Although he has limited exposure to sports during the school year and never stepped into a swimming pool until his first Camp Abilities last year, the teen is eager to try every sport the camp offers: judo, fishing, tandem and circular biking, beep baseball, track and field, goalball, swimming, canoeing, rollerblading, archery and horseback riding.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Djouma said as he took a short break between a swim in the pool and a two-person canoe outing with Dwyer. “I don’t do these things at home and never did in Sudan. My favorite thing to do is outrigger canoe.”
While fun is a priority during the week-long camp, the campers’ activities fuel significant research in the fields of adaptive physical education, teaching and psychology.
“We don’t poke and prod them,” Lieberman said. “We do a lot of interviews and I think it is cathartic when kids with visual impairments get to say what they’ve experienced.”
Researchers from around the world have come to Camp Abilities to view Lieberman’s work.
“In Brazil, we have all heard about Camp Abilities and the work Lauren Lieberman is doing,” said Otavio Furtado, a doctoral candidate at the University of Campinas in Sao Paulo.
His team of six researchers was in Brockport to conduct research with Lieberman on swimming teaching methods for the visually impaired.
“She’s grown the field of adaptive PE [physical education] a lot in the past 10 to 20 years,” Furtado said.
Other researchers at camp this year included a team from the University of Nevada — Reno and the State University of New York’s Cortland and Brockport colleges, who used an ongoing National Science Foundation grant to help develop new recreational games for children with visual impairments.
Data from past years’ research projects has led to the development of a multimedia curriculum for educators on how to teach children with visual impairments; assessments specifically designed to test the fitness of youth with various disabilities; the development of new sports products and equipment for visually impaired youth; and more.
“The research that comes out of Camp Abilities is just tremendous,” said Joe Strechay, manager of the CareerConnect Program of the American Foundation for the Blind.
Strechay, who lost his vision to eye disease at age 19, was visiting the Brockport camp to share his personal story with teen campers and to encourage them to stay fit, active and engaged in their communities.
“It’s so impressive what they do here,” he said, as he stood between a group of visually impaired children fishing for bass in the Erie Canal and another group playing basketball on outdoor courts.
“I totally wish I had these types of experiences growing up. I’m happy they do,” Strechay said.