At first glance they are like any other group of teenagers, all engrossed in phones as they sit around the lounge of an apartment in Maynooth, Co Kildare, trying to book a taxi through the FreeNow app.
But it is soon noticeable that, as they swipe, scroll and tap, each one holds the phone to their ear. Every touch of the finger is “announced” by Voice Over on their iPhones and it takes a double tap to activate an icon.
The youngsters deftly flicking their screens are among 12 participants in a four-day residential summer camp run by the sight loss charity National Council for the Blind Ireland (NCBI) for children who are blind or visually impaired. Ranging in age from 11 to 19, they are learning independent living skills, from making up beds, ironing and cooking, to grocery shopping, using public transport and visiting a bank branch.
When it comes to household chores, “we have to motivate them to do it – they’re typical teenagers”, says Caroline Lane, head of NCBI’s children’s services. But unlike typical teenagers, they didn’t as small children watch their parents doing such tasks and learn to copy them that way. How could somebody with no vision grasp the concept of ironing, for instance, until it is explained in detail to them?
“We slow everything down,” she explains, because normal family life can be too hectic to give these children the time to figure out everything they could do for themselves.
Using the Liffey Hall block of student accommodation on the campus of Maynooth University, there are three “campers” and two NCBI staff in apartments consisting of five single, en suite bedrooms and a communal living/kitchen area. The priority on arrival was for the participants to be orientated in their new surroundings and decide themselves on how to organise the kitchen and their own bedrooms to make life workable for them