- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 31, 2002

You would have thought Peter Cottontail himself had made a surprise visit to the grounds of the Washington Monument yesterday the way children "hippity hopped" around on the lush grass in front of the Sylvan Theater hunting for Easter eggs.
Children of all ages squealed with delight and smiled as they searched for the colorful plastic eggs that had 25 cents to $1 attached to them during an annual Easter egg hunt for a special group of hunters those who have low vision or are blind.
The children, their parents and friends got to share in all the excitement and fun that makes Easter egg hunts a favorite holiday activity.
And all they had to do was follow the beeping sound. The specially designed eggs were equipped with a beeping device that made it possible for the blind children to find more than 55 eggs placed around the Sylvan Theater grounds.
That was no biggie for Doug Strobel, who collected $4 in change during the two-hour event. The 13-year-old who attends Baker Middle School in Manassas has such a keen sense of hearing that he can differentiate the sounds of the 25-cent egg and a $1 egg, he said.
Naturally, Doug searched out the $1 eggs.
"You've just got to listen to the sound of each egg," he said while seated at a nearby picnic table on a break before getting back into the egg-hunting fray.
The 24th annual Easter Egg Hunt for Visually Impaired Children was sponsored by the U.S. Park Police and the Telephone Pioneers of America. More than 40 children crawled around on the grass picking up eggs, counting up their winnings and congratulating themselves.
Emmie Mike, a member of the Telephone Pioneers of America, looked on and smiled.
Ms. Mike, president of the Verizon Telephone Pioneers for the Washington Metropolitan Area, said it's important that visually impaired children feel just as special as the children who will attend the annual White House Easter Egg Roll tomorrow with President Bush.
Ms. Mike, who lives in Prince George's County, said the idea of the beeping egg came from another event the Telephone Pioneers of America sponsor "Beep Ball" softball for blind children.
The egg hunt wasn't exclusively for blind children, Ms. Mike said. Parents, brothers and sisters who are sighted could try finding the Easter eggs, but they had to cover their eyes, so that no one had an unfair advantage, she said.
"The siblings wear the blindfolds so that they can experience the loss of sight and hopefully increase their sensitivity" toward the blind, she said.
Because the event wasn't limited to children, some adults showed up to test their skills at finding eggs. Diane Ducharme, 33, and her husband, Alfred, 35, joined the group of excited hunters.
The couple from Alexandria brought along their 16-month-old son, Benjamin, so he could enjoy the hunt from his stroller. Plus, he got a great gift an Easter basket chock full of chocolate bunnies, marshmallow peeps and gourmet jelly beans, thanks to the Telephone Pioneers of America. All of the children who came to the hunt got to take home Easter baskets wrapped in brightly colored cellophane with lots of goodies.
Mrs. Ducharme, who works at the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind in Northwest, said the event is the best. Both husband and wife are blind, but Benjamin, the toddler, can see.
"This gives blind and visually impaired children an opportunity to participate in a traditional event. All children should be able to participate, and this gives the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind a chance to bring the children out for a fun day," Mrs. Ducharme said.
Her husband agreed.
"This is a wonderful place. It's the center of it all [with the museums and the Cherry Blossom Festival under way], and the U.S. Park Police are here [on horseback]," Mr. Ducharme said.
Before the Easter egg hunt ended, a special little girl found the "golden egg," the one egg that wins the special prize: a Beep Ball.
Rachel Tippett, 3, dressed in a pink windbreaker and pants, used her keen hearing skills to seek out the "golden egg." Of course, she got a little help from her mom, Angela.
"I followed the beeps, listened with my ears. Mommy helped me to find the 'golden egg,'" Rachel whispered.
Mrs. Tippett, 37, who lives in Crofton, Md., with her husband, Henry, 30, and Rachel's twin sister, Reanne, 3, who can see, all came out to celebrate the Easter holidays along with extended family members. This is the second year the Tippett family has come out to the Easter egg hunt.
"It's great that they have an events like this for the blind. There should be more," Mrs. Tippett said.
The family attends all types of events that she participates in, but there should be far more events that everyone can attend and support Rachel.
Rachel's special, her mother said.
"We don't live far from a fire house, and Rachel tells me when the fire trucks are moving. She's just got a keen sense of hearing, and she's got a keen sense of touch," Mrs. Tippett said.

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