hard. Finding people that will offer you the bit of assistance you need here and there without freaking out, refusing, or making a huge deal out of nothing. And then there is also the relief of not always having to be the odd one out. The different, freakish one. It is why some folks like the refuse of guide dog school (not me, but I can see it a bit) and how sometimes you need to be with your own. One hopes that places such as Oral Hull do not discourage mainstream places from thinking that they actually have to accommodate the disabled, in that special Olympics “aren’t there programs for people like you?” kind of way. But I can see how there can be room for both.

The problem that the guide dog schools have is that they pair the refuge aspect and the accommodative aspect with basically such a condescending and paternalistic attitude that it deal breaks for me right there. I think it is possible to have the accommodative refuge retreat while still maintaining people’s self-determination and dignity. Oral Hull tries to pull this off. They do way better than the guide dog schools (i.e. you can leave the premises, but not before signing out.) But they still have a little ways to go. The other downfall of Oral Hull is that the property is dated and needs some TLC, especially in regards to the overnight accommodations, but also in other areas as well. This is probably more of a financial issue than anything else, but it also cries out a sad case of “blind people only deserve mediocracy” at best, which also puts it at a disadvantage for being a profitable place for corporate retreats and other events when not in use for blind recreation. The railings everywhere are a throw-back to the 50s and are a hinderance to blind travel, not a help. They need to go. Alternatively, some kind of tactile markings of the trailers would have helped to find which one was actually yours, but there was nothing.

Still, Oral Hull has its charm, and it comes from the people who run it. Basically, a few families put in paid staff hours and volunteer hours. The program director’s kid sister helped out in the kitchen and with child care, her father took us fishing. The cook had his two teenage sons around for cleaning, tractor driving and odd jobs. There is a couple, a blind man and his formerly blind wife and their guide dogs who cook, clean and run transport. They really try hard to do the best with what they’ve got there. It is a place of contradictions. We were served a lovely 4 course meal while our kids were entertained elsewhere with making their own pizzas, Yet then my family of five had to go back to a drafty, falling apart barely livable and decades old trailer with only two small beds. We did not get much sleep, and quite frankly, it was a danger for my two-year-old. We could not relax when we constantly had to ensure his safety from escape and from literally disassembling the house.

Although I think the staff is well-intentioned and caring, there was a level of disorganization there which bordered on hilarious and insanity inducing. We had asked repeatedly if we needed to bring car seats for the boys. I wrote their requirements on the transportation form I filled out. Basically, all three of my kids still legally need carseats. The twins are under 60 lbs. and are under 4’9″, so require booster seats. Avery is under 4 and under 40 lbs. so requires a forward facing booster with a 5 pt. harness. It would have been a bitch to bring them, but we would have found a way. Certain vehicles are exempt from carseats, such as buses and taxis. For better or worse, the kids ride the train and the bus all the time without carseats. The idea, I suppose, is that there is some safety in being the largest thing on the road. So, we heard there was a bus, and so we were ok with not taking carseats if they didn’t tell us to, which they didn’t.

So when a little minivan drives up at the Commission for the Blind, 1/2 hour late and after I had hauled all my kids all the way from Hillsboro, I knew we were in trouble. Then, I’m sorry, because she grew on me later as a well-meaning and basically nice person, but the dumbest woman I have ever met got out of the car and demanded to know what I was going to do about carseats. I basically told her the law, and offered to go all the way back to HIllsboro to retrieve ours if she drove me there. (For a driver, this would have been about a 40 minute drive round trip. It would have taken me around three hours to do it by bus, despite that I wouldn’t have been able to easily carry them all anyway.) She called her superiors and they hatched a plan to buy a new carseat at their expense. (Aaron and Naim’s carseat needs were thrown under the bus at this point. But they are semi close to being legal.) I have tired and excited kids, and I just want to get this done, so I leave the kids behind and go with them, thinking this will be the fastest thing. But boy was I wrong. As soon as I got in the car, I figured out this this woman is completely incompetent to drive. She doesn’t know her cardinal directions and barely knows left and right. She was completely dependent on her co worker to help navigate using a phone gps device that neither of them seemed to really understand how to use. I offered again to show them the way to Hillsboro, but she said she could not drive to Hillsboro. You may have driving with bad drivers before? no. you have not driven with this level of bad driving and navigation. She used to be blind, apparently and now has her sight back, but I don’t think it is good enough. She simply could not function. I told her repeatedly which direction she was going when she was just told a minute before. I would give her directions and she would go completely the opposite direction I told her to go. We pulled into a mall and I said we could go to Sears in this mall for a carseat, and she didn’t seem to comprehend that and got turned around and kept going to another store. It was the most unbelievable thing ever. She could not determine where she had just been mere minutes before. She swerved and almost hit cars in intersections. It was awful. She was completely baffled by the concept of driving it seemed.

Not only that, but when we got to the store, I specifically said to get a carseat with a five point harness, and described that harness in detail. She picked up a box and I asked her to specifically look to see if it said it had a five point harness and if it was meant for kids under 40 lbs. She did and said that it was. I was not able to see the box. She purchased it and then we had to go through the whole driving chaos to get back to the commission because apparently she had no clue how to reverse her course. We had to find “a man” to assemble it. That was ridiculous to me, so when we got there, I took charge and tried to assemble it. It was at this point when I realized that this carseat was only a booster and had no 5 point harness. Two hours have passed by now and my kids have been hanging out at the commission, I’m tired and sick of these people, and Nik and I are about to call the whole thing off.  Finally, since I couldn’t read directions and they had taken them from me when I requested they be read to me and then they started some ill attempt to assemble it themselves, I had to leave. I pulled Nik around the corner and said, “Is she, like, developmentally disabled? Can someone around here even vouch for her competence or that she really comes from Oral Hull? I think she is too cognitively impaired to put the carseat together, much less drive.” I told Nik to go handle it, because if I spent one more minute with that woman, I would have to blow my brains out. And then I went outside.

After a bit, they came out with the carseat assembled, and I sort of against my better judgement, just went with the flow and let my baby ride in that carseat with that inept woman. Once I grabbed Nik’s hand because she nearly slammed into a car. I had Naim hold Avery’s head because the poor kid was falling asleep and leaning over in half because the shoulder strap was not supporting him. I was all the time, thinking, lets just have her drive us to a transit center and go home. But then I literally did not know if causing that disruption in her driving to find a transit center would be more dangerous than just sitting there and having her remain on her path. Once we got out of the city, she improved greatly. But I was so glad to get there, and I vowed that we would not drive in that car, with that carseat, and that driver again. Apparently, they took the carseat to a nearby fire station and were told that it was the wrong carseat. So the next day, when they were supposed to drive us to Washington School for the Blind, I refused to go with Avery and stayed home. So, they ended up, unbeknownst to me, getting another carseat and being over an hour late on their departure (and then they got lost again on their way), but I had already decided not to take Avery one that trip. Next day, when I was assured that the new carseat was correct and installed, I agreed to take Avery on a trip to a park. But when I got out to the car and put Avery in the carseat, I noticed that it was not attached to anything. It was not installed at all. I picked up Avery and carseat in all and moved it to the backseat where I thought there would be a LATCH system, but their wasn’t, and then I tried to figure out how to install the carseat with the seatbelt. Thankfully, another mother came out and installed it properly for me (she does daycare and has a bunch of carseats in her car.) And for the first time, I felt like my baby was finally somewhat safe.

But guess what happened on the day Avery and I stayed back? Well, first, we fell asleep in the hot, mildew stained trailer. That was what I wanted. I had barely slept the night before. We had Avery, Naim and Nik in a small double bed, Aaron was in a twin bed, and I slept on the couch in a very drafty room. (We walk into the trailer and the woman says, “hmmm, I have no idea how we are going to sleep you all” I about choked. This is the first you’ve thought of this? You knew there was five of us.) But anyway, the sleeping arrangements were not even the worst part. It was that after Avery and I laid down together for our nap, I woke up some two hours later. Avery had a piece of the wall paneling, full of nails, exposed, and had also seemed to disassemble a drawer. In addition, he had removed a screen from a window and had thrown out stuff from the window. But none of this was as bad as the worry of his escape. There were no locks on these doors, we received no key. (the locks were like bathroom locks on the inside. Avery could unlock those in seconds.) He kept opening and closing the three external doors that we had. He walked out on his own. So you couldn’t really sleep for worry that he would just leave. When I got up from my nap, Avery was there with his trailer parts. But Sully was gone! When I asked Avery where Sully was, he just pointed to the door. I ran outside and called for him, but he was nowhere to be found. I went back inside, Avery was stinky diapered, I had to pee, neither of us had shoes. I was worried that Sully might have missed Nik and literally followed him down the road off the property. So I got everyone peed and changed and shoed, and was going to go out and find help to look for Sully. Man I could not lose that dog! That would be very, very bad! But just when we were going out the door, I yelled one more time and a few minutes later, a panting Sully came running back. Whew! Very good dog, that was very tired.  After that, there was not much more sleep to be had, so I just decided to let the kids enjoy it.

Which they did. They thought our trailer was the best thing ever. They thought the whole camp was the best ever. Mostly, I think they liked that we just let them run around the property at their leisure and right outside were always kids to play with. After the first day, they didn’t think too much about the blind kids. Well, I don’t think Aaron really ever noticed, but Naim said, “that’s a blind human being!” about the kids. I was like, yeah, you have two parents that are blind human beings, so? But they are kids? Well, I used to be a blind kid. You did? Pretty funny. Aaron hung out with a nine year old boy a lot and his sister, who said at the end, “We were MORE than friends, He gave me a heart!” So cute. Although I don’t think Aaron knew that, he was more interested in candy at the time. Anyway, for purposes of the homeschooling blog: Here is what everyone did each day:

Thursday:

  • Played with sidewalk chalk, made a picture frame and played in the game room.
  • Naim and I played bingo.
  • Had a campfire where they introduced everyone.

Friday:

  • Kids did crafts and played beep ball, while Nik and I did a little workshop on technology with parents.
  • A and N went to Washington School for the Blind with Nik to see Sensory safari. Avery and I stayed back, lost the dog, and then took a walk down by the river.
  • Lots of playing by the swings, letting Sully run around, etc.
  • Kids went swimming.
  • Kids made pizza while parents had their own dinner together.

Saturday

  • Kids went fishing
  • We all did archery
  • We rode to a park for a picnic lunch and played at a playground.
  • Kids assembled tents.
  • More bingo. (Naim went bingo insane.)
  • Had a barbecue outside
  • Rode horses and tractor rides
  • Had campout with s’mores.

Sunday

  • Kids made dough bears (and scorpions, and robobunnies, and snakes)
  • Kids went swimming
  • Rode back with crazy lady and (thankfully) the nurse (why these places think they need a nurse is beyond me, but thankfully she was there because she knew how to drive.)

So, the kids had a lot of fun and thought it was the best thing ever. I think it has potential, the people try really hard and are very nice, and that it could use a modern shake up. My suggestions would be:

  • Obviously, modernize and make safe the trailer accommodations. I would recommend replacing them with state park style simple cabins.
  • Lose the railings. Replace with building and cabin Braille markers.
  • TLC the pool area a bit to make it not look so much like a Auswitz gas chamber. TLC the whole place. Not bad, just a little bit of sprucing up.
  • Utilize the land better. Suggestions might include a nice path down to the river with a small dock. The wire fencing is more hazard than helpful and needs to go. Maybe start a garden that campers could help with, or maybe have some of those forest obstacle course style things in the wooded area.
  • Lose the patronizing little safety shit like the nurse (could be on-call for people with severe health issues, doesn’t need to ride along with us. We are not sick nor a safety hazard. Standard first aid training for staff is more than adequate.)
  • Chains and railings on the hay ride, and include actual hay (more than was there.) are unecessary
  • Take the stupid chain link fence from the fishing pond. Perhaps somehow combine the two ponds to increase size and bridge it. Then include a fishing dock or perhaps some small row boats. The chain link fence is over the top and ridiculous, it makes fishing not seem like fishing. Blind people need information (tell them what to look for around the pond to keep safe, don’t chain them off from it.)
  • Do whatever needs to be done(?) to make sure that people know where they are going, what they are doing and why (organize) so that stuff like the whole carseat thing can be avoided and people don’t feel like they are risking their lives with a driver who is not competent. (This nurse can’t drive rule is stupid. If someone in the car needs a nurse, the car is going to have to be pulled over anyway. And why is the nurse there in the first place?)
  • The sensory safari activity seemed kind of out of place. It was a bit lame and not worth the long drive. Camping should be fun outside stuff. How ’bout a nature hike where sighted people assist blind people in finding real animals or traces of animals or other things of interest?
  • Horseback riding could be real, and not so much the being walked around bit. Horses are practically natural guide animals, blind people could go on real trail rides. (Ponies for the littlest kids are ok, but really little kids can also ride horses, too. Ever see pioneer woman’s kids? Two year olds on horseback on their own.)
  • I liked all the arts and crafts for kids. I think they did a good job. And it was nice to have time away from the kids, but it is also good to do outdoor things that get kids moving, because those are the things that challenge blind people, getting the assistance necessary to do outdoor things, White water rafting, horseback, etc.
  • The kids all got awards at the end, and that was nice and cute. But giving an award to siblings of blind kids for being “good siblings of blind kids” is really, really lame. All the kids (siblings, blind kids, kids of blind adults) should be completely integrated as just kids. Are my kids going to get an award for putting up with their blind parents? Basically all that does is send a message that the blind kids are a special pain in the ass to their siblings, and I just don’t buy that. All siblings are a pain to each other sometimes. Do I think that siblings of disabled kids sometimes get a raw deal attention-wise? Probably sometimes in some families. But it shouldn’t be assumed, and an awards ceremony is not the time to segregate these kids for that. You will accomplish the same thing by treating all the kids as special and finding something unique about each of them to award them for. Make it fun(ny) and not material for years of future counseling and sibling resentment, please.

I hope it doesn’t sound too critical, because I think there is a lot of good in this camp. I think it has a lot of potential and I hope it can find the funding to make the improvements it needs to make it really kick-ass. I would go back again, if we could figure out safer accommodations and if they could show signs that they are on a more progressive track. I would not count them out just yet as a valuable resource for the blind and also the extended community. It would be interesting to look into expanding the camps to sighted people, either friends of the blind people or to just the public (while giving blind people first priority). This would normalize it, give it a goal (if the general public wants to come, then it meets the standards of a good program, not the blind people’s only option), it could help spread blind PR, fund raise, etc. and it could expand to more family activities.

But I heard our cognitively challenged driver is an excellent cook. I would have her return to that role…and stay there.

One Response

  1. […] Oral Hull Foundation for the Blind Family Camp […]

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