I met Stephan Ricks the first day of the Connect @ Home program in October of this year. He explained to me that he would need some extra help signing the legal information before him, as he has been blind for most of his adult life. As he filled out the paperwork, I started to realize that both he and I had an uphill battle ahead of us.
Like most of the students at RBJ, Stephan has always been interested in technology but hadn’t acquired the necessary skills to harness it. He has had a busy life, never quite finding time to sit down with a computer or cellphone in between finishing up a college degree, keeping up with the news via radio, and even taking some Tai Chi classes from time to time. He remembers when there were very few options for the blind to access and use the internet.
On the Samsung tablets that are used for the Connect @ Home class, Stephan has made great use of Google Voice Assistant. Voice Assistant quickly reads aloud what is visible on the touchscreen and simplifies some gesture commands so that Stephan can navigate around the tablet with ease. At times, it can even help me better understand how certain apps work. Voice Assistant reads additional unseen text to help make up for the lack of visual feedback most apps rely on. He even likes to show off his skills to friends and people he meets in his everyday life. “I was using my tablet on the bus the other day, and some lady couldn’t believe I was so fast on it. She asked me where I learned to do it and asked when she could sign herself up!”
I’ve been most impressed with Stephan’s ingenuity as a learner. He likes to bring apps that relate to the week’s topic specifically designed for the blind. He offers helpful advice for other students and does his best to guide them with his own words if they falter. Most importantly, he always keeps a positive attitude and has never given up on a lesson. We all can learn from Stephan’s drive for digital literacy.