This article was written by Lyra, a longtime Alphapointe Technology Camp participant who will begin her sophomore year of high school in the fall.
Alphapointe is a non-profit based in Kansas City, Mo., that has many services and opportunities for both youth and adults with visual impairments. They give visually impaired and blind adults job opportunities by hiring them in office or manufacturing jobs at the Alphapointe building. For kids and teens, there are many camps during the summer and activities throughout the year. One such camp is a week-long Technology Camp for middle and high schoolers. At this camp, students learn how to use a laptop and navigate the internet with low or no vision by using screen-reading or zoom software.
“Technologies that improve internet navigation and provide social networking knowledge and safety Campers will train with Jaws or ZoomText software depending on the camper’s visual needs. Campers will also learn to utilize various technologies that impact academic development, advance their internet navigation skills, develop social networking knowledge, and establish internet safety and security awareness. Campers will also have the opportunity to work with a variety of mentors who have successfully utilized technology in their chosen careers as professionals with vision loss.” -Alphapointe.org
A camp like this is very important for a number of reasons. Everything in life now uses technology. No matter what career you go into, you’re going to use technology in some way, so computer skills is something that everyone needs to know, sighted or not. It’s great for blind or visually impaired students to learn how to use computers just as well as their fully-sighted peers in order to be at an equal playing field.
According to Caleb Cook, who’s been a camper at Technology Camp in the past and is now interning at Alphapointe, he has greatly benefitted from participating.
“It helps me understand what is out there for visually impaired and fully blind people,” Cook said. “When I younger, I didn’t really have the opportunities that I do now. This camp really does show the benefits of technology and different ways to use it.”
After a week of learning and practicing technology skills, each camper gets to take a laptop home thanks to donations from Computers for the Blind. For some of these kids, this is the first time they’ve really used a computer, so allowing them to take one home is a great opportunity.
I asked some of the sighted staff at Alphapointe what they think of Technology camp and its importance. Jake McLaughlin, Senior Manager, Special Events and Programs at Alphapointe, shared:
“This camp is really important because it gives youth the opportunity to learn accessible software and to keep challenging themselves each year in a social, positive environment,” he said.
When asked about how a camp like this benefits visually impaired and blind students in the future, McLaughlin gave this response:
“The earlier that we’re able to introduce accessible technology to youth that are visually impaired or blind, the more prepared that these individuals will be when it’s time to seek higher education or employment,” he said. “The better an individual understands various accessible technologies, the more it closes the gap to their sighted peers.”
As well as full-time staff, Alphapointe has many interns – both sighted and visually impaired – who are involved in the youth programs and Alphapointe as a whole. Helen Willis, an intern helping with Technology Camp this summer, shared that she wants to be a speech language pathologist and that the best way to learn about different disabilities is to work hands-on, so she chose to intern at Alphapointe.
“The most important thing is just to keep updated with society,” Willis said. “Since everything is so computerized, it’s so important for everyone to have access to technology and to keep pace with all the changes. People who have disabilities usually get kind of put to the side when it comes to technology, so Technology Camp is a good way for them to be prioritized in the world of technology.”
Alphapointe’s Technology Camp has been happening every summer for almost 10 years, first just using iPads and tablets, and then upgrading to laptops in recent years. As campers and staff both agree, it has so much value for the visually impaired and blind community to be aware of and learn how to use the technology available to them.