April 9, 2012

Technology and optimism

Technology - we take it for granted, but two years ago Optimist International's Oratorical Contest asked students to consider "High speed internet: is it a right or a privilege?" It was a tough topic and although I don't know accurate numbers, from my experience in Idaho, the participation declined.

Shirley Zurfluh (R) of the W. Tacoma Optimist Club
presents Emily Stevenson with a Braille Notetaker.
However, one segment of students found the topic intriguing. Deaf students and students with hearing impairments knew exactly how to respond to the question. For them, technology, such as smartphones and computers, becomes their voice as it connects them not only to those without hearing deficits, but also to each other. Quite a compelling case can be made why high speed internet is essential to their full integration into school, work and society and it is therefore a right, not a privilege.

Since that time, I have become especially interested in how technology is used by all and this note caught my eye today: "West Tacoma Optimist Club presents braille computer to high school student."  Awesome, I thought, but what is a braille computer?

Well it turns out it isn't exactly a braille computer. This young lady received a braille note-taking device (approximately $6,500) that allows her to take notes in class and then connect to her home PC to continue complete her homework. Have you ever thought about what it would be like for a blind student to take notes?

The PC itself can be equipped with different devices including braille keyboards and braille display for reading. Of course there are also read/write programs that allow the user to hear and speak to the computer and a number of magnifying options for those who have not completely lost their vision.

I love learning new and different things, don't you? Many thanks to the West Tacoma Optimist Club for your donation. According to the full news report in the club's bulletin:

"Emily Stevenson, a blind student at Curtis High School was presented with her new Braille Computer/Calculator last week. Her classmates applauded and their were smiles all around. Emily is an outstanding student who works hard and plans to go to college and get an engineering degree. She was very happy and grateful since her 7 year old computer was on its last legs."
Knowing how fast technology changes, this was a special donation indeed.

Thanks to Dick Disney, W. Tacoma Optimist Club for the photo and story idea.  

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