When Heather Leiterman was a student at the Ohio State School for the Blind, her mother pushed for her to be taught Braille, the system of raised dots that can be read with the fingertips.

"It is just as useful as a pen and paper to a sighted person," she said.

However, school officials felt that little Heather, who had low vision due to glaucoma, still had sufficient sight to read magnified text, so she never learned Braille as a child.

By the time Leiterman, a former longtime resident of Clintonville who now lives in downtown Columbus, lost her vision completely at age 29, it was a little late in life to pick up the subtle skill needed to master Braille. Leiterman, now in her 40s, said her fingertips lack the sensitivity the language requires.

"Technically, I guess I'm functionally illiterate," Leiterman said.

To help prevent others from falling into the same category, Leiterman served last week as coordinator of the fifth annual Ohio Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Academy, held at her alma mater in Clintonville for blind and low-vision students ages 5-12 from throughout the state. It is a program of the National Federation of the Blind.

The Ohio BELL Academy targets blind and low-vision children who may not receive enough Braille and nonvisual skill instruction in school or who could benefit from summertime Braille enrichment, according to the federation's website.

The academy features crafts, games and other projects that emphasize the use of Braille and teach independent-living skills, as well as mentoring from blind adults and field trips.

As important as the intense Braille instruction and the introduction to technology are for the youngsters in the Ohio BELL program, Leiterman said, is the interaction they have with one another.

"Some of these kids are in public schools, and they never meet another blind kid," she said.

"The success is getting them here to participate in the program," added Michael Leiterman, Heather's husband, who helped to coordinate the academy. "The kids get, I hope, inspiration to hear that Heather and I have handled the world."

Michael Leiterman, an attorney, also is blind.

"What we want the students to get from it is we as blind adults live full lives," said Marianne Denning, a volunteer for the past four summers. "We try to do it in a fun way. We mix some fun with it."

"This population is so underserved in school," said Debbie Baker, a volunteer teacher from the Ohio BELL Academy's inception. "It's nice to see them interact with each other and give them social time because they're all on a level playing field."

Some of the half-dozen or so students, including one who traveled from Virginia, arrived already fairly proficient in Braille, while others hadn't been exposed to it much, Denning said.

"This opportunity is especially important for those students," she added.

"It was fun and exciting," said 9-year-old Kendon Sears, a Fayetteville resident. "We got to get ice cream. We got to see a fire truck, but it started raining.

"Sad face," he said, adding a verbal emoji.

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1