Assistive Technology Provides Independence for
Blind High School Student
by: Becky Lovett
Trevor Saunders is a gifted mathematician working at honors levels in both math and science at Central High School in the Hopewell Valley Regional School District. An 18-year-old high school senior, he is currently enrolled in three advanced placement courses and tutors other students in chemistry. He recently became an Eagle Scout by completing a project to make the Watershed Nature Conservancy in Hopewell Township accessible for the blind. Last summer he went on a service project with a school group to
Trevor’s Early Years
Trevor has accomplished all of this despite being blind. He had been visually impaired until his freshman year in high school, when he lost his remaining functional vision and became blind. He had received services from the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired from an early age and had been introduced to the computer as a tool for academics. He had been reluctant to learn Braille even though consultants from the Commission for the Blind had anticipated that he would need to use it one day. After he lost his vision totally, the first form of help he accepted was tutoring on the use of JAWS screen reading software (Freedom Scientific). JAWS can read aloud everything on a computer monitor – menus, sub-menus, dialog boxes, and icons, as well as text – and provides complete access to computers and the internet for people who cannot see. Trevor maintained his grades and above grade level academic standing using JAWS while he learned Braille.
In the succeeding years, Trevor adapted to his condition by learning not only literary Braille, but also the Nemeth code for Braille math. Now that Trevor has lived for almost four years with total blindness, he has also learned independent orientation and mobility skills using a white-tipped cane.
Providing Access to
Trevor receives support services three days a week from Mrs. Marilyn Winograd, a teacher of the blind, who was hired by the school district. She converts his printed assignments into accessible formats – either digital format or Braille. She translates assignments into Braille using a Perkins Brailler or scans them into a computer using Kurzweil 1000 (Kurzweil Educational Systems). She then uses Duxbury software (Duxbury Systems Inc.) to translate them into Braille. From Duxbury they are sent to a Versaport Duo TSI Embosser (Freedom Scientific) for Braille embossing. Kurzweil 1000 is also used to scan assignments for use in digital format. The Hopewell Valley Lion’s Club donated the Braille embosser to Trevor as part of their commitment to serve people with visual impairments in their community.
Classroom teachers bring assignments to Mrs. Winograd if they are not yet in digital format. However, in order to encourage Trevor’s independence, teachers provide him with any work that is available as a Microsoft Word file. They either email it to him as an attachment or save it to his USB flash drive. Trevor then uses JAWS screen reading software to read the file aloud. He carries a laptop computer provided by the school district with him throughout the school day. In class, he uses one ear piece to listen to JAWS while simultaneously listening to the teacher and the lecture.
Providing Reading Materials in Alternate Formats
Mrs. Winograd orders all of Trevor’s textbooks in Braille from the Braille production center of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. For literature reading assignments she borrows digital books – CDs in DAISY format from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D). Trevor listens to the CD’s using a portable reading device calles the Victor Reader Vibe (HumanWare).
For math Trevor prefers to use Microsoft Excel with JAWS. He has audio graphing calculator software (ViewPlus Technologies) and MathTalk (Metroplex Voice Computing, Inc), which is voice recognition software for Scientific Notebook (MacKichan) that can interface with Duxbury and be sent to his Braille embosser. However, he has chosen not to use this method. He also only rarely uses his Orion Talking Scientific calculator. Trevor is more familiar with the command structure of Excel and likes that he can just type in what to do and not have to press so many buttons.
Independent and Heading to College
In the years since his school district has employed a teacher of the blind to work with him, Trevor has become independent while in class and for a substantial portion of his learning tasks. He regularly makes honor roll with a schedule that includes three advanced placement courses. I have watched as he used a Dell laptop computer with JAWS screen reading software to produce an English assignment and print it out completely independently. He asked for help only to identify his paper from a stack of papers he had retrieved from a network printer on the other side of the library. He had chosen the correct printer from two or three in a bank. He traversed the library, brought the stack of papers back to me and then returned those that were not his back to the printer across the library.
Trevor has clearly benefited from the team approach in his school district. His success is partially due to teachers who have recognized his potential and embraced his need to use technology to complete his schoolwork. He is currently awaiting admissions decisions from top level colleges around the region. With his rigorous academic preparation, his strong technology and self-advocacy skills, and his determination to be independent, he will certainly be successful in college.
Becky Lovett is an Occupational Therapist in the Hopewell Valley Regional School District and an alumna of The College of New Jersey (M.S. in Educational Technology).