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School puts blind children in touch
Monday, August 27, 2001

The High Park Forest School in West Toronto is a world of texture and contrast.

Down the hallway that leads students from the washroom to the play area there is a trail of bubble paper on the wall. Along the divider that separates the large playroom from the classroom there is Braille.

Each room is painted in a different high-contrast colour; the carpet, too, has been put down in strips of contrasting colours to help children find their way around.

The difference between this and any other preschool is that, at High Park Forest, all of the students are blind or visually impaired.

"I think people forget that, in young children, 70 to 90 per cent of all learning is visual," said April Cornell, executive director of the Ontario Foundation for Visually Impaired Children, the organization that runs the school. "Children who are visually impaired want to participate. We don't prevent them from doing anything a that a sighted child would do."

Children from ages 2 to 5 come from all over the city to the special school. The staff of five, supplemented by volunteers, can handle 20 students a year.

"We do a lot of adaptations to normal activities so that blind and visually impaired children can participate," Ms. Cornell said.

For instance, the paint the children use at High Park Forest contains sand so that it dries with texture. While a sighted preschooler may scribble with a pencil, High Park Forest has a Brailler that children can hammer away on.

Teachers teach concepts, not academics, Ms. Cornell said. They expose children to things they will learn down the road at school.

"Understanding vision is only one part of it. One has to understand child development and then understand the impact of vision loss on child development. It's multilayered," she said.

Students are at school until 1 p.m. each weekday, and the school year runs the same as any other, from September to June.

When they graduate, students are ready to go into any board of education program.

Some leave High Park Forest and go into kindergarten. Some stay until Grade 1. Some will head to the W. Ross MacDonald School for the Blind in Brantford, Ont., while others will go into special-education programs.

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