Visually impaired Middletown runners part of event

Two visually impaired Middletown High School students will be participating in a 5K run/walk this weekend to help raise funds to purchase special learning equipment.

Lillie Baldwin, a 16-year-old sophomore, and Marriah Grate, a 16-year-old freshman, are among several students from the Middletown area who will be participating in Saturday’s race, which is also promoting awareness about Blind Americans Equality Day.

“It sounds slightly impossible, but I wanted to run to support the Sightless Children Club,” Baldwin said. “When I heard it was a 5K run, I wasn’t sure if I could do it. But we’re allowed to take breaks and walk (instead of run).”

“This is the first year for the race,” said Jessica Chandler, the school district’s certified orientation and mobility specialist. “We received a $250 grant from the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation Ohio Chapter for the blind and visually impaired to participate in the race.”

The grant is being used to defray the costs for the students and their parents so that they could attend the race, she said. In addition to Baldwin and Grate, two students from Amanda Elementary and one student from Miller Ridge Elementary will also be participating in the event.

Proceeds will be used by the Sightless Children Club to help parents of visually impaired students purchase specialized educational equipment for students.

Both Baldwin and Grate said they have overcome obstacles at school, which has also given them the opportunity to develop their self-advocacy skills.

“Blindness is not being treated as child but to have independence and self-advocacy,” Baldwin said.

“The white cane helps me to get around where I want to go, to cross streets and to go shopping,” Grate said.

“The empowerment this gives these students helps because they may be the only blind student in school,” Chandler said. “To be in a place where they can have independence by using a long white cane gives them a sense of empowerment and camaraderie.”

Baldwin and Grate said they trained for Saturday’s race with a blind Middletown resident, who taught them non-visual running techniques.

Chandler said on Saturday, a sighted guide will have a 30-foot rope tether with two knots that the blind runner will use. She said the blind runner will set their pace on the course.

Blind Americans Equality Day, which is Oct. 15, was formally known as White Cane Safety Day, an annual national observance held on Oct. 15 that was approved by Congress in 1964. The day celebrates the achievements of people who are blind or visually impaired and the white cane which is a symbol of blindness and independence. The observance’s new name was changed in 2011 by President Barack Obama.

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