The “look, but don’t touch” rule at the Fort Lauderdale Antique Car Museum was briefly suspended on a recent Tuesday morning.
Wearing white gloves to protect the automobiles, about 20 visiting teens ran their hands over the massive, luxurious Packard automobiles. They poked the 2-foot tires, caressed the leather seats and palmed the steering wheels twice the size of their heads.
“It’s really interesting because I can see the differences, and a few similarities, compared to cars today by touching them,” said Silvio Plata, 15. “It’s almost as if I had eyes and was able to see the structure, and I can get an idea of what they had back then.”
Silvio and the other teens, visiting from the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, listened as assistants described the dozens of cars lined around the shop so that through their senses of touch and hearing, they could “see” the vehicles for themselves.
The museum visit was part of the organization’s transition program that aims to prepare teens for future job opportunities, said Carol Brady-Simmons, the chief program officer. It also places a special focus on independent living and communication skills one needs for employment and college.
“Someone who is blind can do anything a sighted person can do. They just have to do it differently,” she said. “But it’s really important that these kids get blind and technical skills at an early age so they can be included in society.”
The antique car museum was just one of many field trips the group takes to teach the kids about different industries, Brady-Simmons added. They have visited the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center, a Costco Wholesale store and a Florida Panthers hockey clinic, Brady-Simmons said.
Bob Jacko, chief restoration officer for the Fort Lauderdale Antique Car Museum, welcomed the group with a brief history lesson about the cars, some of which date to 1908.
Packard cars were all custom built by hand, which was why they were so expensive, Jacko told the teens. He explained how much work went into creating these nearly 5,000 pound metal beasts and how the museum has maintained them all these years, which spurred a lot of questions.
“How loud is the engine?”
“How fast can it go?”
“How much gas can it hold, and what gas do you even put in it?”
“How do you keep these cars so shiny?!”
Jacko answered all of them with ease while also providing visual descriptions of the cars, such as size, color, varying parts and design.
Virginia Jacko, the president of Miami Lighthouse and Bob Jacko’s wife, said it’s vital to speak with blind and visually impaired persons the same as you would anyone else, so it’s easier for them to assimilate into society.
She said that when people see someone with a cane or seeing-eye dog, they often attempt to communicate with them through another person, instead of speaking directly with the blind person.
Miami Lighthouse’s program has a “huge impact on thousands of children’s lives,” she said, because it teaches them how to effectively communicate with others and actively include themselves.
“Just to see them grow and learn how to advocate for themselves, it makes us so proud of them,” said Virginia Jacko, who completely lost her vision a few years ago.
The teen program, which currently has 42 members, brings children together from schools across Miami-Dade County, not only to learn these fundamental skills, but to also meet others who are blind or visually impaired.
Kaden Jamid, 13, said he was the only blind student at his middle school. A self-proclaimed social butterfly, blindness didn’t stop Kaden from making friends and interacting with other students, but he said he loves being surrounded by others like him at Miami Lighthouse.
“It’s very fun to hang out with a bunch of people and meet new people who, more or less, have the same disability that I have,” Kaden said. “When I come here, I’m not alone.”
Silvio and Kaden, who both lost their eyesight to cancer at a very young age, have been with Miami Lighthouse since they were babies and agreed that they would not be where they are today without it.
“With Miami Lighthouse, you have an ocean of opportunities that no other person would have,” Silvio said. “You have to be very special to come here, and that’s what Miami Lighthouse has given us — a unique experience.”