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Article of Interest - Assistive Technology

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Bridges4Kids LogoAssemblyman Seeks More Funds for Visually Impaired Students
by T.S. Mills-Faraudo, San Mateo County Times, March 20, 2004
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In front of a watchful audience of media, politicians and educators Friday, 9-year-old Taylor Rebhahn recited a fictional story she wrote about an elephant named Rose who needed someone to care for her.

The fourth-grader didn't read her imaginative story from a piece of paper in front of her or a computer screen.

Instead, her little fingers lightly touched Braille coming out of a computer as she read about Rose's sad fate of being picked up by zoo keepers.

Rebhahn is blind, yet she's still able to write her original stories by using a machine called a BrailleNote that allows her work to be entered into a computer as well as printed out in Braille.

During a tour of the County program in which Rebhahn is enrolled, state Assemblyman and Speaker pro Tempore Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, introduced legislation Friday that would encourage state and school district officials to seek more funds for blind and visually impaired students.

Yee got to see firsthand how students in the program use high-tech Braille equipment in their classes.

The class also showed how the students calculate math problems using an abacus. The device has rows of beads on it that the students can move around to work out math problems.

Yee used this program, which is at Highlands Elementary School in San Mateo, as a backdrop for his announcement because he sees it as a good model for teaching these students.

Yee said he is shocked by the illiteracy rates for blind and visually impaired students nationwide.

About 45 percent of individuals with severe visual impairment or blindness have a high school diploma, compared with 80 percent among full-sighted individuals, according to the California Department of Social Services. Only 10 percent of school-age children who are legally blind are able to use Braille as a primary source of reading, according to the American Foundation for the Blind. "It's an absolute disgrace how little dollars we're spending on blind and visually impaired students," Yee said Friday.

Three blind students and three visually impaired children are in the program at Highlands.

For language arts, science and social studies, students in the program are mainstreamed into the regular classes at Highlands.

The students stay in the program until the fifth grade, and then they go through a process to determine their next steps, said teacher Theresa Postello.

Students in the class hammed it up as Postello asked them to tell the visitors a little bit about themselves.

"I like singers, and my favorite band is the Beach Boys," Rebahn said.

The opportunity to be the center of attention for a day was very exciting for Rebhahn.

"I wish the governor would come here, too," she said. "I would love to meet the governor."

    

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