Saturday, April 03, 2010

2010 TAER conference: Presenting and being presented to

Last week, I was in San Antonio to attend the annual conference of the
Texas Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired,
Or TAER. I was there to present with the VI professionals from the school district where I do assistive technology training with the blind and visually impaired students.

Being I didn’t arrive until Thursday evening, I missed hearing the keynote by Jonathan Mosen. Thanks to his lovely wife Julia, I was able to get a digital copy of his brilliant speech on Twitter.

Our presentation was simple, but robust. We discussed how I had come to the district with expertise in various assistive technologies 18 months ago, what we have done in that time with four students in particular, and how this training has been tied into other aspects of the students’ education. We highlighted this with a slide show of the students using the mix of technologies to execute a scavenger hunt.

The scavenger hunt was different for each student, with the design of an O&M lesson focused on their individuality. One student who is an aspiring singer and guitarist, was given the task of making a trip to a music store in a local strip mall, comparing prices of different items, and, finally, executing a purchase. Another young man, whose goal in life is to pursue adventure, had his outing presented in a Mission Impossible theme. He was given a clue by his VI teacher of where to go for his next clue. It was on a particular computer in the library, where he was to find a document with his name on it, and read it using his
Jump drive version of the System Access screen reader. That clue then directed him to locate an assistant principal who handed him a Victor Reader Stream, which was loaded with one audio note directing him where to go next. His later escapades involved him using his magnifier, telescope, and Braille, all culminating in a trip to a local toy store, where he also finished off the excursion with a purchase.

Our presentation was received by an overflow crowd which exceeded the seating capacity of the room. Our worst critiques were that there weren’t enough chairs, but many others were asking for us to make this presentation again at next year’s conference.

When we finished our presentation, we took questions from the audience. One of the most requested items was information about Serotek’s
Keys for K-12 program.

We happily directed the interested parties to the proper web site and I expect that there will be an uptick in requests from Texas. It is such a service to our youth that Serotek is providing and I will continue to shout this from the hilltops until I go hoarse.

Following the workshop, we went to the luncheon in the hotel’s ballroom. The food was very good, but took a second place to the activities that went on during the meal. The packed room exploded with applause each time an award was presented to a small cast of award recipients. I was very impressed with the various recipients for the student scholarship, the parents award, and educators who were recognized. These were all very noteworthy people who had accomplished much.

During the awards presentation, one moment made me take pause. One of my group was called up as a presenter and two of the others stood up behind me. Then the words flowed out, describing things I’ve achieved and I was called up to receive the
Julia L. Young award.

This award is in honor of Julia L. Young, who provided leadership in the development of the visually handicapped children's program of the Texas Commission for the Blind and gave direction and guidance to that program for many years. The award is presented to an individual who has done outstanding work with children who are visually impaired in Texas. Examples include: special education teachers, regular classroom teachers, caseworkers, therapists, volunteer workers, and other individuals providing direct services to children with visual impairments.

I am a man who is very quick witted and can speak off the cuff on most occasions, but they really surprised me on this one and left me speechless. Given the recipients of the other honors that day, I am definitely humbled and felt myself to be in rare company. Thank you for finding what I do worthy of this recognition.

But, this post is not about me. It is about the dedicated professionals in TAER and the kids they serve. Thank you for inviting me to be part of the program this year and sharing of yourselves with me. The bottom line is like I said when accepting my award, “Its all about the kids.” These children are the future and it is in our best interest to teach them the best that we can.

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