More MS news articles for Jan 2002

Mike Cassidy: High-tech device helps sight-impaired teacher share passion for reading

Posted at 7:46 p.m. PST Sunday, Jan. 20, 2002
Mercury News

It's hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Kristen Tabrah to teach first-graders the joy of reading.

She lost the joy for years, after multiple sclerosis damaged the nerves in her eyes.

On good days, Tabrah's world looks like a pixelated picture and average-sized type is impossible to read.

But last week, there was Tabrah, 24, in front of her Meyerholz Elementary School class in San Jose running down the day's schedule.

Yes, it would include reading, lots of reading.

"I truly believe there is no other job that is as rewarding as this," she said later.

These days, Tabrah handles her first teaching job with the help of a handheld machine sold by a Sunnyvale company. Telesensory's Miniviewer relies on closed-circuit technology to display magnified type on a bright six-inch screen.

The viewer is a reminder of technology's power. And Tabrah's story is a reminder that it's not great technology but great people who build high-tech successes.

Despite the MS diagnosis at 17, Tabrah was determined to keep her independence. At 19, she had her first bout of optical neuritis, the inflammation that scarred the nerves in her eyes.

MS symptoms follow a fickle course. Over the years, Tabrah's vision would get worse, then better. So would other symptoms, like having trouble walking.

Starting in late 1999, she hit a particularly rough patch. She sat at home in Cupertino unable to do much but watch television.

Her husband, Ryan, suggested volunteering at nearby Garden Gate school. Tabrah did, in a first-grade class. She quickly noticed that she could read the students' worksheets, because they were printed in large type. And she noticed something else.

"I had so much fun," she said. "I wanted to go back every day because I wanted to be around the children."

She went to work on a teaching degree. Ryan bought her a large desktop magnifier for Christmas that helped her read. She did her student teaching at Garden Gate and in the fall was hired at Meyerholz.

In the summer, Tabrah bought the Miniviewer for about $2,000, so she'd be able to read to her class without fear of stumbling.

The notion of what it is like to struggle with reading is never far from Tabrah's thoughts. And neither is the thrill of prevailing.

"To see them read their first book is just an amazing thing to witness," she said of her rookie readers.

It's like watching little miracles happening all around, Tabrah said. And those she can see just fine.

© 2001