Students in Central Texas with visual impairments met this week to showcase the assistive technology they use in school at the Education Service Center Region 12’s annual Technology Olympics.
About 61 students with visual impairments from local school districts including Killeen, Belton, Lampasas and Temple met in Waco to participate in the event, which gave the students a chance to socialize and participate in friendly, competitive events focused on the use of assistive technology.
“Many people don’t realize just how far assistive technology has come,” said Melba Bunch, Region 12 education specialist. “They get a chance to see how these kids are learning.”
This year, students used equipment including Braille writers, slates and styluses, abacuses and magnifiers, even iPads. These tools make either writing or reading a more manageable task for visually impaired students.
“These kinds of technology are becoming more portable and accessible to students,” Bunch said. “They are able to get information, like reading emails or getting online, just like other students.”
In its 17th year, the event is for children in kindergarten through high school, with many choosing to return for multiple years.
Stephanie Lee, 26, of Waco, said she first attended the event in the third grade and continued to participate through her senior year in high school. Visually impaired since birth, Lee came back this year to speak with students.
“I talked to them about how I got where I am,” said Lee, who graduated from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and now works as a producer and on-air talent for a Waco radio station. “I told them that you can achieve anything you set your mind to if you work hard and have perseverance.”
Lee said she was amazed at how far assistive technology has advanced in her lifetime.
“When I started kindergarten in 1992, I had to lug a huge clunky, 10- to 20-pound Braille machine around,” she said. “Now the technology continues to get lighter, more compact and easier to use.”
She pointed to the increasing use of consumer products like the iPhone, iPad, electronic readers and laptop computers by children and adults with visual impairments.
“The changes are drastic,” she said. “You can use things that most other people use.”