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‘We are Capable!’ Pioneering Student Shares Perspective on Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Ky'Ren Johnson sitting at a desk.
By: Katie Featherston, senior director for accessibility

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), which is an annual spotlight on digital access and inclusion. It serves as a reminder to consider how the more than 1 billion people with disabilities or impairments experience web-based services, content, and other digital products. This year, it also marks an exciting milestone: For the first time in ACT’s history, blind students and students with visual impairments were able to take an accessible ACT test.

Ky’Ren Johnson, a junior at Louisiana’s Bastrop High School, recently became the first student in the U.S. to complete the ACT test using JAWS, or Job Access With Speech, a computer screen reader program that provides speech and Braille output for users with vision loss. We asked Ky’Ren about his great accomplishment, advice for peers, and the importance of raising awareness about digital access and inclusion.

You were surprised to find out you were the first person in the country to complete the ACT test using the JAWS software. Now that you've had some time to reflect on this achievement, how are you feeling about it?

I feel like I have accomplished something amazing, and I am very proud of myself for being a person who can open doors for others. I am very excited and thankful for all of the opportunities I have been given.

Could you describe the process of preparing for and then taking the ACT test using JAWS?

During the summer of 2021, my teacher for the blind/visually impaired, Mrs. Robin Grantham, and I worked together four days a week for about an hour per day on JAWS. At first, it seemed very difficult. You have to know where everything is on the keyboard, there are a lot of commands to learn, and you don’t ever use your computer mouse. We have continued to work with the program since then, because JAWS is always adding and updating. We also make sure we stay up to date on the system.

Mrs. Grantham did not sit with me during the test; Mrs. Coleman, an evaluator for our district, watched as I took my ACT using JAWS. This way no one could say I had help from Mrs. Grantham, and I could have proof that I could stand on my own two feet.

You have credited family, friends, and teachers with helping you do what you did. How did your teachers, in particular, provide support?

Well, first Mrs. Grantham made sure we had the software to be able to use it. She worked with me during the summer, which helped a lot because during the school year our time together is spent learning Unified English Braille. Also, she worked with me daily during the school year to help me stay on track. She will open a Zoom meeting quickly and work with me if I have any questions. She won’t just tell me what to do; we have to meet.

The way she teaches is unique; she’s very dedicated. She does not tell me what to do, she suggests or gives two options and then asks which one I should use, allowing me to make mistakes. She says that is a great way to learn – making mistakes. I feel like this way of learning has made me a better thinker and problem solver. But it is so great to not have to depend on a human reader.

What are your plans for after high school?

I plan to attend a four-year college to become a teacher of the blind and visually impaired with a science degree, and to receive a master’s in teaching braille and orientation and mobility. I am hoping to attend Southern University at New Orleans in Louisiana and then continue my education at Louisiana Tech University for my master’s.

What is your message to other students following in your footsteps?

Don’t be afraid to venture out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because that’s how we learn. No one is capable of being perfect all the time. Respect people who are trying to help you and respect yourself enough to try.

How might raising awareness about digital access and inclusion help more students accomplish feats similar to yours?

Mrs. Grantham has told me that it is always best to stay connected with federations for blind people and to stay up to date with technology and resources that will help me succeed. Digital access helps everyone reach their goals and to be independent. We have to care enough and want something badly enough to try to find a way to succeed.

Inclusion should matter for everyone. I may be visually impaired, but I do not have a cognitive disability/disorder. That is where some people definitely need to grow in their prehistoric thinking. Just because someone is blind, deaf, physically disabled, and so on does not mean they have a cognitive disability/disorder. We are capable!