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.