FRANKIE BEER, Evergreen Photographer January 18, 2022
When 15-year-old Caleb Hyndman first became involved with Courageous Kids Climbing, he never imagined he would lead his own program, training first responders to work with blind and visually impaired individuals.
Caleb’s grandmother, Cynda Hyndman, said CKC reinforces the idea that children with special needs are capable while educating and fostering understanding for first responders.
“They certainly were seeing [the children] in a new light and realizing we might have to make some accommodations,” Cynda said.
On Saturday, Caleb taught first responders to walk properly alongside blind people using his personal experience and the knowledge of Earl Hoover, assistive technologist at the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
In one activity, Caleb walked with participants before and after giving them instructions, demonstrating the correct way to do so. He said first responders should never take a blind person by the elbow or hand because “that’s weird.” Instead, first responders should allow a blind person to grasp their elbow.
Caleb also stressed the importance of verbal communication. A blind child will not be able to see that an officer is in uniform and might become frightened. Using general descriptions of obstacles in one’s path such as, “there is a hole over there” is also considered unhelpful.
“They have to know what to do in certain situations, and doing it incorrectly could result in a turnaround situation that makes it worse,” Caleb said.
CKC founder Jeff Riechmann said the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired will consider offering Caleb’s Cops and the Blind program statewide.
Cynda said Caleb is the only person at his school with significant vision issues, but CKC connects children with similar experiences to form a community and build their confidence.
This year, Riechmann’s nonprofit organization worked toward expanding programs for visually impaired children and spreading the word about CKC’s unique opportunities for people with special needs. Riechmann said CKC is one of the only organizations in the U.S. that provides activities like rock climbing and ice skating for people with physical and intellectual disabilities.
“That’s a lot of why we’re trying to empower these people: to show them that they can do things that other people can do,” Riechmann said. “Yeah, we might have to help you a little, but we can make that happen.”
Although the pandemic often prevented children from engaging in CKC’s events, the organization gained 256 participants this year, according to its newsletter.
CKC will host its next event on Jan. 29 in McCall, Idaho. Children with special needs will have the opportunity to skate with Boise State University’s hockey team, with the help of specialized lifting equipment, Riechmann said.
Riechmann said purchasing new equipment and covering travel expenses is difficult because 100% of donations and funds go toward conducting the organization’s events.
CKC will kick off this year’s fundraising efforts with a series of events called “Keg Climbin’,” according to the newsletter. The project will begin with a raffle from the end of January to August, offering trips like a jet boat tour through Hells Canyon. CKC will also visit local establishments throughout Idaho, where a portion of sales profits will go toward CKC.
As Riechmann traveled around the Pacific Northwest, he said more and more people recognize CKC, which he describes as both “bizarre” and “amazing.”
“My biggest goal is to just get the word out to more and more kids,” Riechmann said. “Get more and more kids involved in this and show them that they’re no different than anybody else.”