HCC Team Developing Apps for 'BLV' Students

Published 07/23 2014 04:55PM

Updated 07/23 2014 07:17PM

NORMAL – Since the fall, Heartland Community College has been at the center of a unique production. There, one man, blind since grade school, is working to ensure that others don't lose sight of their opportunities in science.

Since he was young, Cary Supalo has learned to adapt.

"I've been told all my life that I can't do certain things, or I can't go certain places,” said Supalo. “You name it, I've been told I couldn't do it."

A rare genetic disorder made Supalo blind by the age of seven, but he didn't want to slow down.

About ten years ago, he started working on software applications for a company called Independent Science that allows people who are blind, or have poor vision, to work with science and mathematics.

“The thought was, if a visually impaired person could do their own lab work, it might inspire them to want to become a scientist or an engineer,” said Supalo.

In the spring of 2013, Supalo chose Heartland Community College, to help him develop an app for iPads to teach organic chemistry and mathematics, namely fractions.

"Someone who cannot see can draw chemical structures and get some aspect of spatial orientations to see how they're structured,” said Supalo.

"Obviously, giving the students the opportunity to work on supporting people with disabilities is a unique opportunity,” said Johnny Tenbroek, a professor at Heartland for 17 years.

Tenbroek brought in a team of students to help build the app from scratch. In the fall, the group started working on an organic chemistry app first. Then, in the spring, work started on a mathematical one.

"The chemistry application is pretty close, I would say,” explained Tenbroek. “It has a tremendous amount of functionality built in it."

And for Supalo, there is a hope that these pioneering efforts can shatter stereotypes, and open a wider world of possibilities.

"Being innovative and progressive to try to make positive change for the world is something I've always had a passion for doing,” said Supalo.

The organic chemistry app still has a couple of bugs to work out. Heartland and Independent Science are still working to determine if the apps will be free.

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