Blind teacher helps the blind lead normal lives

By Tessa Salazar
Last updated 06:01am (Mla time) 07/08/2007

MANILA, Philippine—Lebynne Gaan says she is a techno phobe.


But that has not stopped her from using her skills to help other visually impaired people like her to live as normal a life as possible.


Gaan teaches basic computer skills and Braille to preschool and elementary students at the Resources for the Blind (RBI) in Cubao, Quezon City, a nonprofit charitable organization offering services nationwide to the blind.


From client to worker


A former regular “client” of RBI, Gaan started out as a receptionist. She was later asked to teach, becoming a RBI employee in 2002 after completing a computer course at the Adaptive Technology for Rehabilitation, Integration and Empowerment of the Visually Impaired (ATRIEV).


ATRIEV is a Quezon City-based nongovernment organization offering a computer literacy program for blind people. Gaan has a degree in English from Trinity College, also in Quezon City.


“My friend convinced me to enroll in the computer course,” Gaan said. She considers herself techno phobic because she easily panics when she presses the buttons.


Now, she helps children learn basic computer skills so they can surf the Internet, among other things.


Visually impaired individuals use the software called JAWS (Job Access for Speech) for Windows to help them use the computer. It is basically a screen reader that tells the user what is on the computer monitor or what application is being used.


Although quite expensive, the software has proven to be a big help for those eager to use the computer.


RBI is now experimenting with a more affordable software that can be carried around in a flash disk-type device.


Gaan learned to operate the computer as a student of ATRIEV.


She learned Braille at Batino Elementary School in Project 3, Quezon City, a regular school with a Special Education Center. When she entered college, her mother gave up her job in direct selling to accompany her to school.


“If you will notice, there are no SPED centers in colleges and universities because, when you reach college, you must already have the skills to become independent,” she told the Inquirer.


She also pointed out that some universities did not accept blind students.


Gaan’s blindness was caused by rubella (German measles), which her mother contracted when she was pregnant with her. The family learned of her condition when she was three months old after they noticed white lines in her eyes. She completely lost her sight after college.


Gaan said did not escape the occasional teasing and bullying by other kids but she just shrugged them off “because they are kids and some of them don’t understand.”


During the last school break, Gaan tutored several preschoolers to prepare them for the opening of this school year.


She teaches not only visually impaired kids but also those with multiple handicaps. Some kids, she noted, had behavior problems or other physical problems.


To avoid losing her patience with her students, Gaan said she thought of how patient her teachers were with her. “That gives me the tolerance to deal with difficult students,” she said.


She tries different approaches in dealing with her students. One student, for example, likes to talk and tell her stories. “I just let her talk for a while before I proceed with the lesson. They are kids, after all,” she said.


“Here in RBI, we encourage them to attend regular schools,” Gaan said. “What I do is basically tutorial or one-on-one teaching.”


Ideal teacher


She said she believed the best person to teach a visually impaired person “is also a visually impaired one.”


“It is not only because we understand their needs but our experience gives them the reassurance that the learning process won’t be as hard as they think it would be,” she added.


“As a teacher, I have to first understand that I’m teaching blind students,” she said. “I describe to them in detail what I am teaching to give them an idea of what I’m talking about.


“I cannot say ‘this,’ ‘those,’ or ‘that’ because they won’t be able to comprehend what I’m saying,” she added.


Gaan said she encouraged parents to be in the room where she conducted the tutorial not only to get them involved but also to help her look after their child. There were times, she said, when a student would just leave the room without asking permission.


She said she felt great teaching children no matter how difficult things could be at times.


“I feel great when I see improvements in them,” she said, “and when they tell their parents, ‘I learned this from teacher.’”


Gaan related how one child kept telling her, “I love you, teacher.” It truly warmed her heart because she knew her efforts were appreciated.


The middle child in a brood of three, Gaan is accompanied by her father, a former watchman, when she goes to work.


Gaan said she intended to develop other activities that would interest her students and help them appreciate more what she taught them.


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