|Math problem from Joshua Klander's professor Zhuangyi Liu and his colleagues, "Decay Rates for a Beam with Pointwise Force and Moment Feedback."|
Think about projects that would be daunting if you were blind. What would you find most intimidating? Navigating a campus with 22 connected buildings? Using a computer to do research for class? How about fixing a computer or writing code?
Computer science major and mathematics minor Joshua Klander is blind. But none of the problems just listed have slowed him down, in fact, he is excelling in his computer science and math classes.
Originally from a small town on the Iron Range, Klander found a passion for computers during high school. “I’ve always been good at fixing things and troubleshooting,” Klander said. “I originally wanted to work for the Geek Squad, but decided that wasn’t the best long-term plan, so I enrolled at UMD for computer science.
Klander arrived at UMD and found things to be different from his expectations. “I didn’t yet know how to code, but I was pretty good with other computer things, and I assumed I would be ahead of the curve,” he recalled. “When I got here, I found out that even within my own beginner courses, there were people who had been coding since junior high. It was a bit of a shock.”
Now in his sophomore year, he experiences few difficulties in his classes. When he finds something problematic, he usually can overcome the obstacles. “When I use the computer, I have a type of ‘screen reader’ that tells me what is on the screen," Klander said. "Some programs we use for assignments in class, like Photoshop, don’t work with the screen reader. I have to figure those out on my own.” Other programs are partially compatible with the screen reader, but do not function one hundred percent perfectly. “Sometimes, I have to get the programs working from scratch before I can even start my homework,” Klander said.
Classes in his math minor very rarely cause problems. “In high school, I had a ‘vision teacher’, who would help explain things on the board. I wasn’t sure how that would translate to more complicated math,” Klander said. “My pre-calculus professor, Tom Sjoberg, invested time to help me through my math classes.” Sjoberg helps Klander go over his lessons and explains things from the board.
Concepts in computer science are often visual, which can cause difficulties for Klander. “Some assignments are a challenge,” Klander said. “When an instructor describes the goal of an assignment as something like ‘making a graphic that works like a rubber band and can be stretched with a mouse,’ I’m at a bit of a loss.”
Aspirations and Advice
Klander’s aspirations have grown. He hopes someday to either work for a company that develops software for people who are blind or have low vision, or work as an assistive tech instructor, helping people with disabilities use new technology.
Klander has advice that comes from experience. “Nobody should start something with a negative attitude, but everybody should have realistic expectations. Everyone has to deal with challenges.”
Written by Zach Lunderberg. December, 2014.
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