ONES 2 WATCH: Visually impaired Burnaby South student has eye for apps
Alex Jurgensen is something of a computer whiz.
He’s often called upon by friends and family to help them fix their technical woes.
The Grade 12 Burnaby South secondary student’s abilities are made all the more impressive by the fact he can’t make out what’s on his computer screen.
From birth, Jurgensen’s vision deteriorated progressively until stabilizing when he was six years old. He can only see basic shapes, no depth or detail, is highly sensitive to light and walks with a white cane.
The Surrey resident transferred to South in Grade 10 when he determined Burnaby school district could provide him with the added support he needed, including translation of school materials into Braille.
Jurgensen is quick to point out that he doesn’t resent having his visual impairment.
“Some experiences I’ve had have really shaped my life and I wouldn’t give any of that back at all.”
For instance, if it wasn’t for his disability, he would likely never have attended South and developed the great friendships that he has.
The teen’s independence is never more evident than when he taps away on his laptop computer, using the built-in accessibility tools to navigate it aurally.
It’s obvious he’s been using the technology for a long time—since he was three, to be exact. That’s when a family friend gave him his first computer. The same friend, a software developer, has provided guidance in recent years as he’s made forays into developing his own programs and applications. But otherwise, he’s self taught.
It was a visually-impaired friend who inspired Jurgensen to create one of his current projects. She wanted to be able to know what colour her clothes were to help her in getting dressed.
He’s developed a working app, but it still needs to be polished into a user-friendly software.
He stressed that he developed it for his friend, but “people just kind of kept telling me you could probably market this.”
Much of his software development has been to help friends and others who are visually impaired. He’s in the testing stage for an app that can tell people whether the lights are on or off, something that can be useful when visually-impaired people have sighted company over.
He also developed software that can help him and other visually impaired folks to provide technical support remotely–from another location—by telling him what’s on the other person’s computer screen. It was a project that was mentioned on a website by a software company that specializes in assistive technologies, kudos he found “quite rewarding.”
In his spare time, Jurgensen has also co-founded a non-profit, the Camp Bowen Working Group, which provides summer camp opportunities for people with visual impairments. He even created office management software for the organization.
And when he’s not at school, he works for Simply Computing training visually-impaired clients to use audio outputs to navigate their computers like he does.
Once he leaves South, he hopes to finish his education, likely in computer science, and sees software development as figuring into his career for at least a period of time.
But he’s quick to note that computers isn’t all he’s about.
Jurgensen is also passionate about cooking and really enjoyed a catering course he took. Catering is “pretty high up there” on his dream job list.
“A good chef can cut without looking, I don’t see blindness as a downside,” he said.
“Attitudes are more of a challenge than the blindness.”