Navigating Computers Blind

Learning to program computers is hard enough. Now try it when you can't see.

That's what one student is doing at Killarney Secondary School. Matthew Alvernaz, a 16-year-old Grade 11 student, is hitting his stride in his computer programming class at Killarney. Blind from birth, Alvernaz is turning into an adept programmer even though he can't see his own inputs on the computer screen.

Having learned to type on a computer at age three, Alvernaz is right at home using a standard (non-Braille) keyboard, which he uses to develop programs such as his own battleship game and math conversion tools.

"I love being able to make computers do what I want," he explained.  

As an A-student in his computers classes, screen-reading software, a document scanner and other assistive devices helps Alvernaz get by academically, although the process is not without its challenges.

In particular, the use of technology for visual esthetics has been an issue.

"HTML styling is really hard," he admitted, referring to the web design component of his current computer programming course. In these scenarios, he says it is key to receive help from a sighted person.

Despite these challenges, Alvernaz has maintained a significant self-sufficient approach. Due to his strong ability, he can frequently power through a novel in about a third of the time it might take someone to read. He can set his screen reading software at such a high rate of speed that the words are nothing but gibberish to most people. He is also currently using the screen reading software to learn Japanese.

By adapting his assistive technology to meet his needs, Alvernaz says he's been able to make huge strides in computers and languages, areas of interest which he believes will be gateways to future employment.

Alvarnez says he plans to pursue one of these two interests at the college level after graduation.

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