Crystal’s story: Empowering the visually impaired with digital skills

Crystal Jhoy Banzil lost any chance of having eyesight when her retinas did not develop properly in the weeks after her premature birth. Now 14 years-old, she is confident that technology will help her forge an independent and productive life and career in Manila, the bustling capital city of The Philippines.

The 9th grader goes to a neighborhood school where she is the only visually impaired student in her class. She is doing well in her studies with the help of her teachers, family, and friends. She uses braille, but she has big ambitions and also wants to learn how to code. So, after school she takes extra classes at ATRIEV – Adaptive Technology for Rehabilitation, Integration and Empowerment of the Visually Impaired – a Philippine non-government organization at the forefront of providing access to information technology for those without sight or with low vision.

ATRIEV was established in 1994 by Antonio “Tony” Llannes, himself visually impaired. Initially, it started as a club for blind people to volunteer to teach computing skills to others with the disability, he explains. And, it grew from there.

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“For the past two decades, we have witnessed how technology has brought the world closer together. And the blind, as a part of the global community, have taken full advantage of this technology,” the organization says. “Through the use of computers, the blind can now do what most sighted people can do: surf the web, send and receive emails, write articles, make calculations and even participate in social media.

“It has enabled training programs have produced blind contact center agents, virtual assistants, online content writers, transcriptionists, cross-sell agents, software analysts and search engine optimization managers.” ATRIEV also provides life skills workshops, personality development workshops, and courses in work ethics.

Microsoft has supported ATRIEV since 2008 as part of its YouthSpark Coding for Accessibility program. The partnership was widened last year. “We are working with them to support their digital literacy effort for the blind and people with low vision,” says Microsoft Philippines Education Programs Lead Clarissa Segismundo. “We provide them with the curriculum. We provide them with the materials.”

She says the emphasis is on productivity to help students be in tune with what’s happening in the digital world today. “We help the educators use these tools … to make sure that when they are in the classroom these technologies are maximized and put to proper use.”

Crystal and her fellow students are learning to become digitally literate. “I really want to improve and build on things I already know and the things I am about to learn.” She hopes one day soon to be able to create her own software.

“I am the type of person who is positive,” she says. “I don’t count the things I don’t have. I am content with what I have and who I am.”

Read more about ATRIEV here

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