Prof. Miranda, my Chemistry Professor

college graduation photo of Carol Catacutan

It was 9:30 Am and I am 30 minutes early for my Chemistry class. I was already a graduating student of AB European languages from the University of the Philippines but I needed to complete my general education subjects in Science.

I did not go straight to my classroom on the second floor. Instead, I went straight to Prof. Bienvenido Miranda’s room on the ground floor of the Science Faculty Center.

One step ahead

Prof Miranda, already in his late 60s, was already in his room waiting for me. His wife, also a UP Professor, readily assisted me and led me to a chair. After I was comfortably seated, Prof. Miranda led my hand to touch several steel wires and different sizes of plastic balls arranged on top of a wooden board. He carefully led my hand to touch each set of plastic balls connected by wires. In between the plastic balls were lumps of cotton. The balls, wires, and cotton represent the four patterns of electron configuration namely S, P, D, and F. At the center of the board was the biggest ball representing the nucleus of an atom. Around the nucleus were smaller balls representing the protons and the same number of still smaller balls represent the electrons.

As my fingers trailed on the different plastic balls, Prof. Miranda patiently showed me the different patterns on how the electrons were arranged around the nucleus while the cotton represent the energy that binds one electron to another. He patiently showed me the S pattern, the P, Pattern, the D pattern and finally, the F pattern. All the electron configuration models were especially designed and customized for me by Prof. Miranda.

At 10:00 AM, my best friend, Jessica, picked me up from Prof. Miranda’s office and we went upstairs to our Chemistry class where we sat at the back. Minutes after, Prof. Miranda arrived in our room and started his lecture on the four types of electron configuration. As he pointed at every single pattern on the board, I already have the images inside my head. I need not strain my neck to look at the board because my eyes would not see them anyway. Only my hands can read the drawings because I’m totally blind.

Prof. Miranda went out of his way to teach me chemistry in a manner that I would understand. He invested an additional 30 minutes for each class just to show me in tactile form the various protons, neutrons and electrons of an atom. He did not provide me with the extra hours because the Science Department ordered him to do so. He did not spend extra time and money to construct all the models just because he had plenty of time to waste. Prof. Miranda went out of his way to ensure that a blind person would understand Chemistry because he wanted his students to learn.

Going an extra mile

On our mid-term exam, I was instructed to take my exam in Prof. Miranda’s room. Prof. Miranda prepared a pen and blue book for me. The blue book is laid on a wooden board with spikes on either side. Across the board was a plastic strip with two holes at either end for the spikes to pass through. As I move the plastic strip downward from spike to spike, the strip corresponds to every line on the blue book. Then, I took the pen. Prof. Miranda’s wife started reading the test questions to me. After each question, I wrote my answer on the blue book using a pen. As I write the letters, I trail my left hand on the plastic strip to ensure that my writing remains on a straight line. After one and a half hours, I finished my mid-term exam.

On the next meeting, Prof. Miranda announced the results of the mid-term exam. He said that the top scorer got 100 points. Oohs and Ahs filled the room. Then Prof. Miranda called Miss Catacutan. Everybody looked around, trying to identify who that was. I timidly stood up and Prof. Miranda said that I was the top scorer. At the end of the semester, I got a flat 1 for my Chemistry subject not because I’m a science genius but because of a teacher, a Prof. Miranda who embraced me as his student—not a student with limitation but as a person with potential.

Seeing Through Technology

Image of Carol Catacutan smiling and text.

by Carol Catacutan, ATRIEV’s Chief of Operations and founding member

It’s happening…the blind can be call center agents, virtual assistants, transcriptionists and blog writers because of technology. Nowadays, computers easily translate every keystroke and screen change into speech. ATRIEV, the IT Center for the blind, started it all in the Philippines in 1999.

Unwittingly, I am one of the founders that made ATRIEV a reality. Before we started, I was skeptical about how technology can significantly make the blind independent. I studied in a mainstream high school and college and this meant my dependence on my mom to read the books to me, on my classmates to read the notes on the board to me, and on my typewriter to write down my answers to my exams. Yes, I survived but with a lot of help.

So, when my blind friends introduced to me a computer that allowed me to listen to my keystroke as I type and read back what I have written, I knew that this time, I can pursue my dream of being a journalist.

Burning with the desire to learn the technology, I joined ATRIEV’s experimental computer training for its four blind founding members in 1996. We brought our desktop computers to UST Pediatrics Foundation where the training first was held. We used a hardware sound card inserted in the CPU and an external speaker to use a program that will translate text to speech. We learned to use a word processing software, a computing software and a database software. I was truly amazed. With a computer, I can easily write and edit my work. In no time, I finished my first book, a romance novel entitled “My Special Friend,” taken after my first love, and then wrote my life story in a teleplay for “Maalaala Mo Kaya” entitled “Liwanag” where Claudine Baretto played my part. I even brought my talking computer to the television shoot so that I can edit my script on the spot!

In 1999, my magazine article brought ATRIEV to life. I wrote a feature article about the life story of Tony Llanes, the blind person who had a vision about ATRIEV, the very first blind person who believed that the blind can use computers. Tony’s life story landed as the cover story of Sunday Inquirer Magazine. Because of its wide circulation, ATRIEV was introduced to STI, one of the leading IT school in the Philippines. Together, ATRIEV and STI launched the very first computer training for 10 blind persons. To this day, ATRIEV continues to provide training to hundreds of blind persons all over the Philippines. We have produced the first blind software analyst, the first blind programmer and the first blind college instructor.

Technology helped me reach my dream as a journalist, a romance novelist and a television scriptwriter. Now, let ATRIEV help you achieve your dreams, too. Who knows, you can be the first blind app developer of our country.