Adventure: No Vision Required!
By: Bill Buttler, Chapter Coordinator, Susquehanna Valley Team River Runner and Jennifer Eaton, Coordinator of Youth Services, VisionCorps and Kids Are OuttaSight Coordinator, Susquehanna Valley Team River Runner
VisionCorps’ Youth Enrichment Program focuses on the Expanded Core Curriculum, specific to students who are blind or vision impaired. The goal of the Expanded Core is to provide students with the skills they need to be successful and independent. These skills fall into the following categories; Independent Living, Assistive Technology, Orientation and Mobility, Social Interaction, Compensatory, Self-Determination, Career Education, Recreation, and Leisure and Visual Efficiency.
Two years ago, VisionCorps reached out to the Susquehanna Valley Chapter of Team River Runner (SVTRR) to provide a unique recreational activity; to take students kayaking. However, SVTRR’s response was not simply to set up a tour; instead, they wanted to teach the students how to kayak independently alongside their parents or guardians or with an adult volunteer.
Team River Runner (TRR) has several national level programs in place for visually impaired or blind Veterans called OuttaSight. These highly successful programs have spawned some great paddlers, among them Lonnie Bedwell. Lonnie became the first totally blind kayaker to paddle the entire length of the Grand Canyon in a single seat kayak. Lonnie has helped to grow many more Outtasight paddlers and has developed methods to train and equip paddlers for this unique challenge.
Building on the OuttaSight program’s success, VisionCorps and SVTRR teamed up to develop a new national program called Kids Are Outtasight, better known as KAOS. Through the program students learned basic paddling and safety skills, while their family members and adult volunteers learned how to guide the students through a variety of water conditions. The training culminated in a run down the Conestoga River followed by an Explorer’s Picnic where everyone shared a great meal and much laughter. KAOS did more than simply teach students and their families a new recreational activity; it addressed key social skills, orientation and mobility, and self-determination. The program was a great success.
Recently TRR’s executive director asked the Susquehanna Valley chapter if they would be willing to launch KAOS on a national level. KAOS offers a unique opportunity for SVTRR’s Veterans to give back to the community that provides so much support to them. What started out as a small program for VisionCorps students has now turned into a nationwide program. VisionCorps and SVTRR collaborated to produce nationally-available resources (https://svtrr.org/KAOS_resources) that are now in use at newly-forming KAOS events around the country. We have also been working closely with Lonnie on the KAOS program as it expands nationally.
As an Outtasight paddler, I can tell you first hand that kayaking is an amazing sport that tests you both physically and mentally. You can choose to kayak in flat water such as a lake or you can accept the challenges of white water, and tackle more exciting waterways like the Leigh River. Kayaking allows you to take yourself out of your comfort zone and paddle to new heights. The best part is, kayaking doesn’t require you to have vision, just a smile.