Learning to ride a bicycle is a rite of passage for most children. But riding a traditional bike can be nearly impossible for many children who are blind or have physical disabilities.
So the latest Adventure Day at Perkins School for the Blind featured accessible bikes for families to enjoy.
“Families at mainstream schools might not have access to adapted bikes,” said Amber Bobnar, founder of WonderBaby.org, an online resource for parents of children with blindness and other disabilities. “Plus it gives families of children with disabilities something fun to do on the weekend.”
Organized in partnership with the Massachusetts Association of Parents of the Visually Impaired (MAPVI), the event took place at the outdoor track on Perkins’ Watertown campus on a sunny Saturday in mid-July. Sixty-five people, nearly half of whom were children, rode adapted bikes, splashed through sprinklers and met new friends, young and old.
Michelle Contey brought her son Matteo, 13, who is a student at Perkins, and his brother Marco, 7. “They’re having a ball,” she said. “The two things Matteo loves are riding bikes and water games – sprinklers and pools.”
While the boys played, Contey chatted with a fellow parent about BrailleNote, a braille-accessible notetaker.
“I like that I get to connect with other parents,” she said.
Children had a variety of bikes to choose from, depending on their abilities and confidence. There were three-wheeled Freedom Concepts bikes, which children with some vision and motor skills could pedal on their own. The bikes also had a steering mechanism in back, allowing a sighted person to walk behind and give guidance as necessary.
Tandem bikes were offered so a sighted person could ride with someone who is visually impaired. Bicycles with bench seats allowed people to ride three abreast, with two pedaling and one steering. That gave children with significant disabilities, who were unable to independently sit on a bike seat, the opportunity to pedal their way around the track.
Perkins’ Adventure Days are open to all families with children who are visually impaired, not just families whose children attend Perkins.
“It gives us the chance to showcase what Perkins does that’s different and special,” said Bobnar, who is also a digital project manager at Perkins and the parent of a child with multiple disabilities. “You don’t really get what it means to be a student here (if you just take) a tour.”
Perkins Lower School student Zachary, 13, came to try out the bikes before getting one to use at home. His mother Susan Arndt said she appreciated having Perkins’ staff on hand to show her how to properly adjust the bike so her son could ride safely.
“He loves the independence of being on a bike,” she said. “For our kids, it’s not just getting on the bike, but doing it appropriately for their ability.”