Blind high school student leverages assistive technology and Bookshare to thrive in school and pursue a budding musical career
When it comes to music, Acer is a triple threat. The senior at Utica High School in Michigan plays multiple instruments including drums, percussion, saxophone, and piano, lends his baritone with perfect pitch to the school choir, and is a whiz at recording and mixing music.
Acer’s class schedule includes two band classes and one choir class which are preparing him for an eventual music career. “I love the drums and percussion, but will play any new instrument I can get my hands on,” he says.
Blind since birth, Acer’s condition is known as NLP: no light perception. He has an IEP and has been attending special education meetings throughout high school to specify the accommodations he needs to succeed in class.
Bookshare Has the Books Acer Needs
In elementary school, Acer got a BrailleNote Apex so he could read and write digital material. Eventually he got a computer, upgraded to a BrailleNote Touch Plus, and he uses both devices to read. When he was nine and started reading more, he needed a larger source of books. His sister, who is also blind, had a Bookshare membership, so he signed up to take advantage of the millions of ebooks in the library. The first books that Acer downloaded were the Wizard of Oz books by L. Frank Baum. “I read all the books in the series,” says Acer. “Every book you want or need is in Bookshare, and if it isn’t, you can request it.”
Last year he read Lord of the Flies and Frankenstein, and Animal Farm is on this year’s reading list. To read these books and others, Acer downloads the books to his Victor Reader Stream media player. His reading speed in braille is slower, so it’s easier for him to listen to books and concentrate on comprehension.
Apps and Devices to Meet a Variety of Needs
James uses a “mix-and-match” approach to read and complete his assignments. He often reads math equations in braille, text-heavy content on his computer using the NVDA screen reader, or listens to text-to-speech (TTS) audio on his Victor Stream. “I have always found everything I need on Bookshare, although occasionally I need to look for an alternate ISBN because the desired edition isn’t available,” he explains. “My teachers are understanding and say that another edition is close enough.”
The Hills are Alive with Julie Andrews’ Voice
Julie Andrews is one of Acer’s favorite authors (she has written memoirs and children’s books), and you might catch him using a TTS version of her voice on his screen reader. What’s even more impressive is that Acer created the voice himself. How did he do it? “I used a circum-reality MNLP program to process Julie’s voice from her audiobook memoir along with the digital text from the Word version that I downloaded from Bookshare,” he explains. “I record one line at a time, analyze the recording, keep or discard it, and continue the process.” Don’t worry if you didn’t follow all that. What’s clear is that Acer’s side interest has taught himself valuable technical skills while having fun in the process.
Resources for the Blind Build Skills and Independence
This past summer, Acer went to a training center in Kalamazoo, Michigan, operated by the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons. He received training on life skills, mobility, traveling, technology, and industrial arts. The Bureau also pays for community college, which Acer plans to attend after graduation. What is his dream job? Acer is setting his sights on the music industry. “I want to do audio recording and engineering, learn music composition and songwriting, and create music that is “radio ready,” he says. With so many versatile skills and talents, this triple threat is sure to leave his musical mark. Follow Acer’s music on SoundCloud.
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