Write On, Randy

Randy, DO-IT Scholar

Randy's essay won runner up in a national contest sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics, the NASA K-12 Internet project and the National Science Foundation.

My name is Randy, and I am a junior at Timberline High School in Lacey, Washington. I am totally blind; with two glass eyes. I have been blind all my life, and have never known anything different. I have been mainstreamed in schools all my life, and have always had to depend on others to get me school materials. If I needed or wanted a book for class, it had to be transcribed into braille or put on tape. However, in August of last year a whole new door was opened to me. I am a member of the DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology) Program at the University of Washington. This program is funded greatly by the National Science Foundation. It gives high school students with disabilities the chance to overcome their challenges by the use of the Internet.

Getting Internet access was the best thing that ever happened to me. In a way, my computer and access to the net has become my eyes to the world. I can read a newspaper, talk to people around the world, and get materials for class papers, unlike before when I had to depend on others to get the resources I needed.

Upon receiving my access in August of 1993, I was able to read a newspaper for the first time in my life. This may sound trivial but to me it was a great accomplishment. I was not aware of the variety of topics covered by newspapers. I knew about the front page, feature articles, and sports section, for instance, but I did not know of the huge amount of stories in these sections. I was amazed. Before getting access I had to get sighted people to read me the paper. However, with the help of a screen reader and a host at the University of Washington called UWIN (University of Washington Information Navigator), I browsed through the paper, found just what I wanted to read, and read it. I can even mail myself the articles and save them; somewhat like how you cut articles that you like out of the paper to save for future reference. This was amazing to me. And not only can I read the Washington Post, but also the Moscow News, and several other papers mainly used by scientists. So, the net has helped me get in better contact with the world via online newspapers.

Many of you know of IRC or some other type of chat systems. This caught my by surprise when I first started on the net. I am taking German in high school, and plan to be a foreign language expert. If I want to try out my German on people, I just telnet to Germany, and try it on actual Germans (who are really strict teachers, and who catch every mistake you make. I know, I have made many.) Another aspect of the chat systems is talking to people about current events. I can telnet to a chat system and talk to people from California about the earthquakes there, or from Kansas City and ask about the Chiefs chances in the Superbowl. Thus, the net is a tool for me to get feedback from people all over the world on what they think of different things, and it's an interesting way to make new friends.

But the best aspect of the net is the ability to get information on any topic. There are lots of ways to do this. First, you can join a "listserv" and find out about a topic from experts. Though I haven't joined a listserv yet, I may do so in the near future. Second, you can e-mail an expert in a field with a question and get an answer to your question quickly. But the best way to get materials is through Gopher Space. I recently needed information on Poland. I entered Gopher Space, moved to a server in Poland itself, and there I found all the information I needed on my subject. Also, there are encyclopedias, dictionaries, and thesauruses in the Gopher Space. If a server does not have the information you need, you can just find another that will either have the exact material, or one that has some sort of information book and use it to get the information that you need.

In closing, the Internet has become a great part of my life. In the seven months that I have had access to the net, I have built up over two hundred hours on it. I use it to find out about current events, do research papers for school, and just talk to people about everyday life. I would recommend the Internet to anyone that needs these services. It is hard now to remember how I lived without this wealth of materials and information at my fingertips.

NOTE: Randy uses a computer with a screen reader and voice synthesizer. Essentially, his adaptive technology "reads" the screen text to him.