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Forging the Braille Trail in St. Augustine

Mar 19, 2015
by Laura Smith, Photo by Sarah Williamson, '13

Cody Kirchner lost his vision as a small child, and he knows how intimidating it can be to be a blind person in a sighted world. Once, when the Flagler College senior was still in high school, a teacher in a mobility class gave him the task of finding his way home — alone — in a crowded city. The assignment demanded that he navigate pedestrian crossings and public transportation.

But Kirchner — a shrewd thinker with a quick smile — had other plans.

“I called a cab,” he said, laughing. “I may have failed the assignment, but I got home.”

Kirchner has now used his experience to not only help others navigate, but also participate in the art and culture of St. Augustine. Blind visitors have always been at a disadvantage when it comes to exploring the city’s history, art and architecture. So Kirchner and several of his peers at Flagler worked on a project to change that.  

As part of a class assignment developed in Assistant Professor of History Kelly Enright’s Heritage and Tourism class last year, a group of students partnered with the St. Augustine Art Association to improve the ability of blind people to enjoy several historic sculptures around the city, including the iconic statue of Henry M. Flagler at the gates of the former Hotel Ponce de Leon.

Through the TOUCH St. Augustine Braille Trail project, Braille plaques have been placed at the site of each sculpture, with each plaque offering a “visual” description of the artwork that helps the blind understand the subject depicted in the artwork.

Flagler student Elijah Tietjen researched and wrote historical narratives about the figures represented in the sculptures. Then Madeline Krouse, ‘14, worked with Kirchner to develop visual descriptions that would make sense to blind people.

“I wanted to phrase the descriptions in a way that would help them visualize what’s represented,” Kirchner said.  

Kirchner, an Oklahoma native, will graduate this spring with a degree in History. He plans to start a career as a teacher to non-sighted children.  

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