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Blind Student Places High Expectations on Himself

 
BROWNSVILLE, TEXASOct. 17, 2013 Daniel Martinez, a senior education major at The University of Texas at Brownsville, has some strong feelings about expectations of students: Expectations need to be set high.
 
Martinez credits two of his teachers at Vermillion Elementary School – Grace Olivo, a teacher of blind students, and Charlotte Smith, an orientation and mobility instructor – for making a profound impact on his life. The teachers were confident that a lot of hard work and training would empower Daniel to do well in school after he had an accident on a four-wheeler, causing his blindness. 
Daniel Martinez on a stairwell at the Main building. Martinez utilises braille signs like this to help him navigate the campus. “I was 11 years old, in fifth grade, had been an ESL student, not a very good student, and I had been held back one year,” Martinez said. “But Ms. Olivo and Ms. Smith were behind me and pushed me and did not lower their expectations of me, and that’s what got me started on this path.”
 
Subsequent teachers continued to encourage Martinez, urging him onward in his recovery; by the time he was a junior at Rivera High School, he was taking advanced placement classes.
 
“BISD [Brownsville Independent School District] was very supportive of me; and once I saw there was a possibility, I became determined to come to UTB,” said Martinez, the only one of four siblings who has continued their education past high school.
 
Martinez will be participating in “In Our Shoes,” a panel discussion hosted by the UTB Office of Disability Services from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in Salon Cassia (Main 2.402) on Tuesday, Oct. 22. “In Our Shoes” is one of several events being held on campus during Accessibility Awareness Week, October 21-26.
 
“Everyone has abilities, but many have disabilities too,” said Steve Wilder, Director for the Office of Disability Services. “The purpose of UTB’s thirteenth annual Accessibility Awareness Week programming is to remind the campus community of our shared responsibility to create an inviting and accessible environment for all.”
 
Martinez graduated from Rivera High School in 2009 and will complete his Bachelor of Arts in K-12 Special Education in December 2014. He intends to continue directly to achieve his Masters of Arts in Teaching Special Education to the Visually Impaired. At the top of Martinez’ list of schools with this specialization is Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana.
 
“I like Louisiana Tech’s philosophy,” Martinez said. “At Louisiana Tech, they are more welcoming to blind students in the graduate program, and the program expectations are high for all the students. Also, the school follows the National Federation of the Blind’s philosophy, and I’m an active member of the Federation.”
 
Martinez said technology has come a long way, providing faster and more complete access to educational materials through adaptive technology for the visually impaired. One of the main tools he uses for his studies and to communicate via email is JAWS, a screen reader that allows the user to navigate web pages and hear the content. Also, at the beginning of each semester, he orders his textbooks from Learning Ally, in “book reader” format on USB drives. When a book or journal article is not available from Learning Ally, Disability Services can convert the written text into an audio or text file using a scanner and OCR (optical character recognition) program.
 
“I have had trouble with Blackboard, that’s been a hassle in several ways,” Martinez said. “For one thing, I haven’t been able to participate directly in the classroom online forums; also, testing has been problematic at times. But, my professors are accommodating and we are working around these issues.”
 
Aside from being a member of the NFB, Martinez is vice president of the Texas Association of Blind Students and treasurer of the Rio Grande Valley Chapter. He has worked as an instructor in the Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) program, teaching young blind children braille reading and writing, non-vision skills, and adaptive technology, among other independent living skills.
 
“We teach them braille, but that’s not all – we mentor the children and teens, and we help them overcome their obstacles and help them learn ways to be productive,” he said.
 
This past summer, Martinez participated in two BELL programs; one in Houston, hosted by the local chapter, and another in McAllen, hosted by the RGV Chapter.
 
“Two children from Brownsville participated in the McAllen program,” Martinez said. “They rode in the car with my mother and me, and they didn’t mind the one-hour drive at all – they loved the program and they seem to be ready to participate again next summer.”
 

Accessibility Awareness Week Events

 
As a panelist on the upcoming “In Our Shoes” forum, Martinez will join other students with disabilities in sharing some of their life experiences and strategies for success. The other panelists will include students with learning, health and hearing impairments as well as a veteran with PTSD. Dr. William “Bill” Davis, Master Technical Instructor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences, will serve as the moderator of the panel discussion, 12:15 to 1 p.m. in Salon Cassia (Main 2.402) on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
 
“In Our Shoes” will be streamed on a live webcast at http://media.utb.edu/live.aspx.
 
The Accessibility Awareness Fair will be held the following day from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 23 in the Main courtyard. Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to stop by the fair to actively “experience” dyslexia and visual impairments, make a sign language souvenir, learn some basic signs, feel their name in braille, and witness the technology that helps Martinez and others study and learn.
 
Capping off the week, the Texas Latino Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing will sponsor the premiere of the feature-length film “Lake Windfall” to be shown from 6 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 26 in Sabal Hall 1.108 (formerly UBCB). “Lake Windfall,” with an all-deaf cast, is a story about a fun getaway camping trip that turns into an apocalyptic event, forcing the campers to focus on their survival. Captioning will be provided for those not familiar with ASL [American Sign Language]. Admission will be $10 at the door.
 
For more information on Accessibility Awareness Week, contact Steve Wilder in Disability Services at 956-882-7374 or steve.wilder@utb.edu.
 
 
 

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