Slater, 17, sits in front of a computer screen, fingers poised over a large-print keyboard.
“Dear Aunt Lori,” she types.
The computer software she’s using reads the letters and words aloud as they appear, magnified, on the screen. She pauses, and looks to her teacher, Sharon, for guidance.
“We need to think about our topic sentence,” Sharon said. “What do you want to tell Aunt Lori?”
For the next half hour, Slater composes a lengthy email to her aunt, filled with details of her life at Perkins. She tells her about gym class, and celebrating the 100th day of school with classmates in the Deafblind School.
Slater has moderate hearing and vision loss and is nonverbal. To communicate, she uses a voice output device equipped with a keyboard and pre-loaded with frequently used names and phrases. When she taps a word or letter on the screen, the device reads it aloud.
“That is her main mode of communication – we’re not trying to change it,” Sharon said. “We’re trying to expand it and structure it.”
What is compensatory access?
Compensatory access lessons teach Perkins students how to acquire, share and process information, including general education curriculum, in ways that don’t require sight. It’s one of nine blindness-specific Expanded Core Curriculum skills taught at Perkins.
For students who are blind without other disabilities, compensatory access lessons often center around braille. In the Deafblind School, Sharon and her colleagues adhere to the Total Communication philosophy, where students are encouraged to use any and all forms of communication that work for them.
“In this class we go from print to objects and tactile symbols all the way to pictures,” Sharon said. “It’s really multifaceted.”
During a morning class, Sharon asks students to talk about school vacation. One student uses a picture of a smiling face to describe his feelings about the upcoming break. Another student circles the word “happy” from the choices written on the white board.
“Slater, are you happy or sad about vacation?” Sharon asked.
Slater quickly types her response for the class to hear: “H-A-P-P-Y, happy.”
“Me too!” said Sharon. “I feel the same way.”
For students who are blind or deafblind, developing strong compensatory access skills is paramount to their personal and academic success. Being able to express an opinion, ask a question or understand a request allows them to participate in conversation and connect with others in a meaningful way.
For Slater, communicating her thoughts to others brings her obvious joy. Her face lights up as she hits the “send” button on the email to Aunt Lori.
“We have to work on punctuation but the content is really good,” Sharon tells her. “Aunt Lori’s going to love this.”