Suzan Atta, a special-education teacher, has dedicated her life to discovering tools that would help visually-impaired students in their academic pursuitsThe life of a student is hard. Tests, quizzes, exams, homework, practicals, and oh-so-much pressure to excel plagues each and everyone of us. In certain cases, however, the grass isn’t any greener on the other side of the fence.
Take a deep breath and close your eyes. The darkness you see is all that they see. To be able to overcome such a challenge and pursue a normal academic career is nothing short of a miracle in itself.
Students with visual disabilities experience countless difficulties during their academic endeavors. Suzan Atta, a specialist in special education at the Ebsar Association for Visual Rehabilitation, decided to do something to alleviate their plight as much as she could.
Atta has been teaching mathematics to visually-disabled students since 1993. Her vast experience in the field has equipped her with sufficient understanding of the challenges and obstacles that visually-impaired students face when learning mathematics. For this reason, Atta has spent the past six years of her career trying – and succeeding – in developing practical, safe, and effective tools that would facilitate such children in mathematics. She firmly believes that she could help enhance their future by creating innovative educational tools, which would make the arduous process of learning much easier for them.
Traditionally, visually-disabled students were taught mathematics using a device called an abacus – an ancient apparatus used for arithmetic calculations – and despite its antiquity, it continued to be a popular method for mathematical instruction at special-education schools.
“These devices, however, aren’t very useful for the students since all the calculations that they would do in one class could not be saved for the next. For each class, the students would have to start their calculations from scratch, which is not only a waste of time but also detrimental for their motivation,” explained Atta.
She said other tools or devices on the market are expensive. “Students’ families spend about SR250 every month buying tools that can be lost and easily broken, which can be financially draining for some families who can’t afford this amount of money on a regular basis,” she informed.
In certain places, mathematics is taught using books in Braille – a linguistic system for people who are visually-impaired – with tactile picture. However, this method is also not entirely effective since students need to perform calculations mentally and there isn’t any way to record them for future reference.
Moreover, some of the devices in use at special schools were actually harmful for the students. “Some of these tools contain material that is toxic and can be penurious for the students’ health. As teachers, using these tools was completely unacceptable to us,” said Atta.
All these circumstances encouraged Atta, who enlisted the help of two of her colleagues, to develop a device that would not only do its job but do it right. Very recently, Atta succeeded in inventing a device that would help visually-impaired students of mathematics to save (or record) their calculations. The device is essentially a mathematical margin that is added to the calculations and makes it easier to review and, therefore, complete the entire calculation at another point in time, without the risk of it being lost or unsaved.
Complete details about the invention and its function, however, were not disclosed since the invention remains to be patented and is still in the process of being fine-tuned. Atta indicated that until the device has been finalized, she can not reveal how exactly it works.
Mohammed Tawfik Blu, Secretary General of the Ebsar Association, commented on the relevance of such an invention: “We will definitely adopt the invention officially, as it reinforces our strategic plan to enhance the rehabilitation of the visually-impaired.” The association has also adopted other inventions in this regard, like the invention by Al-Nour Institute in Qatar, cited Blu. The Ministry of Education has shown a great deal of interest in the invention and is planning to distribute it at schools across the Kingdom.
– Saudi Gazette