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Gold Award Girl Scout, Claudia

Gold Award Girl Scout, Claudia

Emergency Preparedness for the Visually Impaired

Claudia’s father is a firefighter paramedic and her mother is a public health nurse, so she grew up knowing and understanding the importance of being prepared for emergencies and being CPR certified. After experiencing through her school that students do not know how to safely exit a burning building or know basic first aid, Claudia thought about how it must be a struggle for the visually impaired. In talking with her cousin who is legally blind and works at Perkins School for the Blind located in Boston, her cousin agreed, that the visually impaired are not properly prepared for an emergency. With this affirmation, Claudia decided to research this issue further at the school and discovered that the students did practice fire evacuations, but didn’t learn much about fire safety, other than what to do when the fire alarm sounded and hadn’t had the opportunity to become CPR certified. Claudia decided to remedy this issue by creating a Gold Award project that would work with the visually impaired to help students feel comfortable with any fire-like emergency including kitchen/cooking fires, sheltering in place, building evacuations, as well as allow them to become CPR certified.

Claudia teamed up with staff from Portsmouth Regional Hospital, Pulsar Alarms, which provided portable fire alarm simulators, the Kennebunk and Watertown Fire Departments, and the Perkins School for the Blind to develop and implement a curriculum on emergency preparedness that was specially adapted for the visually impaired students at the school. Claudia included more verbal descriptions in her lessons, telling the students exactly what was in front of them. She quickly discovered that visually impaired people are at a disadvantage when it comes to easily navigating spaces, but also learned that each student had their own techniques that worked for them.

One of Claudia’s goals was to make sure that the students were able to learn all of the skills being taught and that students felt comfortable in the event of an emergency. Claudia says “It was pretty amazing to me to see how these students could adapt to any environment they were in. They had never felt what a CPR mannequin felt like or how a defibrillator works, but they were all able to find exactly what they needed to do, just by their senses.” She measured her project goals by having the students practice each new skill until they demonstrated proficiency in the skill. A mock fire drill was also held, allowing Claudia to gauge if the students had retained the skills that were taught. She also held a short oral quiz at the end of the classes to ensure that the students understood the information and that they would be able to apply it when necessary. Even though Claudia has finished her project, the Perkins School for the Blind has agreed to incorporate her lesson plans as part of their College Preparedness Course for incoming students. Additionally, the school has shared Claudia’s program with other schools throughout New England.

Claudia says that “This project required me to use a lot of communication skills as I had to describe everything I was doing to them [the students] in a way that they could get an understanding of what was going on. I am someone who is very quiet and shy with everything I do. Presenting has never been something I enjoy doing or something that I am good at. However, through this project, I realized that I feel more comfortable presenting something that I am passionate about.”