Empowering the visually impaired
As understanding of disabilities grows, so do the opportunities for those living with them. The Oral Hull Foundation for the blind and low vision in Sandy is one place that offers those opportunities and has since 1962.
Named after Oral Hull, who dedicated the funds to create the retreat center in her last days, provides workshops on living with vision loss, as well as crafting and recreational events for people from all over the country. The foundation also rents its space to local groups so others can enjoy the 22-acre rural retreat.
When executive director Sharon Elder first came to Oral Hull, she was a contractor working to market the space. She was later asked to take on the leadership role in 2012.
"Then I learned about the significance of the park," she said. "This was (blind adults') lifeline to other people and recreation."
And it still is.
Park of possibilities
"We're doing everything we can to make sure people who have been diagnosed know there are resources for them to have as independent a life as possible," Elder said.
In a promotional interview, one park visitor from Chicago, Deanna Callender, said: "I love coming to this place because it's like a sanctuary. Out there in the real world, people don't understand. Hull has been a blessing because I do more things now than when I could see. It feels like coming home."
Every year, 200 to 300 people volunteer to help visitors complete activities like handcrafts, hiking and even more adventurous tasks like rafting.
"It's really rewarding to go on a kayaking trip with people with low vision," said volunteer Erica Martin, who's spent two summers leading outdoor excursions for the park. "Those trips let people not feel blind for a few hours."
Sandy Lions Club member Sherren McMath has volunteered with the park for one year now, helping with getaways and classes in arts and hobbies.
"They do so many wonderful things here for people," McMath said. "They let people know you're blind but you're not dead. There are a lot of things you can still do and the only thing that limits you is yourself."
Though the offerings of activities and lessons at the park are plentiful, Elder boasts that the four paid staff members and volunteers with Hull also do quite a bit of outreach to spread awareness of blindness and low vision and what people with those disabilities are capable of.
On Oct. 15, Elder, Vision Loss Instructor Julie Wright and a few people with blindness and low vision who are associated with the park, visited Sandy High School for National White Cane Day.
"The more we can talk to a variety of people the more we can serve the mission of why we're here," Elder said. "(We thought it was important to work with students) because of the stigma around blindness. Some think when people lose their sight, they also lose everything else too. The students were so engaged and interested that they want us to come back. We're happy to go to any type of group to talk about what we do and why."
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