By Taylor Burgess
Oak Mountain Intermediate School fourth-grader Rachel Hyche admits she is independent.
“The first words I ever said were ‘I want to do it by myself,'” she said.
Hyche is also a visually impaired student, but if anything, this has made her more determined to do things herself, she said.
On April 5, the annual Beeping Easter Egg Hunt at Triple S Farms in Wilsonville gave Hyche an opportunity to do just that. At the hunt, Hyche and other visually impaired children search for electronic eggs that emit sounds so the children can find them.
“Having that egg hunt means that I can find the eggs on my own without having to ask, ‘Hey, can anyone help me find these?'” she said.
This year’s hunt is not the first Hyche has attended.
“I’ve been going since I was 3,” she said.
David Hyche, Rachel’s father and the Region IV representative for the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments, is one of the hunt’s main supporters and founders.
“The first year we did a hunt, Rachel was about 18 months old, and I was at church helping plan Easter events for the kids,” he said. “I thought, ‘Rachel’s not going to enjoy searching for eggs and finding them with her hands.'”
So that his daughter could participate in holiday events with other children, David began to look for alternatives.
“I started searching on the Internet,” he said. “I found a gentleman in Los Angeles who was making beeping eggs, and that’s how we got started.”
As a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, David is involved with the construction of the beeping eggs and helped spread the idea nationally.
“I’m the president of the Alabama Chapter of the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators,” he said. “I was at a regional conference, and during the break I showed slides of kids doing the beeping egg hunt. A man from the audience approached me and offered for the IABTI to take on the project.”
The annual beeping egg construction project, named “The Rachel Project” in honor of Rachel Hyche, will supply eggs for hunts in four different Alabama locations this year. This includes the Wilsonville hunt, which was held in support of the Alabama Association for the Deaf and Blind and the Alabama Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments.
“The IABTI voted to sponsor the construction of the eggs for $10,000 a year,” David said. “It’s spread all over the country. This year we added the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts and schools in Pennsylvania. We add new schools every year.”
This year on March 7, Rachel and David took advantage of a special opportunity. Rachel and her teacher, Stephanie Hardwick-Goldblatt, visited the ATF National Center for Explosives Training and Research in Huntsville to help construct the beeping eggs.
“We had an Alabama chapter meeting of the IABTI and, after the meeting, any of the participants that wanted to could construct a beeping egg,” David said. “We had classrooms and tables set up with soldering irons and all the tools you need.”
During the visit, Rachel had an opportunity to speak to the volunteers.
“Rachel spoke a little bit about what it means to be blind,” David said. “She demonstrated her Braille writer and electronic accessibility devices.”
Rachel said she enjoyed the chance to show the devices she uses every day to communicate.
“When I made the speech, I typed something on my Braille writer and then gave it to my teacher, who started grading it,” she said.
Hardwick-Goldblatt said she also saw the visit as an educational opportunity for Rachel.
“When she’s in science class, we talk about circuits and build them hand over hand,” Hardwick-Goldblatt said. “Rachel now says, ‘I know how to do this because I built my Easter eggs.’ She basically taught me herself.”
Hardwick-Goldblatt, an orientation mobility specialist, works with Rachel daily to improve her student’s access to education.
“I teach her to travel independently in her school environment and community,” Hardwick-Goldblatt said. “We also work on Braille for math and science.”
Hardwick-Goldblatt said she feels the Shelby County school system is especially well-equipped to help students like Rachel.
“We’re lucky to have four vision teachers on staff in Shelby County, as a lot of other counties don’t have that,” Hardwick-Goldblatt said.
During the NCETR visit, Hardwick-Goldblatt watched Rachel assert her independence.
“She was quality control,” Hardwick-Goldblatt said. “She wasn’t afraid to tell someone if the wiring was incorrect or if they were building it wrong.”
The student and teacher were also able to take advantage of the facility for Rachel’s personal development, Hardwick-Goldblatt said.
“We did some orientation mobility work in the building,” Hardwick-Goldblatt said. “When she enters a new place, she has the skills to find her way around, as there won’t always be someone there she can ask for help.”
Her father said the trip to the facility was great for Rachel in many ways.
“The building up there is enormous,” David said. “She was able to use her cane to travel around, which was good for her mobility training.”
At the egg hunts, the independent mobility Rachel practiced at the NCETR facility is encouraged.
“The whole point is to allow them to do it independently,” David said. “We cordon off an area of about 100 square yards at the farm and put out about 50 or 60 eggs.”
After the eggs are placed, volunteers turn the sound on and release the children into the area.
“The kids who are partially sighted have to wear blindfolds,” David said. “Their sighted siblings can participate, too, but they also have to wear blindfolds. This gives them an idea of what their sibling deals with.”
According to David, families who attend the egg hunts come for the fellowship.
“It’s just a fun day for the families and not a fundraiser or anything like that,” he said. “We also have a cookout.”
With the food and the rest of the hunt, the Shelby County community has been strongly supportive, he said.
“(Shelby County) Sheriff (Chris) Curry and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department have always supported us,” David said. “They put a car on the road for us, and Sheriff Curry and his wife come out and serve food.”
The North Shelby Baptist Church has supported the event from the start, David said.
“They provide a lot of the labor and the candy—we exchange beeping eggs for candy eggs with them,” he said.
Rachel said she is also thankful for the community’s support.
“Our church did a really good job helping us with the hunt, and Sheriff Curry was also a big help,” she said.
While the beeping eggs help create an enjoyable day for families and the community, the eggs may continue to serve visually impaired children in different ways, David said.
“Teachers for the blind around the country are using the eggs to teach children location skills year-round, not just for Easter,” he said. “With the help of independent volunteers, I hope the project will continue to grow.”
For more information about the Alabama Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments, call David Hyche at 583-5972.