Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

Podcast With A Blindness Perspective.

Nov 26, 2018

Show Summary:

Please welcome Teen correspondent, Simon Bonenfant, as he steps into the interviewer role for Blind Abilities. While attending and presenting at the Pennsylvania NFB convention, Simon pulled out his recorder and went to work. Conducting 5 interviews from vendors and presenters. In this first interview, Simon talks to Dr. Cary Supalo about his work and what suggestions he has for transition age students considering going into the STEM fields.

Join Simon and Dr. Supalo as they talk about the importance of learning blindness skills and the possibilities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

(Full Transcription Below)

Check out previous interviews with Simon Bonenfant:

TVI Toolbox: Summer Academy, Total Transition to College Experience – Welcome Back Simon Bonenfant and Meet Fellow Student, John Dowling

TVI Toolbox:  Science, Technology, Engineering and Math: Carving His Pathway Towards Success, Meet Simon Bonenfant

 

Read below to learn more about Dr. Cary Supalo, his work and his accomplishments.

From the Web:

Cary Supalo

Senior Developer, Cognitive Sciences and Assistive Technology
Educational Testing Service


Dr. Supalo received his Ph.D. from Penn State University in 2010 with a research interest in chemical education. He focused on the development of a series of talking and audible laboratory tools that promotes a hands-on science learning experience in the secondary science laboratory classroom. Through his research he modified various laboratory curricula to develop a set of best practices for teaching science in a hands-on way to students who are blind. . Dr. Supalo currently serves as a Research Developer with the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey. His research addresses accessibility concerns as it relates to high stakes assessments and working to help develop the next-generation interfaces needed to promote inclusion in the STEM fields of study. He has a strong passion for collaborating with anyone interested in working to make the hands-on science learning experience for students with disabilities more a reality.
Papers:
Breaking New Ground in Accessibility: Innovations in Making NGSS-Aligned Assessments Accessible to Blind and Visually Impaired Students
Developing Equitable Assessments: Creating Standards for Accessibility/Accommodations and Enhanced Item Innovations

 

Contact:

Thank you for listening!
You can follow us on Twitter @BlindAbilities
On the web at www.BlindAbilities.com
Send us an email
Get the Free Blind Abilities Appon the App Store.

 

Full Transcription:

A Conversation with Dr. Cary Supalo: STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and of course, Braille and Mobility

 

Cary Supalo:

I learned pursuing a STEM career, it's not going to be handed to you. If you wait for the world to make it all accessible to you, it's probably not going to happen.

 

Jeff Thompson:          

Please welcome Doctor Cary Supalo.

 

Cary Supalo:   

That's the essence of what STEM professionals do. We problem solve. We figure stuff, figure stuff, figure stuff out.

 

Jeff Thompson:          

STEM, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

 

Cary Supalo:   

To make something out of nothing or to do something that's never been done before, that's the beauty of being a scientist. No two days of work are ever alike. There's always the chance you're going to discover something really significant on any given day that can change the world.

 

Jeff Thompson:

Doctor Supalo has spent a lot of time creating and developing talking and audible devices for STEM students. He has created curricula for teachers of the visually impaired and is a huge advocate for blindness skills training.

 

Cary Supalo:   

You really need to have good blindness skills. You have to be confident in your ability to get from Point A to Point B on your own.

 

Jeff Thompson:          

Welcome to Blind Abilities. I'm Jeff Thompson. The National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania held their convention, and our man Simon Bonenfant was out there. Simon is a tenth grader. He is in attendance and also spoke about his experience while he attended a summer camp held at Penn State. We did a podcast with Simon about his experience, and you can find that link in the show notes. Simon's also been on before when he's talked about his experiences as a transition age student. He's a tenth grader and has a heavy interest in the STEM project, and that's science, technology, engineering and math.

 

Jeff Thompson:          

This time, Simon's going to flip around to the other side of the microphone and do some interviews. Simon is interviewing Doctor Cary Supalo, and he's a Senior Developer of Cognitive Sciences and Assistive Technology Educational Testing Service. Doctor Supalo received his PhD from Penn State University in 2010 with a research interest in chemical education. Doctor Supalo has been involved in various workshops across the states helping high school and secondary school students success in the STEM programs. He has also helped develop curricula to help teachers succeed in teaching students with visual impairments.

 

Jeff Thompson:          

Without further ado, I'd like to Simon Bonenfant, Blind Abilities' teen correspondent in Pennsylvania. Take it away, Simon.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Simon Bonenfant here. Simon Bonenfant here. Simon Bonenfant here. Hello Blind Abilities Podcasting, it is Simon Bonenfant here corresponding from the Pennsylvania State Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. While I'm here, I have the opportunity to sit down and talk with Cary Supalo. How you doing, Cary?

 

Cary Supalo:   

I'm doing fine. It's a pleasure to be here.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

That's good. Now, Cary is a blind man himself. Where are you from, Cary?

 

Cary Supalo:   

Well, I'm originally from the Chicago area. I live in Princeton, New Jersey now.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

What do you do in Princeton?

 

Cary Supalo:   

I work at the Educational Testing Service. I'm an Accessibility Expert to make sure that high stakes assessments are accessible for blind and visually impaired testing.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Very nice. What was it like growing up for you being blind and kind of coming into your role?

 

Cary Supalo:   

Well, when I was really young, I didn't know very many other blind people. I knew other blind kids through the educational co-op I was a part of, but I was in mainstream school with sighted kids. I used a lot of large print in my early years before I learned braille in middle school. I'm very grateful having learned braille, because I use braille every day now in my work. It was very valuable for me in college and in graduate school.

 

Cary Supalo:   

Between learning the braille and learning how to use a long white cane to get around independently and in making that adjustment to being willing to carry a cane, that's very hard for a lot of people to accept for one reason or another, but once I did that, I was off and running. It couldn't keep me pinned down too much.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Yeah. That's good. What kind of things are you interested in?

 

Cary Supalo:   

I love to travel.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Very nice.

 

Cary Supalo:   

I love to go to places where historically significant things occurred that we've read about in our history books. I like trying to bring history to life for me. It's one thing to read about an idea conceptually in a book, but it's a whole ‘nother matter to walk through the ancient Roman Ruins. As a blind person, I really wanted to use it to test my blindness skills to see if I could really navigate in other countries where they drove on the other side of the road and where they spoke other languages. I quite-

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Yeah, they drive on the other side of the road.

 

Cary Supalo:   

They do, oh yeah. Absolutely.

 

Simon Bonenfant:

Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Cary Supalo:    So, that's one of big interests. I also like learning. I like to play competitive trivia whenever possible.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Oh, nice.

 

Cary Supalo:   

So, knowing lots of factoids about all kinds of things has always interested me, science, math are really my go-to things in my professional career. I took a liking to that in college. Going through high school, I could do the math and science stuff, but I wasn't necessarily in love with it. It wasn't until I got to college and I started meeting other blind scientists in the world that eventually became my mentors and encouraged me to keep going on the path. I learned pursuing a STEM career, it's not going to be handed to you. If you wait for the world to make it all accessible to you, it's probably not going to happen.

 

Cary Supalo:   

So, you need to get really good at thinking on your feet, fundamental problem solving all the time to figure out how to do things. It's one thing to do it as a blind person to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B, which we all know and love we can do, but then you take that skillset and apply it scientific questions, "Well, how do I make this compound from these starting materials? How do I design an experiment that will give me this type of result? What do I have to do to optimize the use of the scientific method to get the results that we hope to-

 

Simon Bonenfant:

Oh, yes, scientific method.

 

Cary Supalo:   

Yes, exactly.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

First step, creating a hypothesis, you know.

 

Cary Supalo:   

Yeah. If you think about what blind people do, we have to figure out where we're going. We have to figure out how to read something. We have to figure out how to access a website or a software application at all parallels. That's a commonsensical thing for we as blind people to consider in STEM professions, because that's the essence of what STEM professionals do. We problem solve. We figure stuff out. The more people that have experience figuring stuff out, the better off our STEM workforce is going to be.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Right, you're the blind person that figures out the solutions for other blind people.

 

Cary Supalo:   

That's right.

 

Simon Bonenfant:

That's very good.

 

Cary Supalo:   

Yeah. To make something out of nothing or to do something that's never been done before, that's the beauty of being a scientist. No two days of work are ever alike. There's always the chance you're going to discover something really significant on any given day that could change the world. Most days aren't like that, but man, when it does happen, it's pretty exciting.

 

Simon Bonenfant:

Now, I know that NFB has had a very great impact on you. How did you come to connecting with NFB? Who are some of your role models that you connected with through this organization?

 

Cary Supalo:

Well, in my early years, going on NFB National Convention, seeing employment panels and other blind students just doing things that you didn't know was possible was very inspiring to me as a young blind person not knowing where my path was going to be in life. Looking up to blind people, successfully employed blind people, people like Curtis Chong who is sort of the ultimate assist tech guru that I've ever met.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Wow.

 

Cary Supalo:   

There are many others, but he is at the top of my list to blind lawyers, and blind engineers, and other blind teachers and such.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Seeing what you've accomplished in your life and in things that you've been able to do, it really echoes the message of the blind can do what we want. We can do what we want, live life as we want, and pursue our goals, pursue our dreams.

 

Cary Supalo:   

Yeah, that's right. Push it to the limit. Live life to the fullest.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Oh, yeah.

 

Cary Supalo:   

That's what I say.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Oh, yeah. Have you been to a lot of place ... a lot of travel, a lot of places?

 

Cary Supalo:   

Too many to count. Too many to count. When I was an undergraduate college, I went to Purdue University and my freshman chemistry course, we had a professor and he would say to us, "The nice thing about becoming a chemistry professor is you get to travel all over the world, other people pay for it, you get to do`lots of really cool things, and people think you're smart." I said, "I want to do that."

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Have you ever encountered any inaccessible barriers that you've had to work through or educate people in your travels?

 

 

 

Cary Supalo:   

Oh, all the time, from misconceptions about abilities to misconceptions about blind people being able to walk up and down steps to unwillingness to read restaurant menus, whatever. You just problem solve and work through it. I mean, there are times to pick your battles, and there are times to fight, and there are times when you just got to do workarounds to get what you need.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Advocating for what you need, that's very important.

 

Cary Supalo:   

Yes.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Our final question is, what advice would you give to someone who is either high school, or transitioning to college, or transitioning to the workplace?

 

Cary Supalo:   

You really need to have good blindness skills. You have to be confident in your ability to get from Point A to Point B on your own. If some of you out there get sighted guide a lot or ask for directions a lot, I mean, that's okay while you're learning, but you have to get to the point when you can do practically if not all of it on your own. It's not saying that you have to do it, but you have to have the skillset to do it in case you need to do it yourself.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Right.

 

Cary Supalo:   

I love to travel all over the world and I do it without any second thought, but I know a lot of young blind people today are hesitant to use canes because they don't want to look different, or maybe they're in a place in their own lives where they're not accepting of their visual impairment. That's okay because until you accept it, I'm not sure how much you're truly going to get there. So, take your time. Everybody comes to this realization at their own pace. To be a successful blind science person, the cane travel skills are critical for job interviewing, for performing the work, to getting to the work. Also, the other skill that I think is critical is the braille, literacy.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Oh yeah, definitely.

 

Cary Supalo:   

You've got to know how to read math braille, and preferably in the Nemeth Code, because Doctor Nemeth was a brilliant mathematician and a blind person. A lot of people don't know that. He designed the Nemeth Code to optimize minimal cells in braille space, a very efficient braille system to read. Since it was invented by a mathematician and a scientist, it's really [inaudible] what we need to do. Knowing how to read braille on the fly, I read braille with eight fingers, some people read it with six, some people only ready it with one or two. If you're one of the people that's one or two fingers, I would encourage you the more fingers you train yourself to read braille with, the faster you're going to be.

 

Cary Supalo:   

When I lecture, I used hard copy braille when I gave lectures when I was teaching at university. I also used roll ... like braille lists of my students. So, I'd call out names of students when I'm looking for people to answer questions or taking attendance. I mean, the braille is a critical skill not only for learning the science but just for classroom management and keeping track of notes and research ideas.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Yeah, a very valuable tool.

 

Cary Supalo:   

Doctor Nemeth told me a story years ago about an experience he had when he had the opportunity to travel over to the Soviet Union. He was asked to visit Moscow and he was giving a lecture, I don't remember the name of the university over there, and he was giving a technical lecture on some advanced concept of quantum mechanics. Doctor Nemeth could hand write, because his parents taught him that it was very important for him to understand what the visual print symbology was in addition to the braille symbology. So, he could write mathematical equations on a chalkboard and he could space out the letters of numbers and symbols very nicely that were very legible.

 

Cary Supalo:   

Well, he would do this complicated math work, and he had all of his equations written out on three by five index braille cards in braille in his suit jacket pocket. So, he had one hand in the suit jacket pocket, the other hand writing on the chalkboard while he was talking about each step of this complicated series of equations. All these kids in Russia thought he was the smartest man they'd ever seen, because they thought he was speaking off of the top of his head. They didn't know that he had everything written out in braille index cards in his suit jacket.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Oh, wow. That is-

 

Cary Supalo:   

So, reading braille can give people a real positive impression of you if you're using it right.

 

 

 

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Oh, yeah. Now, I'll flip this around a little bit and I'll say, what advice would you give teachers who are in the scientific area and who have to teach blind students? What advice would you be able to find information or resources in that area?

 

Cary Supalo:   

Well, your local search engine is a very valuable tool. Using that to search for terms like blind science, chemistry access, things of that ... accessible mathematics, you're going to get a number of hits. It's going to take a little effort on your part to conduct some research. Maybe do a little self professional development, if you will. A willingness to do that and do a little bit of research can go a long way in the life of your student with the visual impairment, for the minutes you invest on the front end will pay many, many dividends on the back end for your student. It's worth every moment of it.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

I say if you have a drive, you have a willingness, if there's a will, there's a way.

 

Cary Supalo:   

Yep. Don't be afraid to think outside the box and try something new if the students gamed and willing. If they're not, well then rethink what you want to do. I think more times than not they're going to want to do more than that.

 

Simon Bonenfant:      

Well, thank you, Cary, for coming on the program and podcast. Very nice speaking with you.

 

Cary Supalo:   

Likewise. Thank you, Simon.

 

 

[Music] [Transition noise]

When we share

-What we see

-Through each other's eyes...

 

[Multiple voices overlapping, in unison, to form a single sentence]

 

...We can then begin to bridge the gap between the limited expectations, and the realities of Blind Abilities.

 

Jeff Thompson:

For more podcasts with the blindness perspective:

Check us out on the web at www.BlindAbilities.comOn Twitter @BlindAbilities

Download our app from the App store:
 'Blind Abilities'; that's two words, Blind Abilities.

Or send us an e-mail at:

info@BlindAbilities.com

Thanks for listening.