Visually challenged student takes on technology

Source: WSUTODAYJ.R. Westmoreland works in a computer lab at Weber State University. Westmoreland has created apps in his computer science program despite being blind.
J.R. Westmoreland works in a computer lab at Weber State University. Westmoreland has created apps in his computer science program despite being blind.

Being blind does not take away creativity. Blindness involves a whole new level of creativity to see without seeing. In the case of Weber State University student J.R. Westmoreland, having a vision of creating something does not have to involve sight. It involves ambition and the right technology.

Westmoreland has shown his creativity through app creation in the WSU computer science program. He started school in 1976 and is back again in 2012-13 to take on the world of computers.

“Technology has changed so drastically from when I started college,” Westmoreland said. “Textbooks came in two flavors: Braille or on tape.”

Computer science professor Rob Hilton stressed the importance of choosing textbooks that come in electronic form as well as text form. The current system comes in electronic format, with publishers working to create readily accessible books and even magazines.

“(These students) want to succeed despite their limitations,” Hilton said. “We try to help them by making the things they need to learn as accessible to them as to other students without limitations.”

Hilton said he always tries to include a digital component in his lectures, with diagrams and audio explanations where available. He said it involves a whole new method of teaching that encompasses many new ideas within the lecturing process.

Many students at WSU face disabilities that could hinder them from turning dreams into reality. There is a place on campus to go for help. Located in the Student Services Building, the Center for Students with Disabilities offers advisement and solutions for all students.

Angela McLean, a disability specialist for the center, works with students to help overcome obstacles. McLean said she feels technology can be an equalizer in the classroom, with a universal design to help all students.

“The conversation always goes to technology,” McLean said. “Technology makes them more independent, not relying on another person to do something for them.”

As a blind student, Westmoreland works in conjunction with the center to accomplish anything he might need on campus. The idea of accessibility is a theme for him. He said he wants accessibility for all students, whether on the computer or for walking down the sidewalk.

“I want every visually challenged programmer around the world to be able to use my technology as I do,” he said. “It took me a long time to develop my app. I plan on developing and creating a video to help instructors with the teaching process.”

Westmoreland may have sparked a new age for not only the computer programming industry, but for all persons with disabilities. The once-impossible thought of writing an app has become a reality for a student who simply needed the right technology, personal motivation and encouragement of a mentor.

The Center for Students with Disabilities has brought in a technology specialist to help with the growing technology needs of students. Students with problems ranging from loss of hearing to testing anxiety are encouraged to visit the center.