Juna’s Story Video Transcript
>Narrator: Juna Gjata is an accomplished young woman, who happens to have a significant visual impairment. She came to the United States from Albania when she was four years old. In high school, Juna attended the Boston Latin School, a prestigious, nationally recognized school that is part of the Boston Public School system and is located in the heart of the city. She now attends Harvard University. Educators, families, and students all play a critical role in determining what supports and services—including accessible instructional materials and assistive technologies—might be needed for students who are blind or visually impaired to participate and achieve in the curriculum. There are many different types of eye conditions that may result in visual loss, and the functional impact of the disability is different in various educational and community settings. Each student's individual needs must be considered in determining what is appropriate in each context based on the task to be accomplished. The staff at Boston Latin worked as a team with her to provide the services and supports that Juna needed and to build her independence over time.
>Juna: I became visually impaired because of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, which is basically an allergic reaction, usually to an antibiotic. So it kind of covers your whole body in, like, third-degree burns, but they are chemical burns, not, like, fire burns. So there was damage to my corneas, which made my vision worse. And when I was younger, I wasn't legally blind. I was just visually impaired.
>Narrator: Juna's visual impairment makes it difficult or impossible for her to read standard print instructional materials. So she needs another way to access the information. This need can be addressed by providing the same content in specialized formats such as braille, large print, audio, and digital text. Juna explains how she started reading and how her needs changed.
>Juna: So when I first started out in school, I remember in, like, kindergarten and first grade, I would read things by holding them close up to my face. And especially, like, in little kids' books, the font is a lot bigger; it's all, like, 36 font, so I could see it all by holding it close to my face. My vision teacher at the time would always say that if my nose were any bigger, there was no way I'd be able to read it because it'd always get in the way when I'd hold, like, the page up to my face. And I'd always have to write things in 20/20 pens, which are really dark, kind of marker-like pens. And, like, my nose would always be black because it'd always be touching the paper, so the ink would always be rubbing off. It was not an attractive situation. And then in second grade, my vision teacher was really pushing for me to learn braille. So it was because of her and my mom really pushing for it, and they kind of talked about how if I did lose more vision, braille would be a lot more safe and a lot more helpful to me. They were the reason I learned braille. And after that, most of my reading was braille-based, whether electronic or paper. And then just as far as math or physics goes, I usually use a magnifier just because it's a lot of diagrams and a lot less words. But with things that are, like, more writing-based and reading-based, like English, I use mostly braille.
>Narrator: Just as it is important to teach learning to read with print or braille...
>Jessie: So at a certain level, the wheels are turning at a certain rate.
>Narrator: It is also important to teach learning to listen.
>Terry: It's really important to look at low-vision students to support their learning of braille from a very young age. It's important—or if you're not going to teach braille, then how to use audio material, how to get information out of it, how to take two-column notes while you're listening. They have to really be able to teach kids to use more than one media and not to forget braille, even if they are a low-vision student, because you never know what's going to happen in the future in terms of losing their vision. The most important thing is, we want them to keep up with everybody else at the same speed, at the same place, in the same time frame. So giving them multiple tools and multiple ways to access instructional materials is really the key to doing that.
>Narrator: As we tell Juna's story, you will hear about her use of accessible instructional materials, also referred to as AIM. Print materials can be converted into the specialized formats of braille, large print, audio, and/or digital text that contain exactly the same content as the print materials. Technology, such as devices or computers, is often needed to deliver the instructional content to the student. Juna explains how she uses different formats and technology depending on the setting, the subject matter, and the task she wants to accomplish.
>Juna: So CCTV, first of all, definitely, and that's mostly for math, physics, and statistics kind of courses, where they are more visual. And then I use a Braille Sense for reading things in class or taking notes. And most of the books that I get for my English classes are all downloaded onto my Braille Sense, so I don't have to carry around paper braille. And then paper braille I use for all my tests and exams just because I can read it on the paper braille and then not have to switch files or anything. So I can write my answers on my Braille Sense, which is a lot easier. And then I also have a hand magnifier called a RUBY, which I use in class, obviously, because I can't put the CCTV in my book bag. And I use that, for example, in economics, where we have to look at graphs a lot, like, supply-and-demand graphs. So if she hands out a worksheet that has graphs on it, usually I just use my RUBY to look at it. And then for reading books, like, for leisure reading, I use audio books mostly, just because I can listen to them, like, on the train or on the bus or whatever. And my hands get really cold especially, because, obviously, it's Boston. It's really, really, really cold all the time. So I don't want to have to use my hands and my Braille Sense all the time, so audio is a lot easier. And I think, like, audio—I can read a lot faster just because I can put the speed up on the voice really fast. Whereas, like, braille, I might be slower if I am feeling lazy and I don't want to move my hands back and forth as fast.
>Narrator: Juna downloads files for her literature and social studies courses to use on her braille note taker.
>Juna: So all of the files on my Braille Sense usually are from Bookshare. So my AP U.S. History textbook, which has, like, 2,000 pages, is from Bookshare.
>Narrator: Juna says the longer books are more engaging when she listens to them.
>Juna: Occasionally I'll have scanned worksheets that are scanned just with a, like, Kurzweil scanner and just saved as a BRF file, and I'll just put that on my Braille Sense, like, through a pen drive. And the other large part of the files in my Braille Sense is that when I write them on my Braille Sense, I save them as Word documents, so I can take them off and print them out or email them to my teachers.
>Narrator: As we have heard from Juna, students with print disabilities often need different formats and tools to access the curriculum. Over the years, Juna has used devices that were appropriate for her age and learning environments. However, as she has grown older, her needs and the technology have changed.
>Juna: When I first started out in—when I was younger—when I was seven or eight, I think, I used a Braille 'n Speak.
It had no braille display, so you had to listen to it with headphones. And it was so brutal because it, like, creates this, like, barrier between you and the other kids because you have headphones on. So I did not like using that very much. And after that, I progressed on to a Braille Lite, which I liked a lot, because it was the first thing I had that had a braille display, which I thought was really cool. It's a really basic note taker, but I still enjoyed it a lot. And then when that broke, the newest cool thing was a Braille Sense because it had a little LED screen at the top.
>Narrator: Just like other students, sometimes Juna doesn't want the teacher to be able to see what she is doing if she is working off-task.
>Juna: When teachers were going around checking work or whatever, I could just show them on my LED screen. But then I realized that I read a lot of books during class, or I'll, like, do something I'm not supposed to be doing during class a lot, so my LED screen is mostly off the whole time. And as far as changing, like, computer programs, when I was younger, I would use JAWS, which is just a talking program.
>Narrator: JAWS is a screen-reading program for students who are blind that reads aloud what is on the computer screen. As she grew older, Juna started using ZoomText. It has features like text-to-speech and magnification, which are a better match for her needs.
>Juna: ZoomText is so much easier, and it just gives you such a better idea of the bigger picture, what's going on, on the screen and on the web page. Like, I can immediately find where the text is. And you can look at pictures and whatever, which, like, with JAWS was impossible all the time.
>Narrator: Juna conveys a lesson she has learned about using multiple formats and tools.
>Juna: Yeah, I think that learning with different kinds of accessible materials is definitely the best way, because there is no, like, one device that's good for everything. I mean, I think it's the same for sighted people too. There is no one thing you use for every subject. You know, you have different things that you use for different types of activities that you have to do.
>Narrator: With support from her vision teacher and team, Juna has become a self-determined learner. she has developed context-specific learning strategies. She also has a clear sense of her individual preferences for technologies and tools that work well in her everyday life. One strategy she uses is note taking, and she says it helps her retain the information.
>Juna: The best way to remember something is to write it down, so, yeah, I think it really helps to take notes, even if you don't look at them.
>Narrator: When learning how to use different technologies, she finds it's important to use them in her daily activities.
>Juna: I think to use different tools, you have to have a context for using them. Like, I can learn a lot of different technologies, and if I don't, like, use them in my real life, I'll forget how to use them or not know how to use them well. So I think finding ways to use the things you have in your daily life gets you used to how you are using them and gets you used to how they work.
>Narrator: At first, the vision teachers helped her learn new tools. As Juna grew older, she took more responsibility in learning to use the tools on her own.
>Juna: As you get older, it's, like, having the initiative to learn how to use them yourself and not as much learning from reading manuals but more learning from just using it and exploring it.
>Narrator: Just like everyone else, Juna balances her use of vision, touch, and listening skills to gain the best access to her course materials. Although her functional vision is limited, Juna explains how she accesses learning through vision using AIM and assistive technology.
>Juna: And a lot of my learning is accessed through vision. Like, pretty much all of my calculus homework ever, I never use the braille book. I have it downloaded onto my Braille Sense as a BRF file. I don't even know how many words are in the calculus book, but I'd say 90% is pictures. So it's, like, absolutely unhelpful. So all my calculus homework I've done with my CCTV. Most of my physics homework I've done with my CCTV for the same reason. It's mostly diagrams and mostly pictures. And then even in doing physics homework, a lot of it is drawing graphs or drawing diagrams or showing out, like—there's a lot of integrals and derivatives, and those symbols never come out well on my Braille Sense. So I like to handwrite them instead. And then ZoomText I use on the computer constantly, and I don't even know what I'd do without ZoomText. Like, I wish I had, like, a portable ZoomText USB or something so I could put it on any computer instantly. And my iPad, also I use Zoom on that, which is really helpful. It's kind of like ZoomText number two, because you can also invert the colors, which is what I always do on my home computer. And then I use Zoom on my iPhone. So I'd say I use vision for—maybe even half of the technology I use is vision-based.
>Narrator: Juna shares her advice to students with visual impairments entering high school.
>Juna: I think good advice is not to have, like, all your eggs in one basket. That's gonna sound, like, really cliché, but you can't always be relying on one thing, because technology breaks a lot more easily than conventional, like, you know, pen and paper, so, I mean, you can't always rely on only one thing. You have to have, like, a back up, and I think being able to diversify, like, the technologies you use. Like, you know how you have to diversify your investments so you don't lose all your money in one huge loss? You have to diversify your technology so that if something breaks or if something doesn't work for a certain task you want to do, you always have other things that you can fall back on.
>Narrator: The visual nature of math and science courses presents many challenges to students who are blind or have significant visual loss. There are fewer accessible resources to support learning in math and science, such as accessing equations and graphs and being able to generate figures and forms.
>Juna: Most of the blind people or visually impaired people I talk to, math is their worst subject, and they'll be really good in other subjects, and they'll do really well on all their other SATs. They'll be taking AP exams in other subjects, and it's just math that they do not do well in, or they hate math, and that's not because they're not good at math or because, like, you know, they're stupid. It's because their math classes are so inaccessible, especially, like, when teachers are drawing things on the board. When I was younger and I had worse teachers, I would never pay attention in class just because they were so bad at describing things on the board. So I would just go home and read the chapter in the textbook and then do the homework, which worked a lot better for me because then I could see what the textbook was talking about.
>Narrator: Though it may be a difficult strategy for teachers to put into practice, verbally explaining lesson content is essential when working with students with visual impairments.
>Juna: I think, like, having a teacher that actually is able to describe what they're doing on the board and to actually have it, like, make sense to you, like, visually in your head would be the best.
>Narrator: Juna explains that it's difficult for visually impaired students to use graphing calculators. She found that a talking graphing calculator did not work for her.
>Juna: So I always use my graphing calculator with my RUBY on top of it or under my CCTV, and I definitely think there are ways of making an accessible graphing calculator. Like, I'm sure you could make some kind of app that could do that or some kind of—maybe something with a refreshable braille display that could do that. I mean, there has to be, like, a better way than audio, but it just hasn't been really exploited.
>Narrator: Juna acknowledges that math is especially challenging for those who have never had sight and wonders if more could be done with tactile 3-D models in the future.
>Juna: When you're picturing things at angles or when you're picturing curves or when they ask you to rotate curves around the X axis to make a volume shape, like, a lot of that is very visual, and it's not created for somebody who has never seen anything in their life to be able to access it, so a way of changing that into less of a visual thing and more of conceptual thing, maybe with, like, 3-D models.
>Narrator: Juna believes a shift in instructional practices could make math more accessible to visually impaired students. For example, it could be more accessible if it was delivered online.