Thanks to my Prep teacher and assistive technology, my start counted

Without assistive technology at a young age, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I have a passion for poetry and writing, and the technology I use helps unleash the power of words to promote social change. That’s why I’m supporting CBM Australia’s theme for International Day of People with Disabilities on December 3: #MyStartCounts

CBM Australia’s #MyStartCounts campaign aims to build awareness of the 107.5 million children with disabilities in the poorest nations of our region.

Back when I started school, I was very blessed to have Jenny Vass as my Prep teacher. Mrs Vass suspected there were capabilities within me that were yet to be expressed. She applied for a computer for me. The keyboard was accompanied by what’s called a keyguard, which is made of Perspex and sits over the top of the keyboard. It has holes for each key and the edges of the holes guide my fingers so that I hit the desired key.

Without a keyguard, I wouldn’t have the voice that I have. Not then. Not now.

I thank God for Mrs Vass, who had this to say about me:

Stevie Willis as a Prep student

“It was evident to me that SO much talent was tucked inside this vibrant little girl, and I was proven correct. Once the computer came that had a grid over the letters to make it easier for her to hit the letter she wanted, she started writing amazing sentences. The process was very slow, requiring so much determination and effort; we were all filled with admiration. She never gave up and was always pushing her boundaries to achieve the next physical hurdle.”

It became easy and enjoyable to read stories and topics I wanted to explore.

As an adult, technology has greatly advanced my capacity to read and write. I have a computer program called Read and Write Gold which text-predicts and reads text out loud to me. I thought I didn’t like reading, but with Read and Write Gold, audiobooks and eBooks, it became easy and enjoyable to read stories and topics I wanted to explore.

The World Health Organisation estimates that in many developing countries, only 5-15 per cent of assistive technology needs are met. Barriers to children accessing assistive technology can include a lack of awareness, limited government programs, products, finance and human resources and the perspective of teachers. Some teachers do not feel confident teaching children with disabilities or see this as the role of ‘special’ educators.

It grieves me that many children do not have the assistive technology to express themselves and engage in education. It leaves them unable to fully explore their innate capabilities and an enormous amount of untapped God-given potential around the world.

It grieves me that many children do not have the assistive technology to express themselves and engage in education.

Recently I was in touch with Mrs Vass and I asked her why inclusive education was important to her. Her reply still resonates:

“We are all equal in God’s eyes. We are all unique with different gifts and abilities. We need to love and support one another to help each other use our gifts for the betterment of everyone.”

Mrs Vass helped make #MyStartCount. Via assistive technology #MyStartCounted.

On December 3, will you join me in calling for more children to be empowered as I was?

The #MyStartCounts campaign aims to build momentum by asking Australians to participate in a virtual event and share images and videos on their social media.

1. TUNE IN. The community is invited to tune in to an online event at 2pm AEDT on 2 December hosted by CBM Australia CEO Jane Edge to view the screening of an interview with two young disability advocates – Maselina Iuta and Beia Temango – to learn from their lived experiences.

Attendees will also view a new video telling the stories of children throughout the region ahead of IDPD on 3 December. The video shares the voices of children with disabilities and the challenges they face in accessing care, education and inclusion in The Philippines and Kenya.

2. SHARE, for example, this short video and other posts tagged #MyStartCounts and #IDPD2022. This helps us advocate for a better start for children with disabilities worldwide.

Stevie Wills is CBM Australia’s Community Education Officer.