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NWABA Makes Sports Happen Through Partnerships with Northwest Schools and Teachers

Partnership Spotlight

NWABA programs happen because of partnerships. Teaming with schools and community groups throughout the region has truly multiplied NWABA’s ability to offer sports to blind and visually impaired students. One very strong partnership involves the Columbia Regional Program, which supports opportunities for Oregon students needing special services in Multnomah, Clackamas, Hood River and Wasco counties in collaboration with Portland Public Schools. David Cahill has helped cement that partnership with NWABA.

Experiencing sports for the first time

As an Orientation & Mobility Specialist who has taught for more than 30 years, David understands the hurdles facing his students. “I have always been interested in finding activities, especially recreation and leisure, for kids who are blind and visually impaired,” he says. He saw the positive impact of sports while working at the Texas School for the

Blind where they held an annual Helen Keller Track and Field event. When he moved to the Portland area in the 1990s, he learned about another kind of sport for his students—goalball.

“Recreation and leisure are really important for kids,” David says. “It’s just as important to kids who are visually impaired as everybody else, not just so they can get a workout but also so they can be a part of a team. Sometimes that means losing and working harder. You can parlay these skills later in life when you are in the workforce.”

“We are extremely fortunate to partner with countless teachers each year,” says NWABA’s Billy Henry. “David’s dedication and enthusiasm for goalball and other programs has allowed his students to experience sports and build the confidence and self-esteem that they will need to be successful in other areas of life.”

Partnerships ensure that all students have access to sports and recreation

“NWABA has been fantastic! They really partner with the teachers of the visually impaired,”

David says. “Sports allow our students to really excel. I love to go to the Washington State School for the Blind for regional and state competitions for young adults. They are so good. It’s similar to seeing the best athletes in baseball, football and basketball.”

David remembers a blind student who tried to play whatever sport his sighted friends were playing. When he was introduced to goalball he quickly excelled, is now in a college prep program and plays goalball with young adults. They recently medaled at an event. “If he had vision, he would probably be a running back in football. It’s a really important part of his life,” says David. “It also gave him greater contact with the blind community-at-large. I think it’s important for people who are blind to have the support of each other. They understand. It’s a commonality. And he has found a challenging athletic sport that it is very satisfying to him where he can excel.”

“I think there will always be folks who would much prefer pursuing music or chess club but we should never assume that because people are visually impaired they are not interested in athletics,” David says. “A lot of students were somewhat timid about getting involved with goalball or track and field. Once they realized that they had peers, it made it more comfortable. It allows them to compete against somebody. They often don’t have those same opportunities.”

They don’t have to be future athletes – they might be lawyers or teachers

“I have had a number of students that I’m so glad right now that I could get them involved with sports. There is a huge social component,” David says. “They don’t have to be future athletes. They might be lawyers or teachers. It is important now that they have this experience.”

“I have learned as much from my students as they have learned from me. It should be a reminder that they are able to accomplish an awful lot given their challenges. We, too, can remember that when we are faced with a struggle. There are ways of working on things and improving and finding some level of success.”

“I’m very excited that we have an organization like NWABA to provide these opportunities for our students,” David says. And NWABA is extremely pleased to have such a strong partnership with David and other teachers who are introducing their students to the joys and lessons of sports.

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