Technology on the Job #3

Technology on the Job #3

Learn how a choir director continues to educate her students while wearing the newest in assistive technology headsets!

Xhy Palmachu is a choir director of a private school living in Florida. As a kid, it didn't take Palmachu long to figure out that she had much worse vision than her peers - especially at night - but it wasn't until high school that she realized she might need assistive technology. Palmachu was eventually diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative eye disease that slowly reduces both peripheral and center vision. She explains that she will eventually suffer from "tunnel vision," as though she's looking through the world through a straw.

Palmachu enjoys her job as a choir director for 4th to 8th grade, and she doesn't want her condition to get in the way of that. To help with this, she relies on state-of-the-art assistive technology that she obtained from Florida Vision Technology through the Department of Blind Services, and she says that such tools have a massive impact on her daily life. 

In her early life, Palmachu's opinion of assistive technology was decidedly mixed. She recalls lugging a massive closed circuit television (CCTV) around her high school to help her with basic tasks, and she found it burdensome, as well as unduly heavy. When she first stepped into Florida Vision Technology's store, however, she was overjoyed to find that there were so many tools to help her live her daily life. 

"It's like a toy store, but even cooler," she says. "I had no idea that any of this stuff existed. Things like Braille Uno cards, which you wouldn't even think of... Getting to play with everything was fun, and everyone was so nice. I really got a sense that they wanted to help me."

Today, however, she uses her HumanWare Connect 12 almost every day as both a tablet and a CCTV, and she says that it makes doing her job and dealing with her students a lot easier. In her role as a teacher, Palmachu has to send many emails to parents and her fellow faculty members, which was difficult for her prior to obtaining the tablet. 

"Before I had the Connect 12, I would have to take a laptop and my 10-pound Visiobook to campus every day," Palmachu says. "It was a process. When I knew it was time to get something new, I got the Connect 12 because it can help me computer-wise with emails and communicating with parents, sending stuff to the kids, doing Zoom calls during COVID times. The fact that it's an all-in-one situation really helps with the portability, and it's so much lighter."

As a visually-impaired musician - she sings in a local choir, and plays the guitar and flute - Palmachu relies heavily on her ability to play music by ear in order to keep up with her hobbies. However, the Connect 12 gives her the option of reading sheet music, which can sometimes help her through difficult passages. The device also helps her read the lyrics of choir pieces that she performs with her students, which are often in foreign languages that are difficult to explain to kids only through speech.

Far from a source of confusion for her students, Palmachu says that her Connect 12 allows her to educate her kids about the reality that visually-impaired people face every day. Because her new students end up asking her about it regardless, Palmachu sets aside time the first day of every school year to explain her various devices to her students so they understand her impairment and why the technology is important.

"Kids are just amazingly curious creatures, and they can be a little rude about it without realizing it," Palmachu says, laughing. "So that first day is like a low-vision education day. I show them the CCTV, I tell them why I need it, and I let them push the buttons and see what it does. If they see a button, they have to press it, of course. The kids want to help me, and they are helpful. It's a great part of my job."

Though Palmachu is more than happy with the capabilities of her Connect 12, which allows her to easily read and magnify text, as well as helping her with her computer communications, that isn't her only device. She recently received a pair of eSight glasses, a headset-like device that uses cameras and zoom technology to allow certain low-vision people to move around in the world more freely. 

The eSight can assist users with tasks that they might not be able to perform without help, such as gardening, cooking, or even going to a movie. For example, though Palmachu can barely see the big E on a traditional vision chart, while wearing the eSight, she can go all the way down to one of the bottom lines, which she found unbelievable. Though she says she needs more training with the device before she feels comfortable wearing it out in the world by herself, she's excited about the possibilities that it offers.

"It's going to allow me to do all sorts of things that I couldn't do before, and that's awesome to me," she says. "And it's all thanks to Florida Vision Technology. They're just really cool."

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