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An Inspiring Visit to Mission Middle College: The Difference Poet Makes

2013 May 15

Benetech recently visited Mission Middle College in Santa Clara, California to talk with students, parents, and educators. During this visit, which included Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), we got a chance to show attendees the Poet image description tool. Following is a special guest post by Sue-Ann Ma, Product Manager at Benetech, who shares her perspective on this visit.

LIVE! Students demo tech & eBooks for high school & college prep as Michael Yudin & Betsy Beaumon observe.…

— Bookshare (@Bookshare) May 9, 2013

Recently, I made my first school visit as a Benetech employee. As Product Manager for Poet, it’s easy to explain the benefits of our open-source tool designed to provide image descriptions in books for readers with print disabilities. But during this visit I saw another dimension to Poet that I had never considered. During the 90 minutes I spent with five teenagers and their two inspiring teachers, I began to see Poet as more than just a tool that enables volunteers of all ages and backgrounds to create accessible images. As I listened to students with dyslexia and other reading disabilities talk about how to describe images in textbooks, I was amazed by how quickly things “went meta.”

The students talked about how Poet made them think about the ways people learn and the need to provide a more level playing field when it comes to education. While describing an image in an eighth-grade art history textbook, one student discussed the complex processes associated with deciding what to describe and debated whether or not it was appropriate to embed personal interpretations and emotions elicited by the pictures in his descriptions. This particular student also shared how he frequently jotted down the names of artists and artworks he encountered while writing image descriptions so that he could conduct research outside his weekly volunteer hours (he plans to become a filmmaker down the road).

As a result of this visit, I came to see the ways in which Poet serves as a powerful medium that’s helping shape the next generation of humanitarians. The Poet tool gave these students one way to give back in the field of education and literacy while raising awareness about the diverse backgrounds and needs some of us have when it comes to learning.

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