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Meet APH Scholar Spencer Churchill

photo pinned to a cork board. photo shows a man in a hat and sunglasses hellping a boy in a lifejacket on a sail boat.

APH is proud to recognize Spencer Churchill, nominated by Ex Officio Trustee (EOT), Jared Leslie, as one of our 2021-2022 APH Scholars.

Spencer was introduced to the field of blindness when he worked at the Disability Resource Center at Arizona State University as an Alternative Format Specialist. “There, I was immersed into the world of accessibility for students of all abilities,” said Spencer. “I learned how to convert materials into braille, electronic text, and tactile graphics. Upon graduating with my degree in Business Communication, I knew that the VI field was my calling, so I completed my TVI and O&M endorsement at the University of Arizona and Stephen F. Austin State University.” While in school, Spencer served as a transcriber in the Arizona Instructional Resource Center. After graduation, he was hired as an itinerant TVI and O&M instructor for the Foundation for Blind Children (FBC), serving students from birth through adulthood on their journey to achieve independence.

EOT, Jared Leslie said, “Spencer Churchill is one of the passionate team members that makes independence a reality for students across Arizona. He is someone where the world of being a Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments and Orientation & Mobility Instructor seemed to be destined for him to achieve.”


Using APH Products

“Whether a student is just starting their journey or nearing graduation, APH is always a step ahead to provide students with the resources necessary to reach their potential,” said Spencer. “It is my responsibility to ensure that each student has the appropriate resources made fully available to them.” Spencer has seen many students and adults excel with the help of APH products. “When practicing math, my third-grade, braille reading student uses the Math Drill Cards for multiplication and division facts to read a problem; uses the Cranmer Abacus to solve it; and then inputs the answer into her Braille Trail Reader.” Two of his elementary-age students learned braille with LEGO Braille Bricks while the Talking GlowDice and Hop-A-Dot Mat brought a new meaning to family game night. For adult students, Spencer helps them practice their O&M skills with Crossings with No Traffic Control and the Sunu Band.

“Spencer has the natural ability to lead other teachers and vision professionals,” said Jared. “This could be on topics like how best to ensure that alternative formats are always at the forefront of a conversation, to the newest APH products that can be utilized. He is always presenting at our local AER chapter events and is tapped by other TVI’s and O&M’s to come up with creative solutions.” Spencer also participates in a group chat with others from the itinerant services department. “Somebody is always asking ‘Has anyone used the Joy Player before?’ or ‘Who can recommend a product for my second-grade student with CVI?'” said Spencer. As the department worked together to come up with new ideas, they became a very close-knit community. Spencer said, “The best part about working at FBC is that everyone is here for the same reason – the students. This creates such a strong kinship because you know that everyone is working toward the same goal. It is like an extended family where everyone looks out for one another.”

On top of these duties, Spencer is also the College Prep Summer Program Coordinator. Sponsored by the State of Arizona’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services, the program prepares college-bound high school students to enter their freshman year with the tools, resources, and confidence needed to successfully navigate higher education. “Each summer, 6-10 students from around Arizona stay on campus at Arizona State University for six weeks,” Spencer explained. “They rotate through a variety of classes each day, such as Assistive Technology, O&M, Daily Living, and a Disability Resource Center Boot Camp. Since the students are used to having their accommodations and textbooks put together through an IEP, it is a big adjustment to learn how to manage all these resources on their own.” The college experience is different for all students, and FBC’s program works to ensure a smooth transition for blind and visually impaired learners.


The Blind Buccaneers

Spencer also works with a group of students called the Blind Buccaneers, who participate in yearly Challenge Events. He said, “FBC has taken students to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, swimming across Alcatraz, and hiking in the Grand Canyon from rim-to-rim.” In 2018, Spencer assisted 12 young adults as they went through sailing school and became certified sailors. They explored boats out of water, learned how wind affects boats using models and fans, and were given the freedom to learn through mistakes while beginning sailing.

“After sailing school, we flew to Puerto Rico and chartered 3 boats, each with 4 students, to navigate the Spanish Virgin Islands,” said Spencer. “The students were responsible for everything from steering, adjusting the sails, setting the anchor, to preparing meals, keeping the ship clean, and everything in between. Sailing is an innately multi-sensory activity. The students were quickly able to learn how to adjust the sails based off the wind direction. Most people would look at a wind indicator to see where the wind is coming from, but our students showed that it’s just as quick and accurate to gauge the wind based off the feeling of it streaming by. Each student had a sighted guide who was able to tell the student which directional degree they were headed while steering, and where any obstacles were in the water. Other than that, not many other accommodations were needed.”

Commenting on the trip, Jared said, “This event served as the catalyst to propel not only students but also their families to truly understand that there was no limit to what their children could accomplish.” In fact, an independent film crew followed along for the students’ journey and produced a documentary called “Ocean of Obstacles” that was released this year. You can watch the “Ocean of Obstacles” trailer, and purchase the film on iTunes or Amazon.


Looking Toward the Future

For Spencer, the future holds many possibilities for growth in the blindness field. “My hope for the future of the field is that we continue to see medical advancements which reduce the number of people who must live with avoidable blindness around the globe,” he said. “For the diagnoses which cannot be prevented through medical intervention, I hope to see growth in the access to information for these students, especially in underserved areas.”


More About the Program

Each year, EOTs are asked to nominate someone they feel provides outstanding service in their region. Through a scholarship, awardees attend the APH Annual Meeting in Louisville, KY as a guest of APH. APH pays for all expenses in attending the conference, including transportation to the meeting, conference registration, and hotel accommodations.

Stay tuned to our blog to learn about another scholar each month.

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