Ever since she emigrated from Colombia with her family, Val M. had been eager to embrace her adopted country. Blind from birth, Val continues to learn English and flourishing in her central New Jersey high school. She has been learning to use JAWS, a computer screen reader, a device that translates text and graphics and sends it to an aural output device or a braille keyboard. (JAWS is an acronym for “Job Access With Speech.”) With Val, JAWS is paired to a Focus 40 refreshable braille display. Focus 40 features a series of cells whose raised dots change as new text is displayed.
Recognizing that Val loves music, her high-school aide encouraged her to audition for singing. Val was very open to the idea. So, the aide contacted Val’s math teacher, who happened to also be the track and field coach. Over the past school year the school’s track and field team won many awards over the past school year, and Val wanted to be part of the celebration. Although English is Val’s second language, she was able to harness the power of her assistive technology (AT) to learn the lyrics to The Star-Spangled Banner. Even more, she accomplished this feat in a mere two days!
At the team’s final meet in May, in front of some 1,000 fans, it was Val who opened the event with her singing. Jason Resnick, Val’s Assistive Technology Professional, has been providing Val’s AT training once a week over the past two years since 2015. Says Jason, “She was very excited to sing the national anthem.”