Each year, NASA shares their US Space and Rocket education centre in Alabama with a group of students with vision impairment from around the world for the Space Camp for Interested Visually Impaired Students (SCIVIS).
The week-long camp, coordinated by teachers for the visually impaired, gives students access to a range of unique activities and opportunities, from learning about how space travel works to taking part in a mission simulation and hearing from people with vision impairment who are working in the space program. The camp also provides a rare opportunity for students with vision impairments to come together as members of a large group from different countries, with common interests and challenges, to share in a wide variety of educational and cultural experiences.
This year, three RIDBC and School Support students from Years 9 – 11, were awarded scholarships to attend the program, funded by the generosity of RIDBC donors. The scholarships covered the camp, accommodation, airfares and ground transport for the students and two RIDBC Specialist Teachers.
2016 scholarship winner, Benj, recalls his experience, saying that while Space Camp was challenging, it was an experience he relished and one he will never forget. “One word for space camp: awesome,” he enthuses.
“The week was full on, we went from 7am to 11pm every day. We were involved in space simulated missions where we had to fix malfunctions to the shuttle when a light on the panel would turn on saying there was an issue. At one point we had a full Christmas tree on our hands! The missions were great for teaching us to think on our feet and handle stress. Nothing phases me at school anymore after facing that!”
One of the highlights, for Benj, was hearing inspirational stories from people working in the industry, some of whom also had a vision impairment. “We had people from NASA come in and talk to us about their jobs. Some of them were visually impaired and doing really high-level jobs, like engineering. Their stories were really encouraging because they showed us that nothing can stop us from pursuing our passion.”
Harzita Hashim, Manager, VisionEd at RIDBC, says this is one of the things many students talk about on their return. “We see our students develop greater self-confidence and develop the feeling that they are not limited. Hearing from people with vision impairment working in the space program is invaluable.”
The camp also gives students a chance to build friendships with other students from all over the world, talk about experiences and learn from each other.
“Being a student with vision impairment in a school of sighted students can feel isolating at times and meeting others in the same situation that have faced similar challenges can help you to feel you are not alone and that you have a support network of people who understand you. Much of school life is visual, so students who attend Space Camp often say that being in a room where they are in the majority and having experiences that are completely accessible for them is a real highlight.
With social media making it easy to connect, many of these students remain friends with other attendees from all over the world,” Harzita concludes.
Expressions of Interest for 2019 Space Camp Scholarships will open shortly for RIDBC Teleschool and School Support Students who will be in Years 9, 10 or 11 in 2019.