My Experience at Envision's Level Up Technology Camp

By Lyra Thompson • Apr 05, 2022
A girl wearing a pink and white hat working on a laptop computer with her mentor sitting beside her.

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I have been visually impaired since birth due to a genetic condition called Albinism. Being legally blind brings about many challenges, but also many opportunities. When I was about 11 years old, in fifth grade, my teacher for students who are visually impaired (TSVI) at the time told me about a summer program for incoming sixth graders and older called Level Up, hosted by Envision. This was one of those opportunities.

Envision’s Level Up is a technology conference for middle and high schoolers who are visually impaired or blind where students learn how to navigate computers efficiently and make them accessible to a variety of needs. In addition to computer lessons, a lot of time is spent socializing with and getting to know other kids who have comparable stories.

I was immediately interested. I had already participated in summer programs for youth who are blind in the past, so I was excited to have something new to add to my summer plans. I also already spent a lot of time online, whether it was a desktop or a tablet, so I knew I would have fun learning more about computers for a whole week.

My TSVI recommended me for the camp and I filled out the registration form. And that summer in 2018, I attended Level Up.

When I first arrived, I was introduced to my student mentor, a participant of the high school camp who would be my roommate for the week and sit by me and help during the tech labs. She also had Albinism, so I immediately connected with her over our shared condition. She was so nice and funny, and we got along great. The next day during our first tech lab, I met my college mentor, a student from Wichita State University who was volunteering at Level Up. The three of us spend a lot of time together throughout the week, and I remember there being moments where the three of us were laughing so hard, it was difficult to recover.

Outside of my mentors, I also made friends with several other students. Some of the friendships I made didn’t last beyond that week, but a few of them returned to camp the following years and I was able to become closer with them. To this day, I still talk to some of the people I met my first year.

One of the most useful things I’ve learned at Level Up is all the different key commands for Windows computers that make it easier to navigate using just the keyboard, and a lot of shortcuts for the internet for my desktop. I learned things like how to create a desktop shortcut for an app or the key command for renaming a file. I spend a lot of time on a computer, whether it’s for school or just for fun, so I use most of these tools and shortcuts I learned at Level Up often.

When we weren’t learning about computers, we were hanging out as a group in the dorm building or around campus. Some of my favorite activities I’ve done throughout the years I’ve attended camp have been bowling, a rope and zipline course, and a trip to a local makerspace.

As a person who’s visually impaired, I know that camps like Level Up are extremely important. People who are blind and visually impaired, especially kids and teens, are at a huge disadvantage in life compared to their sighted peers. With Level Up, us kids who are blind are able to learn how to be on an equal playing field with the people around us. It’s also a great way to meet people going through the same struggles we are and know that we won’t be left out because of our lack of vision.

Not only do camps like Level Up help the blind community, but they also help people who are sighted. They show people who are sighted that people who are blind are just like any other person and can accomplish more than we are sometimes given credit for. If a person who is sighted saw me and my friends at camp, bowling and having fun, they wouldn’t know we were blind. There’s often this stigma that people who are blind have to look or act a certain way, and that’s just not true. Level Up proves that and helps to dispel the stereotypes of people who are blind and visually impaired. That is one of many reasons why Level Up is so important.

If you are a middle or high schooler with a visual impairment - or know someone who is - and you’re looking for a place where you won’t be alone in whatever you may be going through, then ask a parent or guardian, your TSVI, an educator or low vision professional to recommend you for Level Up! You will get to learn all about computers and technology, meet new people and make friends, and just have fun. Learn more today at https://www.envisionus.com/youth-programs/level-up