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Tech Drives Learning at South Dakota School for the Blind

Having moved into a new building last year, the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired uses technology to help students type in braille, enhance images or hear what's displayed on a screen.

Blind person using computer with braille computer display and a computer keyboard
Massachusetts has created an account to help agencies fund needed accommodations for disabled employees -- like technologies that help the visually impaired use computers.
(TNS) — U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., got an opportunity to see how technology was integrated into classrooms at the new school for the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Aberdeen.

Johnson toured the new school on Thursday talking with school officials about integrating technology and preparing students for the real world.

Superintendent Dan Trefz said that the school currently has 28 students enrolled, up from 21 at the same time last year. The school is predominantly made up of elementary and senior high school students, Trefz said, with a large gap between the middle school ages.

The South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired moved into its new building in 2020. The school is on South State Street near the Northern State University campus.

Johnson said that one of his main takeaways from the visit was how the school integrates technology into its learning process.

At one point during his visit, Johnson stopped in a high school history class, where two students were using devices that allowed for them to type with braille and a technology device that enlarged pictures for students with visual impairments.

Students also use VoiceOver technology on their computers and devices, which gives students the description of what's on their screen.

Students at the school also have their own dormitories, which were built so each room could accommodate up to two students.

Currently, however, each of the 22 rooms are single living spaces. Most of the students also go home on the weekends, Trefz said.

One way the school tries to prepare students for the real world is through an apartment stimulation program. At the school, students live in an apartment with a small kitchenette, dining room, living room, bathroom and a bedroom for two weeks.

"It's just kind of a little mini-efficient type apartment," Trefz said.

During this time, students are also given a budget and are able to go grocery shopping.

"It's reassuring to see how focused they are at making sure that people can live the lives of maximum independence," Johnson said during the visit.

Last year, with the help of COVID funding, the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired was able to purchase laptops for each student.

"They never were one-to-one before that, so last year we got them. That way we were kind of prepared, in case we did have to get sent home and we can still function through Zoom and digitally," Trefz said. "But now, that's the whole purpose of having those as their independent device that they learn on."

COVID funding also allowed for the school to purchase new televisions for classrooms, Trefz said.

During his visit, Johnson also commented on the way the school tailors the educational experience for each student. After his visit, Johnson attended Pizza Ranch in Aberdeen for the Brown County Republicans Reagan Lunch.

©2021 the American News (Aberdeen, S.D.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.