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Vista Center is proud to share impactful stories from our community.  Enjoy reading some of these meaningful stories!

Summer Is For Tech!

Youth of Tomorrow group holding thumbs up in front of the Vista Center Santa Cruz sign

Throughout the Bay Area, kids are excited to attend camps that spark their imagination and help develop future skills. This year, a handful of our Vista Voyagers, Vista Center’s Youth Group ages 9 - 22, participated in Vista Center Santa Cruz Technology Camp, where they were provided unique technology lessons catered to their specific vision needs. 

Lessons centered around using zoom, voice over, and iPad gestures to text friends or email teachers, speaking to Alexa from Amazon to simplify daily life, utilizing apps such as Seeing AI, Be My Eyes, or Aira to reach out for help, and reading and downloading audiobooks from Voice dream reader. The camp went above and beyond teaching assistive technology skills by introducing the students to the brains behind the products, engineers, and accessibility teams themselves.

Youth of Tomorrow group standing in front of a Amazon surfboardEach day the students met with a different technology team, touring Amazon Santa Cruz and peppering the employees with questions on what jobs Amazon offers, what tricks Alexa can pull off, and if there are REALLY free snacks all day. On another day, students spoke directly to the engineers of AIRA and Seeing AI, learning firsthand how the apps were developed and how they operate; and met professor Roberto Manduchi from UC Santa Cruz who shared what technology will help students through college.
What was perhaps most impactful of all, three young Stanford graduates, one who had a visual impairment himself, drove all the way from LA to present their start up, Group Theory. They shared their innovative approach to creating an aesthetically pleasing audioscape for screenwriting and a tactile learning model for understanding graphic design.  Meeting professionals from all walks of life, ages, disabilities, and ethnicities, spread a deeper message to the kids, “You can do it. All you have to do is try.”       
Vista Center Santa Cruz Technology Camp would not have been possible without funding from Monterey Peninsula Foundation. Vista Center would also like to thank the following companies;  Amazon, Microsoft Seeing AI, AIRA, Group Theory Design, and Adrian Rodriguez, for providing stimulating presentations, amazing speakers and brand new tech tools - iPads, Bluetooth keyboards and Amazon Echos.

Vista Voyagers at Google!

Sixteen Voyagers were awestruck as they walked onto Google’s campus and were greeted with refreshing boba tea, snacks, and excited Google employees. They quickly warmed up and began peppering the Google team with questions on accessibility apps, sharing product feedback, and responding to personal career stories.

The students product tested a Google accessibility app called Lookout which identifies, reads, and locates text or objects. The Voyagers had a multitude of product suggestions and ideas which were quickly jotted down for further consideration. After the demos, two Googlers who were blind and visually impaired shared their personal journeys of how they obtained jobs at Google, including describing their own occurrences with inaccessible materials, high school and college experiences, and concluding with a message of perseverance, determination, and self-advocacy. The Voyagers were then shuttled to a Google Cafe where they happily chatted with Googlers and friends as they munched on a fresh hot meal of their choice.

A collage of pictures from the event, pictures are group photos of the students and Google engineers, both outside and in a big conference room.

Expanded Core Curriculum skills Developed:

  1. Assistive Technology: Through the immersion lab students learned about and utilized several new accessibility apps which will increase their independence as they move throughout society.  
  2. Career education exposure: Googlers with and without visual impairments shared their personal career stories highlighting the need for tenacity and problem-solving skills. Hearing from adults who have felt the same frustrations normalizes their experiences and motivates them to continue to strive for success. 
  3. Social interactions: Voyagers were exposed to conversation on a professional level in a conference room like setting and a relaxed environment during dinner where they mingled freely. Learning how to navigate and understand the difference between these two settings is a vital skill set which will be utilized in future careers.
  4. Self-determination development: “Any questions?” A Google employee asked after sharing his story. An awkward silence filled the room for one beat, two beats before a student tentatively raised her hand. This is an example of how students overcome insecurities speaking in front of a large group of people, asking questions and sharing observations with business professionals and peers. Participating in a large group discussion is challenging for anyone, and especially so if one cannot see the visual social cues transpiring throughout the room.   

A very special thank you to the Google team who put this experience together!

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