APH Huntington partnered with the West Virginia Children’s Vision Rehabilitation Program (CVRP) to present a Technology Camp in Charleston, West Virginia. Principally centered upon technology instruction and enriched by opportunities to address orientation and mobility, independent living, self-help, socialization, and transition issues, this three-day educational experience served 30 blind and low-vision students from across West Virginia. APH Huntington and CVRP offered three camp strands designed to address specific vision and learning needs:
• Strand One addressed low-vision students and was presented by CVRP staff.
• Strand Two addressed students best served by iOS VoiceOver training. It was presented by Darren Burton, nationally recognized access technology expert and former Accessibility Specialist at Yahoo!.
• Strand Three addressed braille readers best served by APH Mantis Braille Display training. It was presented by William Freeman, APH Mantis Product Manager; Katie Frederick, APH VisionAware Digital Content Manager; and Lee Huffman, APH Senior Strategist for Accessible Technology and Community Outreach.
A Participant and Instructor Reflect
As shared by one Technology Camp participant: “Technology Camp gave me opportunities that I thought I would never have. I have wanted an iPad for many years. Unfortunately, that was never possible until now due to financial restrictions. During camp, I learned how to use different programs to help me with my visual needs. That was a dream come true, and I made new friends. I can continue to communicate with them using my iPad.”
Strand Two presenter Darren Burton shares decades of technical experience with the students who attended the co-sponsored technology camp, but he says the camp isn’t all about gadgets. It’s also about teaching life skills.
“Since I retired five years ago, I have had the chance to work directly with visually impaired students and their teachers and parents, and one thing I have noticed is a lack of independence and general savviness. Without the independence technology creates, visually impaired students can feel isolated and woefully dependent on others, struggling to gain the confidence to prosper,” says Darren.
Preparing Students for Employment
He continued. “Technology skills are an absolute must for successful employment. At work, there is no one there to hold your hand and help you use or troubleshoot your computer, so you better be an expert.”
Darren is very much in tune with and able to relate to the students who attended the technology camp; he lost his vision as a young adult. Darren has focused his efforts on helping improve the accessibility of technology for those with disabilities, and this camp was one way he continues teaching and training others.
“This was a tech camp where we provided iPads to some participants and refreshable braille displays to others, and we also provided training in using those devices,” says Darren. “As a retired techie who is also blind, I played the role of a mentor and trainer. I did the initial setup of all the braille displays and provided training on how to use the iPad’s VoiceOver screen reader.”
Preparing Students for College
Darren says this camp, and others APH plans to hold, are vital for students’ future success.
“Although college prep was not the camp’s main focus, solid tech skills are an absolute must for college students with visual impairments,” says Darren. “Without them, the student has zero chance of success in college. In addition to receiving basic and advanced training, the participants at this camp now have the foundation to continually improve those skills.”
Preparing Students for Independent Living
Darren also shared how the camp emphasizes leeway for attendees to make mistakes and find their own ways. The camp encompassed everything from simple tasks like teaching students to pack their clothes or set an alarm clock to skills needed to live independently.
One camper shared, “I love the camp because it helps those of us who are blind become more self-sufficient. I no longer have to borrow my neighbor’s eyes when I want to order groceries online.”
While the camp does provide critical knowledge for future education and employment, Darren explained that it also provides tools for relaxation and fun, such as technology-driven books, movies, games, and more.
One last benefit of the camp was allowing the students to learn from each other. “The use of the tech was contagious. When less tech-savvy participants observed others using the tech and talking about how they use it, those less savvy students were encouraged to push themselves and try a bit harder,” Said Darren. “Often, that extra bit of effort makes all the difference!”