DCPS Afterschool Program Helps Blind and Visually Impaired Students Explore Their Future 

January 28, 2011

Afterschool program for blind/visually impaired
The students stand up and introduce themselves at DCPS Teens After School.
Crichelle Brown, a student at Wilson, shares a story.
A student uses a screen reader, which reads aloud the words on a screen, to help him navigate a website.

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“Does anyone know how to use Facebook?” asks Norma Villanueva, program director of low incidence disabilities for the Office of Special Education at DC Public Schools.

All seven students hands shoot their hands up in the air. This is the first meeting of the DCPS Teens After School Program, a weekly program for blind and visually impaired students in the Adaptive Services Division of DC Public Library.

“For anyone who has a disability, it’s sometimes hard to find someone else who understands, so we wanted to bring you all together,” Ms. Villanueva said to the group of students.

Each week through June 13, visually impaired and blind students from Woodrow Wilson, Mamie D. Lee and Bell Multicultural High School will come together to discuss the skills they need for college and careers, improve their reading and technology skills, and learn important self-advocacy skills.

DCPS partnered with the DC Public Library and other community and government agencies, including DC Rehabilitation Services Association and Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, to make this program possible.

The DC Public Library’s Adaptive Services Division is designed for the blind and visually impaired, as well as for the deaf and hard of hearing. The technology devices available range from low-tech devices, such as books printed in Braille, to high-tech devices, such as screen readers that read aloud text on a screen.

Many of the students in the afterschool program have limited knowledge about the different assistive technology devices available to them.

"My hope is that through this program, DCPS and its partners will empower these students to use assistive technology devices, Internet resources and self-advocacy opportunities to be confident in their ability to be fully independent members of their schools and communities,” said Ms. Villanueva.

When asked why they wanted to be a part of the DCPS Teens After School Program, many of the students replied that they wanted to learn how to use technology and build a website. But Chrichelle Brown, a twelfth grade student at Woodrow Wilson High School, said she hoped to get more from the program then just that.

“I want to learn how to transition from high school to college and learn how to demand what I want and need from my college,” Chrichelle said.

For the first meeting, three DC Rehabilitation Services Administration staff members who also are visually impaired asked students what skills they need for life beyond high school.

Dr. Edna Johnson, program administrator for the Division Services for the Blind at RSA, discussed the importance of technology in their everyday lives. Whether it’s writing a resume or searching for jobs, Dr. Johnson told them that the computer and Internet are powerful tools that they need to learn how to use.

After the presentation, the students practiced using a screen reader as they navigated the Internet. As each student looked at different resources about planning for college and careers, the sound of screen readers filled the room, speaking the words on screen as the students scrolled through websites.

“Everything I am doing right now, I am doing from memory,” said Chrichelle, echoing the comments of many of the other students, who were familiar with the device but needed a refresher course.

Next week, the students will discuss Internet safety and etiquette, social networking and blogging. For more information, please contact Norma Villanueva, (202) 270-5403 or norma.villanueva@dc.gov.


Read more about the DCPS After School Program for Teens.

Read more Special Education News.

Inside DCPS Highlights.


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