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COMPUTER CAMP HELPS CHILDREN TELL THEIR TALES Some with disabilities find a way of expression


Melissa Silverman suffers from Down's syndrome, a condition that makes it impossible for her to tell a story via the written word. But Melissa recently created a tale when she attended a special computer camp.

By guiding a mouse across a computer screen, Melissa sketched her story in a sequence of pictures. The story was about a barnyard located next to a jungle.

Melissa used the computer during a two-week camp given by the Learning Independence Through Computers (LINC) center in South Baltimore.

Melissa, 10, was among a dozen or so youngsters who attended a session of the camp. Some of the campers have disabilities and others do not. The children learn from each other as they share the computers.

"Computers can help put disabled people on an equal footing with somebody else," said Mary Salkever, executive director of LINC, which is located in the old Southern District police station on Ostend Street.

This summer, LINC sponsored two computer camps. The year-old center is part of a national network of 46 offices that train disabled children and adults to function in society.

Computer technology has been developed especially for the disabled. A dental plate that can activated by movement of the tongue is now available along with a headband that activates a computer with a beam of light.

For its blind participants, the LINC center has a computer that is voice activated and speaks back, Ms. Salkever said.

The LINC network prides itself on being a grass-roots movement that was started through the Alliance for Technological Access in Albany, Calif.

Ms. Salkever is a former teacher in the Boston school system who later worked for Head Start and the Maryland Committee for Children. She has a 21-year-old daughter, Tammy, who is multiply handicapped.

"She uses a computer, and I've seen how it has helped her -- she has a problem writing and this has made it much easier," Ms. Salkever said.

Tammy became legally blind and developed cerebral palsy after being born pre-maturely, Ms. Salkever said. Tammy's twin sister, Katya, who is not disabled, also works at the LINC center.

The summer computer camps were modeled after similar programs in Denver and Santa Monica. They feature comic strip writing, creative art work, a challenge to create a symphony by computer and an assignment to put together a camp newspaper.

"This promotes self esteem -- there is no way to fail," Ms. Salkever said. "Some of the kids have had failures in school, but here, everybody wins."

Winnie Levinson, mother of a 13-year-old with vision and hearing impairments, said her son, Lee, benefited from the camp.

"He's not the kind of kid who can go run and play baseball," Ms. Levinson said. "It's a personal achievement when he works on the computer. He sits in that small space and works one on one."

Next winter, more computer camps will be offered, and this fall a Teach for Tots program will start at the LINC center for children ages 2 through 7.

The LINC organization charges $30 for a membership and will sponsor a fund-raiser on Oct. 28 at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

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