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May Bulletin

by NFBCal

To Be Read At Chapter Meetings:

I don’t usually cut and paste articles for the bulletin but, this month I am making an exception.  Over the weekend we broke through a few barriers for our affiliate and I think you would enjoy reading about it.  The following is an article about “Chemistry Camp” 2011.

Breaking Down Barriers: Opening the Doors of Chemistry to the Blind
By Mary Willows and Henry Wedler

The National Federation of the Blind of California and the California Association of Blind Students sponsored a unique Science experience for blind high school students.  The event was called, “California Chemistry Camp 2011”.  It was held on April 29, 30 and May 1, 2011 in the serene Enchanted Hills Camp, a camp directed by the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind near Napa, California.

Ten young blind students were invited to spend the weekend with four of our NFB of California mentors. Several post-doctoral fellows and graduate students from the University of California, Davis chemistry department, the UC Davis chemistry Club, and Professors from the prestigious UC Davis chemistry department assisted Henry Wedler, undergraduate student and Treasurer of the California Association of Blind Students, to assemble materials and facilitate hands on activities which will change what it means to be a blind student.  Henry’s goal for the two day academy was not to teach a science class.  Rather, he aimed  to teach blind high school students that you can study chemistry as a blind person and there are ways to make the subject of chemistry completely accessible. Ultimately, when these students get to a science class where a teacher is misguided in thinking that they should be concerned for their safety, they can say with conviction that they want to participate fully in laboratory activities, that they understand the safety concerns of the instructor, and that they know how to work with chemicals safely. If it’s something the students don’t feel comfortable with, they know how to ask for assistance and how to work with an assistant to ensure that they, (the students) are in charge and not merely letting the assistant do everything for them. One student from Davis even asked Henry if he could do chemistry research during the summer working for a UC Davis chemistry professor. This will most likely happen either this or next summer.

Chemistry is based on observations of various solutions, atoms, molecules, chemical reactions, and reaction mechanisms. In particular, Chemistry concentrates on the composition, structure, and properties of matter as well as chemical changes that occur during a reaction.  Students at chemistry camp got to involve themselves strongly in each of these fields.

All of us have taken a Science class in school where experiments were performed and students were required to make observations of the changes they observed. But, how many of us led the experimental process, played an active role in performing the experiments, and demonstrated that a blind person can and should be a Chemist?  How many of us were relegated to the end of the lab table to simply listen in while sighted students learned how to create esters, titrate chemicals or explore thermodynamics, kinetics, natural products chemistry, and combustion? How many of us learned to use a pipette, pour chemicals safely, and observe chemical changes using senses other than vision?

What do Chemists do anyway?  If you ask Henry Wedler, you will get a litany of career choices which require a degree in Chemistry. For instance, you could get a job with a candy company making esters and analyze them using the sense of smell as artificial flavorings for candies. As Henry is doing, you could study theoretical chemistry on the computer and then get a job either teaching or working in industry to develop new and innovative theoretical models to understand how organic chemistry reactions actually happen. If you’re good at theoretical chemistry, you could do anything. You could work for NASA developing material for space suits, rocket fuels, etc. Alternatively you could perform  wine chemistry at one of the wineries next door to Enchanted Hills Camp making some of the finest Cabernet sauvignon and Cabernet Franc wines in the world. Henry’s graduate chemistry will revolve around the chemistry of wine and olive oil. With the right adaptations, theoretical chemistry is completely accessible to a blind person without assistance. The motivation for the students is that a blind person is capable of embarking on all of these careers. 

In addition to having fun with Chemistry, Henry made sure there was time for students to get to know each other.  The students showcased talents, told each other jokes and shared stories about their frustration with an education system which discourages breaking through their comfort zones. Students got to collaborate during social time with students of the transition Summit, a program sponsored by the Lighthouse for the Blind of San Francisco where high school students receive guidance on the transition between school and work. This collaboration proved to be extremely fruitful. Friendships were formed in short order between these budding chemists, their mentors, and other students at camp. The California affiliate will be holding a fundraiser to ensure that similar weekend experiences continue.  We will be holding a live auction and pasta feed on June 12, 2011 at the Courtyard Marriott in Fairfield, California.  If you would like to buy tickets to the event or make a donation to future Chemistry Camps, please visit:
Congratulations to Our Braille Readers are Leaders Winners:
The results of the “Braille Readers are Leaders” contest are out.  This year, one of the students from the California School for the Blind was a big winner.  Jonathon Wong won $50.00 for reading the most pages of braille in his age category.  If you have a family in your area with a blind child in school, please tell them about the contest and try to encourage participation in next year event.

Wine Tasting Fundraiser for the Shasta Cascade Chapter:
On June 11, 2011 from 11:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. local wineries will be pouring samples at President Karen Steele’s home in Shingletown.  There will be craft booths.  Donation is $10.00.  30562 Withrow Road, Shingletown, CA, 96088
Phone:  530-474-3885

Catch Our Dreams:
On June 12, 2011we will hold a fundraising event for future Chemistry Camp opportunities in California.  We will auction off over $1,000.00 in merchandise while we feast on pasta.  Our entertainment for the afternoon will be a blind ventriloquist.  Tickets are only $25.00.  For more information and ticket orders go to where you will find directions and a more detailed flyer.

Mary Willows, President
39481 Gallaudet Drive Apt. 127
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 248-0100

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