Wyoming Education Association

Fall 2021

Issue link: https://digital.copcomm.com/i/1419437

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Page 25 of 31

26 Jody Distler and her team of Education Support Specialists strive to make learning accessible and engaging for visually impaired students in the Natrona County School District. Distler has been in Natrona County since 2004. Originally, she was hired as a math teacher and later became a tutor for English Language Learners. Distler pursued a grant-funded program through the Wyoming Department of Education to secure a Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) endorsement. "This was really the third time this had knocked on my door, and so I felt I really needed to answer it," Distler told WEA News. "When I worked as an undergrad, I was a math tutor and was asked to tutor a blind student in college algebra." Currently, Distler serves one middle-school student and two high-school students. Each student has an Education Support Specialist (ESS) assistant with a working knowledge of Braille, who helps students navigate classes and learn from accessible materials. When asked about the ways in which Distler works with her ESS team, she laughs, saying, "I rely on them completely. They rely on me. It's a mutual reliance, and it results in us providing the best possible learning experience for our students. We're called the Vision Team—but we're more like the Vision Family." Technology is an integral part of educating blind students. Manual Braillers, similar to typewriters, and Embossers, similar to printers, as well as special tablets purchased by the District, open up possibilities for Distler and her team to convert traditional learning materials into Braille and other accessible formats for visually impaired students. Despite the team and the technology working to make learning more accessible for the vision- impaired, some subjects are more challenging than others. "I'm very hands-on in math," says Distler. "Studies have shown that blind people don't enter the STEM field at the same rate as their sighted peers. The conventional wisdom around this says that's because Braille teachers don't know math and math teachers don't know Braille, so it's very difficult for blind students to learn math." Distler isn't afraid to get creative to help her students surmount those barriers to learning— especially in STEM fields. "In a few minutes, I will be getting out my hot glue gun to glue yarn axes onto a piece of Braille graph paper and then use my glue gun to draw the functions that the student needs to be able to read on that graph paper," she says during her interview. She and her team use yarn, glue, plaster casts, and more to inject dimension and texture, providing tactile learning opportunities for students. "Helping students understand concepts that they thought they could never understand is the most gratifying part of my job," she says. "Math, specifically, is a very visual subject and very special. Braille is very linear. It's gratifying to help my students understand how mathematics "fit" together." Because of its non-linear nature, math is one of the more difficult subjects to teach blind students. Art is another subject that poses unique challenges for the visually impaired. By: Amanda Turner FOR STUDENTS "Helping students understand concepts that they thought they could never understand is the most gratifying part of my job." - Jody Distler S U P E R H E R O E S

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