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Blind using Facebook? It’s not complicated, thanks to school

/ 07:11 AM June 24, 2012

ATRIEV students wow onlookers with their computer skills at Saturday’s mall tour in Manila. RICHARD A. REYES/PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER

“We can teach you how to use Facebook even with your eyes shut.”

It is not an empty boast but a proven skill for the students of a special school which has shown for the last 18 years that computer know-how need not require a 20/20 vision.

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Using a program that converts a keystroke or a mouse click into a vocal response, the Adaptive Technology for Rehabilitation, Integration and Empowerment of the Visually Impaired (Atriev) has introduced some 500 blind people to cyberspace.

Officers and students of the Quezon City-based Atriev went on a mall tour yesterday in Manila to showcase the technology—and its own special class of computer geeks.

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It was also to prove that “as long as you have faith in your own capabilities and there are people and organizations willing to lend a helping hand, there are no limits to what a person can do,” said Atriev executive director Antonio Llanes.

The voice commands may strike the sighted as a confusing babel, but to the visually impaired they are keys to opportunities previously unavailable to people with such disabilities, Llanes said.

Atriev mainly offers “a bridge course” for its students to gain employment and excel in computer-related jobs.

Since 1994, the pioneering school has produced medical transcriptionists, call center agents, web content writers, tele-sales agents, and even software developers.

These fields clearly represented a vast leap from the usual jobs available to the blind in the past, back when they were practically just limited to working in massage parlors or playing musical instruments.

At Saturday’s Atriev mall tour at SM Manila dubbed “I Care: A Vision Beyond Sight,” student Annabelle Villanueva eagerly demonstrated her computer skills before a crowd of  curious shoppers.

“Even if there is no light, who cares?” Villanueva said, as the computer “vocalized” her every keystroke.

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She can spend hours on Facebook just like any netizen, she said, and her online friends are always amazed whenever she reveals that she’s blind.

“I have to explain to them how I’m able to use the computer over and over again—and sometimes it gets tiring,” she said with a smile.

Llanes explained that visually impaired computer users were taught keyboard shortcuts so they could access all kinds of programs and websites, including social networking sites.

“They can also chat using these shortcuts. And if they do not want to disturb others, they could always use headsets,” he said.

The next Atriev mall tour will be at SM Valenzuela from Aug. 24 to 25; SM Taytay from Sept. 15-17; and SM Fairview on Oct. 19. The date for the final leg at SM North Edsa is yet to be confirmed.

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