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a photo of Colin smiling Meet APH Scholar Colin Montoya

APH is excited to recognize Colin Montoya, nominated by EOT, Jared Leslie, as one of our 2020-2021 APH Scholars.

Colin Montoya’s plan had always been to become an interpreter for deaf adults. “I have a Bachelor’s degree in Communication with a minor in Disability Studies, which means that I studied general ADA compliance, disability culture, and how disability intersects with other fields,” Colin said. However, shortly after graduating from Northern Arizona University, Colin’s career plans changed. “I focused in on the BVI field when I applied as a Media Assistant for the Arizona Instructional Resource Center (AIRC) Foundation for Blind Children in January 2019.” Colin’s mother, who worked at the Foundation for Blind Children while he was growing up, might have had an influence on him.

In this position, Colin learned braille and helped produce braille and large print materials for Arizona students. Within 8 months, Colin was promoted to Inventory Manager, where he handles the Media Center’s inventory. His other duties include registering students in the Federal Quota Census, supply intake, and the completion of Federal Quota orders. He also tests, repairs, and recommends APH products throughout the state of Arizona. Colin said, “I chose to take on this role because it was an amazing opportunity to help others develop the confidence and independence to really thrive in the world, and it has blown me away to see the impact that my organization and I have made on our students.”


Finding the Right Tools

A highlight of his role at AIRC, Colin notes, is advising teachers on the APH products from which their students can benefit. “Our teachers work hard to ensure the best education for their students, whether that means tools, assessments, or technology,” said Colin. “Teachers often ask me whether they should use the Wilson Reading System or Building on Patterns; how to troubleshoot technology like the MATT Connect or Braille Trail Reader LE; and what items might be best for students working on specific skills, like motor development or orientation and mobility.”

Colin is ecstatic that, with the help of APH, he is able to hand students products that make an impact in their education. “When students first unbox those items, whether it’s Feel N’ Peel Sheets or a Mantis Q40, there’s a palpable relief that their lives just got a little bit easier. Watching the barriers that they’ve been facing for months or years just start to dissolve is one of the most amazing things,” said Colin.

The AIRC also utilizes APH products throughout the organization to enhance learning experiences for students and staff. They use Feel N’ Peel Sheets to categorize their literary library; Pop-A-Cells to expand braille literacy among staff members; and the Sensory Learning Kit to provide immersive, tactile storytelling experiences for onsite students. Colin said, “These APH items have helped increase literacy, independence, and understanding for everyone who has come through our organization.”

Colin’s dedication to the students and teachers that he serves is apparent as he goes above and beyond to help others. “In his short tenure in this position, he has been able to utilize 3D printing to enhance augmented communication in the classroom and created a brailler repair program in a prison unit with a partnership connected to the Arizona Department of Corrections,” said EOT, Jared Leslie.


3D Printing

Recently, Colin started using the AIRC’s 3D printer to create tools for students. This began when the organization’s speech-language pathologist requested Colin learn 3D design and make tactile communication symbols for one of her students. Up for the task, Colin emerged with 12 symbols all made out of the same material that the student could use to convey basic words, such as “yes,” “no,” “help,” and “want.”

“Then, we started getting some unusual requests that we couldn’t fulfill otherwise,” said Colin. “We had a TVI that had a high school student who wanted to get into Dungeons and Dragons, the tabletop role-playing game.” This prompted Colin to make her an accessible yellow icosahedron (20-sided dice) using the 3D printer. One of his more recent projects was to create a 3D braille puzzle.


Prison Brailler Repair Program

Colin is also responsible for the creation of a prison brailler repair program. He noticed that the AIRC had a lot of old Perkins braillers in disrepair. The program resolves this issue for students. Colin said, “We actually just got past the one year anniversary of this program starting up. We’ve trained our repairmen to do the level one general cleaning, which is 80% of all repairs. We’ve managed to get through 60 or 70 braillers so far.” Now, students are better equipped for the school year.


Looking Toward the Future

Colin’s favorite aspect of the blindness field is that it’s constantly growing and changing. He said, “A lot of students want to learn and experience more; our teachers are always developing new skills with meetings and seminars; and the accessible technology keeps improving to help both teachers and students. Nothing slows down, and that constant change and development is something that I see every day in this field.”

Colin hopes that in the future, the blind and visually impaired community will thrive as people continue to communicate, teach, and advocate for themselves and others. “I think developing that culture and that community is really the gateway to ending the accessibility, inequality, and unemployment issues that people with visual impairments are facing today,” said Colin.


About the Program

Each year, EOTs are asked to nominate someone they feel provides outstanding service in their region. Through a scholarship, awardees are sent to Annual Meeting in Louisville as a guest of APH. APH pays for all expenses in attending the conference, including transportation, registration, and accommodations. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020-2021 APH Scholars were unable to be with us in person this year but attended APH’s 152nd Annual Meeting virtually. We hope that next year the scholars will be able to join us again in person.

Follow along as we feature a new scholar each month, and watch out for information about webinars that our scholars will be hosting.

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