On a warm Saturday afternoon in April, children search for large, plastic eggs in the grass beside the pavilion of the Holiday Trav-L-Park campgrounds in Virginia Beach. But instead of searching for the eggs with their eyes, these children use their ears. The eggs emit a constant chirping sound, making it easier for children with vision impairments to take part in a cherished childhood ritual—hunting for Easter eggs.
The hollow blue, yellow and red plastic eggs contain a simple circuit that, when a button is pressed on the outside, sends out a loud beeping noise. Guided by the sound coming from the eggs, children with vision impairments can seek them on their own, rather than relying on verbal cues from a family member, or, worse, not getting the chance to hunt for eggs at all.
The Audible Egg Hunt, the first of its kind in Virginia, was started by Irene Conlin of Virginia Beach, whose daughter Elizabeth lost her sight to a rare syndrome called septo-optic dysplasia. Since 2010, children with low or no vision and their families have traveled from across Coastal Virginia, the Eastern Shore and eastern North Carolina to take part in the annual event. The egg hunt is sponsored by local Lions Clubs, including the Thalia Lions Club, of which Conlin is a member, and the Virginia Beach Town Center Blind Lions Club, to which her daughter Elizabeth belongs. Lions Club International is a service organization with a long history of supporting individuals with vision impairments.
The seed of an idea for the Audible Egg Hunt was planted when Conlin met Donald D. Noha, master police officer and hazardous devices technician with the Virginia Beach Police Bomb Squad. Noha had learned about audible Easter eggs during a training session at Fort A.P. Hill, and he decided to use his knowledge of circuitry to devise a prototype. In 2009 he took that prototype to Virginia Beach Public Schools and was connected with Conlin.
The annual Audible Egg Hunt is open to all children with vision impairments. Sighted siblings and family members can also take part by donning blindfolds to hunt for the eggs so they can experience what it’s like to live with a vision problem. Adults with vision issues, especially those who may never have gotten the chance to hunt for Easter eggs, are also welcome to participate. Frances Durham, who was born with vision problems and gradually lost all of her vision as a teen, has enjoyed taking part in the hunt in the past. “It gives people with vision problems that experience,” she says. “It’s wonderful that kids or adults with vision problems don’t have to sit on the sidelines.”
The Virginia Beach Town Center Blind Lions Club put together goodie bags to give to the kids after they find the eggs. Prizes include tactile toys such as nubby bouncy balls, toy cars, messages written in Braille, and, of course, candy. “If the prizes aren’t interesting to touch, the kids aren’t going to enjoy them,” Conlin explains.
A young blind boy begins his first-ever Easter egg hunt by following the audible
beeping sound from inside the eggs.
The 9-volt battery powers the beeping mechanism.
A young girl joins the search relying only on the sense of sound by wearing a thick
mask encouraged for families and friends to join the hunt.
Other games are played using sound as a guide—seen here a man taps a stick on
the cornhole board to help guide the person throwing bags.
Goodie bags for participants include prizes that are interesting to touch.
Volunteers including members of local Lions Clubs, which sponsor the event, show
off the colorful assortment of eggs.
The very same eggs used in the Virginia Beach Audible Egg Hunt are also used during the White House Easter egg hunt. Noha drives the eggs to Washington, D.C, where they are X-rayed before being spread across the White House lawn. Noha estimates that an average of 20–25 kids take part every year hunting for the audible eggs. “Some families with blind or low-vision children have no idea this will even be an option before they get there,” says Noha. “Then they are delighted to find out that all of their children can hunt for eggs, including those who may have vision problems.”
Conlin’s daughter was 16 years old when she took part in the first Audible Egg Hunt in 2010, and Conlin will never forget the joy and excitement she felt. She wants all parents of children with vision impairments to feel those same emotions, which is what keeps her motivated to organize the event every year. “Sometimes we take this wonderful thing called vision for granted,” Conlin says. “The Audible Egg Hunt is a way for all kids to just be kids, including kids with vision issues.”
For more information about events across the state for children with vision impairments, follow the Virginia Association for Parents of Children with Vision Impairments on Facebook.