Reaching new heights

Students with visual impairment tackle new type of challenge during Perkins’ High Ropes Adventure Weekend

A young girl zip lines through the trees

Outreach student Sara zip lines through the air during High Ropes Adventure Weekend.

November 16, 2017

Holding tightly to a tree 15 feet in the air, Harry, 17, felt self-doubt creeping in. His destination – a zip line attached to a tiny wooden platform – felt miles away, and his arms and legs were beginning to tremble with exhaustion.

“I can’t do it,” he called down to his teachers and peers. “I’m not strong enough.”

But his friends wouldn’t let him quit. They called out encouragement while an instructor coached him through the final maneuvers required to reach the top. Ten minutes later, he was whipping through the air on the zip line cable, an expression of victory on his face.

“I feel really good,” he said afterwards, still flushed with adrenaline. “I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was.”

Harry is visually impaired, as were the eight other students who took part in High Ropes Adventure Weekend, Perkins School for the Blind’s newest Short Course offered to public school students. The program was run in partnership with Waypoint Adventure, a nonprofit that runs adventure-based outings for individuals with disabilities.

Students donned harnesses and helmets for a full day of teambuilding and personal development at an elevated outdoor ropes course designed to test their limits (and fear of heights). They scrambled up tree trunks using metal rungs as steps and grabbed hanging ropes to pull themselves through the air while balancing on a thin wire.

Before anyone’s feet left the ground, Waypoint Co-founder Adam Combs led the group through a series of exercises designed to mentally prepare them for the challenges ahead.

He asked the group to define three important words: comfort, challenge and “freak-out.”

“We believe that challenging yourselves is a good thing,” he explained. “But we’re going to do our best to make sure you don’t move past your challenge zone and into your freak-out zone.”

When it was her turn to climb, Nicole, 16, stepped off an elevated wooden platform onto a wobbly loop made of rope. A dozen more loops stretched in front of her, forming a suspension bridge high above the forest floor.

“I was really shaking,” she said afterwards. “But I said to myself, I know [the spotter] has me, I’m safe and secure. I have more confidence now to do it again.”

High Ropes Adventure Weekend was designed to build students’ self-determination skills by taking them out of their comfort zones, said Short Courses Supervisor Pat Ryan. Unlike other courses, which teach specific skills like cooking and computer science, this weekend was all about learning through experience.

“The purpose of this program is to put them in a position where they genuinely don’t think they can succeed,” he said. “They have to dig deep and be willing to put themselves in an uncomfortable spot.”

When they weren’t climbing, the students were busy cheering on their peers. Despite attending different schools, they’ve become friendly with one another through Perkins Outreach events, bonding over common interests and their shared disability.

“Perkins has become a safe place for them to hang out and to try new things,” said Ryan. “They get a lot of support from each other.”

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