Collection: Technology for Students Who are Visually Impaired

Adam's Story

Patricia Corley, NCIP staff

Adam Linn is a junior at Harvard University majoring in economics. Upon meeting Adam, I was struck by his friendly manner, his verbal facility and his easy-going charm. We walked up to Harvard Square and talked over a cup of coffee.

Adam lost his sight in 4th grade and his schooling in the next few years changed dramatically. He had been attending a catholic school that had no services for the blind and so transferred to a public school in Boston. In fifth and sixth grade, Adam recalls being pulled out of the classroom for a good part of each day receiving specialized instruction in braille and mobility. He was taught these skills by Mr. Jackson, an itinerant vision specialist who worked with Adam throughout his years in the Boston Public Schools. Adam reports that Mr. Jackson's support and advocacy are at the crux of his educational success. As Adam became proficient with braille, he used this medium for writing and reading.

Adam's mother was determined that he would go to an academically challenging school and began exploring private schools in the Boston area. Generally the responses were less than inviting, so she arranged for Adam to take the exam for Boston Latin, the most competitive high school in the Boston school system. He secured his textbooks on audio tape through Recordings for the Blind (RFB) and became an avid listener, as well as reader and writer.

Adam started 7th grade at Boston Latin. He used a six-key brailler in the classroom to take notes and complete writing assignments. Mr. Jackson transcribed Adam's work into print for his teachers. Using the brailler in the classroom was problematic because it was noisy and some teachers were greatly disturbed by this. Adam states "I got good at remembering things."

As the workload increased, this arrangement became less effective. Specialized technologies for the visually impaired were new and very limited. In 1986 a microbrailler was purchased which appeared to hold great promise. Adam was going to be able to braille into the machine (more quietly), store information, print it in a variety of formats, etc. His teachers were going to be able to store documents in print that Adam could read in braille through a refreshable braille display. The machine never worked correctly; the development bugs had not been worked out by the manufacturer and so an expensive piece of equipment was stored in the closet. (It's important to note that such technologies work very smoothly now.)

Working through Kristen Eichleay at the SPED TECH Center, Mr. Jackson secured a MS-DOS laptop with speech output for Adam in tenth grade. Mr. Jackson learned the ins and outs of the system and taught Adam everything he needed to know about word processing, speech feedback, etc. Relying on speech feedback to monitor his writing, Adam was now able to take his own notes, write his own papers without an intermediary translation step. He wore headphones while using the machine in class which made the less flexible teachers quite happy. Adam states that the technology alleviated a lot stress for everyone involved.

Adam currently uses a similar laptop computer with speech feedback in the classroom. He occasionally uses a brailler at home to take notes while listening to his books on tape. He realizes there are more powerful technologies that might assist him in new ways, but so far he has found ways to access the information he needs for writing through braille and recordings. Adam is beginning to think about interviewing for jobs next year and would like to work in banking or investment. He realizes that acquiring a job in the private sector can be challenging for a student with a disability. He is eager to learn more about emerging technologies that will assist his integration into the workplace.

Adam states, "Human support is infinitely more important than technological support." Adam attributes his success to a mother who demanded the best for him, a grandfather who helped him develop strategies for understanding assignments and accessing the right information, and to Mr. Jackson who served as a liaison to Adam's teachers, helping them understand the minor adjustments they could make to enhance success for everyone. Adam also reports that flexibility is the key. "You have to figure out what you need and just go with it."

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

ŠEducation Development Center, Inc.