Dora Utchel – A Vision for Success

Dora Utchel –  A Vision of Success

Writing, Video Production and Photography By Abbie Walker and Joan Grover

“Now I see why people are addicted to it. It is fascinating,” Dora Utchel says. “I’ve been enlightened and I can’t believe I was so sheltered.”

Coming from Palau where Dora did not have access to Wi-Fi, she is in the beginning stages of familiarizing herself with assistive technology and what works best for her.

Dora was introduced in the United States to assistive technology through a program called Vocational Rehabilitation (VOC Rehab) through a professor at Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC).

Dora uses Assistive Technology in her job at UNR/Photo by Joan Grover

Dora uses Assistive Technology in her job at UNR/Photo by Joan Grover

“Thomas Kearns, Assistive Technician at the Disability Resource Center (DRC) at TMCC, is where I got started. I got my AA. He got me trained with the JAWS.”

JAWS, a screen reader program, was Dora’s first real introduction to assistive technology. It helped her receive her Associates degree at TMCC.

VOC Rehab helped Dora with her mobility orientation.  They bought her laptop, cane, book, and her bus tickets, with door-to-door access.

Although JAWS has helped Dora in many different ways, it has also been a hindrance to her educational plans. Since most textbooks do not come in Braille, Dora must rely on her teacher’s awareness and preparation for the next semester.

“At the beginning of each semester, I would kindly ask the people at the bookstore to give me a list of all the books I need for next semester and their prices,” Dora says. “VOC Rehab will then send an authorization receipt to the DRC and they then convert the text to TEXT format. So I pretty much have to get everything done the earliest I can.”

However, most of the time teachers do not have their textbook list ready when Dora needs it. Because converting the textbook into TEXT format takes time, Dora does find herself sometimes struggling at the beginning of each semester.

She also discovers note taking to be a struggle. Under federal law, teachers must have everything accessible for disabled individuals. However, Dora has found that not always to be the case.

“Sometimes the PowerPoint links to websites that are not accessible to my screen reader and I cannot figure out what is on the website,” Dora says. “By law they have to make it accessible, but there really is nothing a teacher can do because they don’t own the website. So I go through the DRC and they would convert whatever I need from that website.”

But Dora is strong and finds ways to get around what she cannot control. She has a note taking helper, whom the university is mandated to provide. She also has a digital recorder to take notes in the classroom, but if Dora needs something to further her education she will become assertive.


Dora works with the assistance of Scott Youngs /Photo by Joan Grover

“I try to be assertive when it comes to my needs as far as school goes, not aggressive. It is kind of like my culture back home where you need be respectful,” Dora says. “Here I learned that you need to be assertive in the point of knocking on doors to get what is required. I found that you don’t get anywhere with sour milk, you get everywhere with honey. I try to be kind of sweet and yet ask them to get stuff done in time.”

Once in a great while Dora comes across websites and images that cannot be converted to her screen reader. This is especially true when it comes to images and graphs. JAWS cannot read images, and DRC will have to convert to Braille what is needed for her.

During a math class at UNR, Dora struggled because math does not come easy for her. She has to rely on help from the DRC, as well as a talking scientific calculator. Because of the technology and help available, she was able to succeed in a class that was a struggle for her. Dora relies entirely on her screen reader for research, essays and writing papers.

“That was hell, but I got a B and was totally proud of myself,” she says.

Dora navigates on her own to work and classes at UNR/Photo by Joan Grover

Dora navigates on her own to work and classes at UNR/Photo by Joan Grover

Dora is excited about using assistive technology. She has invested her time with a research professor, Dr. Palmer, to experiment with new advancements in assistive technology. For example, Dr. Palmer has a device that Dora places on her chest and would point to an object. The device would then let Dora know what she was looking at.

“Still in its infancy, we are working on a GPS device for the layout of the school,” Dora says. “It would be like an iPhone app where it would tell you how many feet away and where a door is located.”

With technology changing and advancing every day, Dora is looking forward to what comes next. Once fearful of using what she did not know, she is no longer afraid to ask for help and pick what works best for her.

“I want to broaden my horizons,” Dora says. “I want to be able to be diverse in JAWS and Apple products.  I even want a seeing eye dog, which I am working on within the next year.”