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Posted: 3/19/2012
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Colegio San Benito School Uses Accessible Software to Help Student Who Is Blind Reach the Top of Her Class

Ignacia Picas, a student at Colegio San Benito who is blind, once relied on a specialized Braille typewriter to complete her school assignments. Now she uses accessibility programs in the Windows operating system, built-in tools in Microsoft Office applications, and compatible screen reading software to participate fully in classroom activities and to maintain a near-perfect grade point average.

A Dedicated Student
Ignacia Picas is a student at Colegio San Benito, a primary-level school in Santiago, Chile. Founded in 1982, the school serves approximately 1,500 students. With the help of her parents and teachers, Ignacia strives to excel in the same learning environment as her peers. Learning Braille quickly as a child helped with her early education. “By the time Igancia was three, she could already read and write in Braille,” says Andrea Aguilera Picas, Ignacia’s mother.

Ignacia's father, Rodrigo Picas, wanted to ensure that Ignacia not only had a chance to fit in with her peers but to excel academically. "We realized a long time ago that the only way Ignacia could really achieve integration in the classroom and advance at school was to incorporate technology into her daily life to make things a little easier for her.”

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* When Ignacia started using Microsoft programs, together with the JAWS software, we noticed that everything became much easier for her. *

Viviana Contreras
Teacher, Colegio San Benito

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Easy-to-Use Accessibility Software Makes All the Difference

At age 12, Ignacia began using a laptop computer running the Windows operating system. She now uses accessibility programs in Windows and built-in tools in Microsoft Office applications, together with JAWS (Job Access With Speech) screen-reading software, as part of her daily routine. The JAWS software, which is compatible with Windows, converts text into spoken words. Throughout the school day, Ignacia uses Microsoft Word to create documents, take notes, and complete tests. She also uses Microsoft Excel spreadsheet software to organize information and perform calculations for math and science lessons. 

Beyond incorporating technologies that assist people who are blind, Microsoft Windows includes many built-in accessibility features for students with low vision.
 
For example, the Magnifier utility in Windows enlarges portions of the screen to make it easier for people with low vision to view text and images. Windows also includes a High Contrast option, which heightens color contrast to make the screen easier to read.
 
“When Ignacia started using Microsoft programs, together with the JAWS software, we noticed that everything became much easier for her,” says Viviana Contreras, Ignacia’s teacher at Colegio San Benito. “Before, all of her assignments needed to be translated into Braille, which took extra time and made it harder for Ignacia to keep up with the rest of the class. But now, with her laptop, she can progress right along with the other students.”  Rather than converting text into Braille, her teachers use Microsoft Office applications to prepare assignments and exams for the class, and then they save the files on a USB storage device for Ignacia to use. After completing an assignment on her laptop, Ignacia gives the USB drive back to her teacher for review.   

“I love learning new things in class from my teachers and then researching more about the topic later on,” says Ignacia. “I use tools from Microsoft to do all of my schoolwork and homework. If I don’t have access to these tools, I can’t study, so they’re very important to me.”

Success in the Classroom and Beyond
Accessibility features in Microsoft Windows, Office, and Internet Explorer, in conjunction with JAWS screen reading software, enables Ignacia to be an exemplary student, who excels in exactly the same educational environment as her peers. In fact, Ignacia maintains a near-perfect grade point average. Adds Angel Dubon Marchelli, Director of Microsoft Partners in Learning in Latin America: “Igancia's story illustrates the power of technology. Accessibility features in Windows and Microsoft Office can empower students who otherwise might have had an extremely difficult time communicating, collaborating, or socializing with their peers.”
 
Ignacia’s mother adds that, because of access to software programs designed for people with disabilities, her daughter can experience a more fulfilling life. “Technology has greatly influenced Ignacia’s life,” says Andrea Aguilera. “She has made a great leap forward.”

And, her father Rodrigo proudly states, "Ignacia is totally integrated in her school. Her life is absolutely normal and people often don't realize that she is blind, because she can do all the things that anyone else her age can do.”

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Partners in Learning Network
On the Partners in Learning Network, members can find accessibility guides and curriculum resources and share best practices for using technology with their students with disabilities.


Accessibility in Education
www.microsoft.com/education/enable

Empower all students with accessible technology.
Students with disabilities and learning style differences face unique challenges in learning and in life. Microsoft is dedicated to building accessibility into our products, and also providing accessibility resources for educators.
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