Learning Assistive Technology is “Like Sitting Down with a Violin”

Across the country, February is Black History Month, and—for the students in Louisiana Tech University’s hybrid course on braille and assistive technology, it’s also the month of their in-person practicum.

“We walked in, and we all said, ‘I feel like I know you, but this is the first time that I get to be with you in person,'” said Kim Cool, MA, who is working on her certificate in teaching blind students. “It was great just being able to interact with people in class and make connections.”

On Saturday, the students observed and helped with Saturday Club, a monthly event for blind and low-vision youth in the northern Louisiana area. This two-hour gathering is designed to be fun and educational for parents and students to practice their braille, cane travel, and self-advocacy skills.

“I hope the online students will observe the high expectations for independence that we have for our students,” said Sheena Manuel, MA, NCLB, who coordinates the events. “I hope they can see how we have differentiated instruction for students on all levels.”

After reading braille stories about famous African Americans, making a lunch in honor of George Washington Carver, and creating tactile Olympic rings, the students wrote letters to the President and First Lady in braille.

“Teachers around the country should host these activities to faciliatate and promote family orientated activities for blind/visually impaired students,” Manuel said. “These activities help everyone in the family understand and experience how blindness can be reduced to a nuisance if training and positive attitudes are present. It also opens doors for our kids and expose them to positive blind role models and different ways to complete everyday tasks.”

Hands-on assistive technology workshops

After learning about assistive technology and discussing frequently-used JAWS commands throughout the quarter, this weekend was the first time that some students had ever put their hands on a braille note taker or used a screen reader.

“I was a little unsure—not intimidated or scared—about the technology,” said Martin Pardue who lives in Ruston. “It’s like sitting down with a violin for the first time; you don’t know what you’re doing until someone points you in right direction. You can’t just figure that out on your own very quickly or easily.”

Pardue, who is teaching blind and low-vision students in Ouachita Parish with a provision license this spring, said the in-person training helped him to get more comfortable with assistive technologies.

“It helps to know that even when you can’t see the screen, you still know what you’re typing,” he said. “Or to know that a braille note-taker is just like a computer with different buttons.”

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Corbb O'Connor
Corbb, a blind entrepreneur, coordinates the outreach and marketing efforts for the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University as an independent consultant.

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