A Star Gate to Success

Image of Justin smiling and text.

by John Sebastian Procoro Masbad

Ask a child about his dream and he will tell you such hopeful words, “I want to be an engineer,” or “I want to become a pilot,” or “I wish I could be an astronaut.” How does a child come up with those professions that he does not know the hardships of those working industry? It is obvious that he uses his eyesight in watching TV, playing toys and reading books that attracts him to aim those dreams. A person with visual impairment does not have the eyesight to see his environment, however, he is given the free will to develop the rest of his senses and his abilities more than the persons with eyesight have. I am Justin, and I believe that being an ATRIEVER is also a great achiever.

It was June 2006 after high school graduation when my life became gloomy. My skills in technology and internet were too meager to have a decent work. After I took my breakfast, a call on my mother’s phone came.
The call was from ATRIEV. I recognized the voice on the other line and I said: “Oh, it is Ms. Des.” She offered me a 6-month training of Access Technology for Computer Literacy, which is mostly similar to Digital Literacy Training.
Ms. Des and Dandy Revale were the ATRIEV personalities who were also my schoolmates in Philippine National School For The Blind before. I also remembered once that Dandy came to PNSB’s campus to distribute ATRIEV’s brochures with the list of all programs and services.
During high school days, I spent my time in academic achievements and not in technological skills, so after the call, I felt so excited and hurried to ATRIEV’s office in STI College Cubao to fill up the registration form and submit the training requirements.

It was an exhilarating first day of the training and I met new classmates. It was the time when I started to broadened my skills in a screen reader named None Visual Desktop Access (NVDA beta versions) and Job Access With Speech (JAWS) to navigate Windows Environment as well as different software user interfaces and internet sites.

back in high school, by relying to my own ability, I did not spend my time to meet the blind communities. Once I said to myself, “I can do it alone without the help of any institutions that deal with persons with visual impairment.” Thanks to ATRIEV, through its life-changing trainings, I transformed myself from snobbish attitude to open mindedness that can work with different teams. It helped me to uplift my technological and internet buff skills and treated this field as my safety lane to an excellent career. It developed my communication and interaction skills in highest level of confidence.

As one of the trainers since 2016, many valuable principles were added in to my consciousness: “It is not enough to master all the skills in this world, you must also have to establish the ability to share your skills in a simplest way. Growth is a huge thing that I gained since I became an ATRIEVER. I met different persons with different attitudes. Another great value I kept was: “I am comfortable being uncomfortable.” It started when I became one of the two emcees in DLT final presentation. It is my first time to nervously speak on the crowd. After the program, my shyness turned in to dust.

There are countless moments that I become so mischievous, naughty and playful with my co-trainers. There are also times that I must keep myself on silent mode while observing other people.

ATRIEV is the star gate of my life that brought me to an astronomic level of my being. From establishing career to thinking skills until meeting all types of persons comfortably. Through ATRIEV, I am free to share my knowledge to anyone through its numerous projects as a trainer, blogging, operating system and online platform administration, technical writing etc. From the boring life prior to ATRIEV to dynamic life inside ATRIEV, curious-driven attitude enabled me to explore different world of persons, careers, minds and technology. Living independently through ATRIEV will never turn me down to the earth of close mindedness and fear. There is a saying from Robin Sharma: “Where victims see adversity, extreme achievers see opportunity.” And I must say: ““Where victims see their disability, great ATRIEVERS see opportunity.”

A New found Family

Image of Nikka smiling and text.

by Nerikka Escario

The family could be your greatest strength in times of problems but they can also be the one who will let you down and be your weakness.
I was in my darkest hour back then when my sister said “Ano girl, pabigat na tayo ah?” I knew that was a joke so I just laugh but at the back of my mind, it was quite true.
After thinking about what she said, I immediately asked my mom to look for a school who teaches braille, a form of reading and writing used by a visually impaired. She eventually found an organization that teaches braille. When we were in their office, there was a man who knocked on the door and sat beside me. He talked to me and asked if I know the organization that teaches computer for the blind. He’s Mr. Ernie Heredero a former trainee and a current trainer of ATRIEV.
At first, I hesitated to enroll, but I asked a sign to God if I will grab this opportunity or not. And then, at August 2018, I decided to enroll in a Digital Literacy Training (DLT) in Adaptive Technology for Rehabilitation, Integration, and Empowerment of the Visually Impaired (ATRIEV) in Quezon City. It’s a non-government organization which helps visually impaired persons through the use of assistive technology.
The course gave me a hope that I could still learn about computers just like people with typical vision do. On the first day of the training, I already wanted to go home because I had a hard time understanding how to navigate the computer using only a keyboard and a screen reader. A software that is used to read the displayed on screen. I even cried and beg my mom to pack my bag. I was determined to back out at that time but I was thankful because the trainers and my classmates assisted me to cope-up with the training.
I had an alias, ”Ms. Tarantula” because in all the activities, I easily become “taranta” or panicky. I realized that I should be independent and faced the new challenges in my life. I started it in learning how to use a cane. In our dorm in “Bahay Biyaya”, I familiarized all the corners of the dorm repeatedly until I memorized all the shore line of sides of the room.
The course also brought back my confidence and made me became optimistic, got me to showcase my talents, and made me found new friends. I’ve also experienced a lot of first time such as: to live in a dorm without my mom, walked with my co trainees like a train, applied talkback in my phone, and used a cane when travelling. And because I enjoyed the last training and willing to learn more, Last November, I took the Introduction to Computer Science (ICS) that thought me to create and design my own website. I never expected that the trainers and trainees can be friends inside the training duration, and everybody was treated equally.
I was also enrolled in Writing for the web training that helped me intensify my writing skills and taught me to put up my own business online. I even joined the General Transcription training to improve my skills and have a job in the future
When I look back in all my memories, I just laugh because of the thought of me going home on the first day but now is different. As much as possible I don’t want to go home because I enjoy every minute with my friends.
I thought that family was the only one who can understand and comfort you in times of problems. I was mistaken. If you just open your eyes, you can find a helping hand in the most unexpected places. ATRIEV didn’t just taught me how to use computer but also introduced me to a new found family.

ATRIEV is Where I Belong

Image of Edrian Delos Reyes smiling and text.

by Edrian delos Reyes

“You are blind now! Accept it and go on with your life!”

I said that line to myself numerous times, but it wasn’t that easy. It was hard for me to accept that I’m a visually impaired now. My life changed and I just couldn’t keep up with the changes.

Even though I was in an online school, I didn’t feel like I was moving forward. I took the recommended subjects for my first term, but I eventually dropped one subject. It was really hard for me because I depended on no one but myself. I was doing my best, but I knew something was wrong.

I wanted to enter a regular college, but I didn’t think that I can cope with the studies because of my poor vision. So guess what? I didn’t even try going to a regular college! No matter how hard my friends pushed me to not worry and just trust myself, I just couldn’t find the courage to even try enrolling. Maybe if I know a blind person who achieved something despite this disability, I would find the courage I needed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the case.

I hated feeling this way—of being left behind—so I knew I had to do something. My friends are about to finish their studies, and one of them is now working despite dropping out of school. As for me, life stayed the same.

That’s when I reached out to an organization that gives different kinds of assistance to blind people. I had conversations with people who also have a visual impairment. I listened to their stories about how they travel and how college was like for them. The more I asked about them studying despite their condition, the more I became eager to enter mainstream education. And that’s when I learned about an IT school for the blind. They told me that it would be a huge help if I were to be trained there. I immediately went to ATRIEV.

I thought that ATRIEV was just an IT center for the blind, but it was more than that. Developing the trainees’ personalities and platform skills is also a part of their training. All the lessons I needed to learn, I got them with the help of ATRIEV. I became independent and can now travel alone. I also experienced being in a blind community because we, the trainees and even the trainers, are visually-impaired persons.

Most importantly, I discovered that my life can still be meaningful. I was able to help others, and I look forward to helping more people, just like how ATRIEV helped me to accept who I am now. With all honesty, I want to be a part of this community for the rest of my life because here, my heart is in the right place.

Turning Point of Being Blind

Photo of Yvette smiling and text.

by Yvette Amistad, ATRIEV Trainer since 2015

“Lord, Help me. This is not the life I’ve wanted and dreamt of.” I felt stuck and fed up of the heavy responsibilities of looking after my cousins. I cried so hard and prayed on bended knees. I hoped to be more productive and not just to stay inside the house. I wanted to be free and do things on my own.

And God answered my prayers.

I was called to attend a vocational training. I arrived with all my required documents but I got rejected because they learned that I have diabetes.

It felt terrible until one of the social workers said, ”there are other oppurtunities for you. Do you know that blind can use computers? You can go and be trained in ATRIEV.”

It was April of 2013 when I first step in ATRIEV. I felt excited, curious, yet scared because that was my first time to be in a blind community. Through the use of assistive technology, with the use of talking application, I learned how to operate my computer. Through platforms skills and personality development workshop, I gained my confidence. I was able to share my sentiments and emotions about my blindness. I met and mingled with other blind people and gained new friends. I experienced falling and walking in line by the sidewalk. I sat and sang with them while they were alternately playing musical instruments even if I’m not a singer. I joined class activities while sitting and eating happily with them.

Through ATRIEV, I learned many things, not just about technology but also about life. I’m now one with them as a part-time trainer and we go to communities to teach and inspire more blind people on how to use computers and android phones. I also became a general transcriptionist, converting audio files into written documents.

Now I’m more productive. This is what I wanted for my life. Because of ATRIEV, my dreams are closer to reality. I may not know where I am headed to but I know that, as long as I spread my wings, the winds will carry me to where I should be. And that is in ATRIEV.

ATRIEV Opened My Eyes to Possibilities

Photo of Beverly Bravo, a member of ATRIEV

by Beverly Bravo, ATRIEV Trainer since 2015

A long time ago, people thought that the world was flat. That when you reach the end of the world, you’ll fall.

In my world, that’s also what I thought before I met  ATRIEV. I thought the world was just from our house to the wide playground of our school. My mother enrolled me in a school where there was a Special Education class, and I thought it would be fun. I always envied my cousins for going to school every day so I asked my mother if I could also go to school. At first, she was hesitant but a friend told her about a school that accepts visually impaired people like me. The next thing I knew, my teachers recommended me to go to the mainstream class. They believed I had the potential to study in a class full of students with normal vision. It was hard to cope in the beginning but eventually, I was able to perform better.

One morning, my SpEd teachers received a mail through a fax machine. It was from an organization that helps visually impaired in terms of assistive tools. The mail was an invitation for a computer training for kids organized by a non-government organization that advocates computer literacy training for the visually impaired. They told me about it, and the idea of me using a computer made me ecstatic. I had imagined a bunch of scenarios in my head: me as speed typist, me playing games while eating potato chips, and me reading an article on the screen wearing glasses. I never heard a blind using a computer so the idea really amazed me. 

The training went on and it was overwhelming and, at the same time, thrilling. I met a lot of other visually impaired people, but unlike me, they were exposed to the blind community. I was already in fourth grade but I only know two visually impaired people, both my classmate in preparatory class. I have no idea how the blind use a computer and even a cellphone.  ATRIEV opened my eyes to numerous possibilities.

I graduated from that training. I learned how to type in Microsoft Word and present using Microsoft PowerPoint. I was exposed to public speaking at a very young age. I was given the opportunity to present in different places on how visually impaired uses a computer.

My journey did not stop there. Three years ago I became part of the organization’s training team. It was one of the best gifts I have ever received. I was able to teach other visually impaired how to use a computer and also inspired them to dream. I was able to go to different places and even ride on an airplane. That’s when I realized that the world is bigger than I thought, that there is life beyond our house and our school. That there’s so much to explore. ATRIEV taught me to look beyond what my eyes could see, to look beyond the horizon.

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.