A gift of learning: Donated computer helps JDHS student

Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Ashley Tomlinson's favorite class is choir. That's the only course in which the 17-year-old alto doesn't have to take notes, an activity her eye condition, aniridia, renders painful.

She wants to go to college, perhaps to become a music teacher, and that dream is more feasible now thanks to a $1,400 Macintosh iBook computer the Juneau Moose Lodge bought her.

"I was really excited that it was a laptop," said Ashley. "It helps me in class and to do a lot of homework."

Ashley was born with glaucoma, cataracts and aniridia, meaning she doesn't have full irises - the part of the eye that blocks light. That makes looking at a white piece of paper or white board painful, and renders the overhead lights in the school "annoying." It's almost impossible for her to take notes and she can't see what a teacher writes on a board in class.

Ashley says she's gotten along by being an advocate for herself, asking teachers for notes, tape-recording lectures and always transcribing things in her own hand on colored paper so she can read them. It's been time-consuming, making her 3.8 grade point average all the more impressive.

"She is a wonderful reader and writer and a strong English student," said Chris Wilkens, head of Juneau-Douglas High School's special education department.

Wilkens said the school determined Ashley really needed a portable computer to make learning easier for her and to help her be independent. He originally planned to seek smaller donations from various groups and hold a fund raiser to gather together the money for the computer.

"But Jim Reed (of the Moose Lodge) just ran with it. He said 'What do you need?' They just decided to pony up all the money," Wilkens said.

Reed, the administrator of the Juneau Moose Lodge, said the organization exists to help children.

"We get the requests like this quite a bit for things ... and we try to figure out which one is the best. This looked like a very worthwhile cause, and we're glad we could help," he said.

Reed hasn't met Ashley yet, but will Thursday when she goes to the organization's general meeting. Ashley received her computer last week.

"It makes it a lot easier, because then I can just type the notes. When I was little, I learned how to sound out words really well. That has helped me sound out the big words. I can type it, save it and be done," she said.

Ashley types using 28-point fonts and black screens with white letters. The computer has wireless Internet, so she can do research for class. It also has a CD player that she already knows how to use and a DVD player she hasn't figured out yet.

"Priorities," she said, laughing.

• Masha Herbst can be reached at masha.herbst@juneauempire.com.

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