FSDB Assistive Technology Specialist DaJuana "DJ" Prater is based in Gibbs Hall (Blind Department) but goes wherever she is needed. She got her start in engineering, then decided to enlist in the military, and finally ended up in the education field. Her students enjoy her patient expertise and legendary sense of humor. Prater's classroom in Bryant Hall contains many shelves of technical resources and a list of positive strategies for use in behavior management.
What brought you to FSDB?
We moved to St Johns County during the summer of 2000, and I applied for several positions within the county school system. It had been a few weeks, and I had not heard from any of the schools. There was a pre-kindergarten/kindergarten/first grade position open at FSDB, and I was encouraged to apply. I had primarily taught high school math, science, and varying exceptionalities, so I was a bit reluctant to apply. However, I took the chance. I was called for an interview and fell in love with the campus. It just felt like "home." The next day, I received calls from SJCS to come for interviews at two local high schools. I trusted that God had a plan for me to be here, and I accepted the position at FSDB. I loved every minute of working with my students. I worked in the Blind Elementary School for six years before moving to the Blind High School to teach technology, computer skills and digital media. We expanded the curriculum to include techniques for blind and visually impaired students to participate in digital photography and videography. Several of the students I worked with went on to win awards in the area of photography. From there, I was hired to be the assistive technology specialist.
What is the nature of your job?
I work with students and staff members in the Blind Elementary-Middle and High Schools. My duties include the following:
Image computers for students in Grades 5-12 to include necessary accessibility software.
Provide instruction to students and staff, both in groups and on a one-to-one basis using accessibility software and devices.
Work with students and staff members on making current technologies and software accessible to blind visually impaired.
Along with my assistant, we manage inventory of all student issued computers and assistive technology (AT) devices.
Troubleshoot and make repairs on AT devices such as electronic magnifiers, CCTVs, refreshable braille displays, and some embossers.
Drop-in to classes to provide AT support.
Create training for various AT applications.
Present at conferences as needed.
Download audio and digital texts for students.
Assist with preparation and administration of state assessments and progress monitoring assessments.
What is a typical day like for you?
My schedule varies greatly from day to day and depends on the issues that pop up as the day progresses. I start by checking emails to address any issues that require immediate attention. As issues arise throughout the day, teachers and students will contact me or come to my lab. I do my best to resolve issues as quickly as possible to avoid any interruption in instruction. My days also include working with students or staff members on AT applications or devices. I also stop in on two technology classes to provide support, as needed.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
I love my job and most things about it! I especially love working with the students. Technology can become a great "equalizer," both socially and academically, for blind and visually impaired students. I also really enjoy taking things apart and fixing them.
In your opinion, what should BVI students learn about technology at home before they get to school?
I think students should be exposed to technology just as their sighted peers are. I often see toddlers and young kids with tablets and phones, watching movies, and playing games. Blind and visually impaired students benefit from early exposure to technologies, including explicit instruction to develop early skills and confidence. Keyboard and gesture awareness are some of the vital skills that should be taught as early as possible.
What do you enjoy doing outside of the classroom?
I enjoy spending time with my family and going on as many adventures as we can. I also enjoy spending time with friends, watching football, dabbling in astronomy, and exploring new technologies.
By Christi Boortz, Instructional Services
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is a tuition-free state public school and outreach center available to eligible Pre-K and K-12 students who are deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impaired, or deafblind. At FSDB, students learn how to do more, be more, and achieve more, fulfilling our vision of preparing them for a lifetime of success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. For a campus tour or to inquire about eligibility for enrollment, contact FSDB Parent Services at 904-827-2212 voice or 904-201-4527 videophone. For more information, visit www.fsdbk12.org