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Resident talks to students about his life without sight

HUGHESVILLE — Kelley Sprout, who is legally blind, came close to being struck by a vehicle recently while trying to cross at Main and Walnut streets here.

Sprout, 50, spoke Thursday to ninth-through-12th grade students who were enrolled in an innovation center class at Hughesville Junior-Senior High School, his alma mater.

He spoke candidly about the ordeal and offered tips and suggestions so they could get to know what visually-impaired and blind individuals go through in life.

“So, here comes the ambulance,” he said, of the accident, which took place about two weeks ago.

“They thought I was injured, but I was looking for my cane tip,” he said. “I just got that.”

Grateful for the quick response from borough police and the ambulance personnel, Sprout said he was not certain if the woman driving the vehicle had veered into his path, but the tire on the car came into contact with his cane tip and it broke.

“I must listen for traffic,” he said.

Sometimes, he noted, other pedestrians will tell him when to cross, but the borough isn’t too populated with people out walking.

“I would like to have audible signals,” he said, adding he understood that might be too cost prohibitive and told borough council about his request. The street is one managed by the state Department of Transportation (PennDOT).

Sprout’s challenge to walk across a street doesn’t end with vehicles going one way or the other. He has no ability to see a vehicle’s turn signal.

Heightening his concern are those who honk or yell for him to “watch out for that tree,” including other insults.

Instead, Sprout encouraged the students to take a look at the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and to read the law.

While at Hughesville High School, his fondest memories are of former school teacher Fred Springman, a special education teacher, and of joining the band and playing instruments, first under the guidance of band director Michael Hutton and then with Samuel Arnone.

Arnone, he said, was supportive and told him he could pick up a piece of music and learn to play a clarinet or other instrument by feel.

Devices for the blind also help to add to Sprout’s day.

He showed the students his digital talking book player with several buttons on it.

He demonstrated its navigation menu, which included but was not limited to, sound up and down, tone and speed, and other nifty helper buttons.

The other tools he brought included a calculator that spoke back to him and a hand-held device that could inform him of the color of his shirt.

He put it up to his shirt and the voice indicated it was blue.

Sprout’s positive attitude was inspiring to the students who listened.

“I want people to know I am here,” he said.

Sprout said he was not always blind.

For much of his youth he had scant vision in both eyes, about 5 percent in each eye, or enough to ride a bicycle.

But retinal degeneration worsened over time.

He initially was sent to the Overbrook School for the Blind in a section of Philadelphia, before attending school in the East Lycoming School District. He was the 1988 senior of the year in his graduating class.

He worked in various factories and for a while with the North Central Sight Services. His hobbies include being an amateur radio operator.

Before leaving, Sprout played what sounded like the school’s alma mater. His arms rose up as a conductor’s would.

“I want to speak to others about blindness — educate them,” he said.

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