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Deaf or blind, and very much alive

Jeff Foster, a deaf-blind person from Seattle, rides a special tandem bike at the Seabeck Convention Center on Monday afternoon.  The 24th annual deaf-blind conference, sponsored by the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind, has attracted 57 campers and 102 support personnel at the scenic center along the Hood Canal. - Photo by Tracey Cooper
Jeff Foster, a deaf-blind person from Seattle, rides a special tandem bike at the Seabeck Convention Center on Monday afternoon. The 24th annual deaf-blind conference, sponsored by the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind, has attracted 57 campers and 102 support personnel at the scenic center along the Hood Canal.
— image credit: Photo by Tracey Cooper

The smell of baking pizza crust mixes with the Seabeck salt air. Campers ride bikes, cut through water on a jet ski and learn how to weave a basket themselves. This week, deaf-blind adults from around the nation have come to the sleepy seascape to meet new people and share new experiences.

Chest-high ropes guide campers down the paved paths and TTY machines accompany the pay phones.

The 24th annual deaf-blind camp, sponsored by the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind is being held this week at the Seabeck Convention Center.

Fifty-seven campers and 102 support services providers (SSP) and staff converged on the center.

One of the most popular attractions is the jet ski, which James Terrazas of Missouri was waiting to ride. He tried the jet ski a few years ago at the camp.

“I get in the front seat. It’s fun,” he said through an interpreter.

As Terrazas coasts over the bay waters with help from an SSP, Jackie Engler, co director of the camp makes an observation.

“He’s very brave. I’m a little scared, I’ve never gotten on a jet ski,” she said to her interpreter.

Hearing and deaf volunteers sign spoken words to the campers and help lead them to where they want to go.

Engler explains that most of the camp participants suffer from Usher’s Syndrome, a genetic condition. There are differing degrees of the syndrome, which is typically coupled with deafness. The syndrome causes tunnel vision and night blindness. In more serious cases it can cause complete blindness.

“I can see faces but can’t see anything around it,” Engler said to her interpreter.

Engler uses tactile signing most of the time feeling the words come from her interpreter’s hands, something she learned to do as a child.

Her sister is also deaf-blind. They would sign to each other at night.

Most of the campers live independently but at the same time it can be lonely Engler said.

The Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind has an SSP program that deaf-blind people can access to have someone help them shop, do banking and other errands.

Engler also conducts workshops for deaf-blind people in Seattle, the most recent of which dealt with creating a will.

The camp, which used to be the only camp in the nation has spawned ones in Maryland, Louisiana, and Georgia.

“People come here to learn from our program,” Engler said.

New this year is a demonstration of technology that opens the doors to deaf-blind people to use the Internet. A Braille display and a large print screen were demonstration.

Jeff Foster of Seattle who is deaf-blind, demonstrated the tandem bike he rode with a sighted volunteer.

Wednesday members of the group will climb a rock wall. Thursday campers have the choice to visit a Poulsbo llama farm or the Bainbridge Winery.

“Everything is accessible,” Engler said of Seabeck.

“And it’s so beautiful here. It really matches the deaf-blind people’s needs.”

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