Championing Accessibility in Education for Blind and Visually Impaired Students

Daily Point of Light # 7836 Jun 18, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Crystal Yang. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Crystal Yang is transforming education for blind and visually impaired students through her nonprofit organization, Audemy. Founded in response to the alarming statistic that over 70% of blind students are at least a grade level behind in school, Audemy aims to increase accessibility to educational resources via audio-based, accessible education games.

Under Crystal’s leadership, Audemy’s innovative platform is now used in schools for the blind and visually impaired across five states. With over $70,000 in grants and resource sponsorships from prominent organizations such as Desmos and Wolfram Alpha, Audemy is making significant strides in bridging the accessibility gap in education.

One of Audemy’s standout events is KatyYouthHacks, a hackathon that inspires youth to create technology solutions for people with disabilities. Last year, the event attracted over 420 participants and featured judges and guest speakers from leading companies like Amazon and VISA. In addition to hackathons, Audemy creates educational videos that have reached more than 150,000 students.

Crystal’s efforts have also been recognized on an international scale; she has published and presented research on conversational interfaces for blind and visually impaired users at the prestigious ACM International Conference on Multimodal Interaction (ICMI) in Paris. Crystal has developed and coded over 15 accessible, audio-based educational games utilizing artificial intelligence.

Read on to hear about Crystal got started with her platform and what she’s discovered along the way.

Crystal Yang is the founder and CEO of Audemy, an educational platform for blind and visually impaired students.

Tell us about your volunteer role.

I’m the founder and CEO of Audemy, which is an educational platform for blind and visually impaired students. The platform itself is a collection of, currently, around 15 games. They’re all audio-based, and therefore accessible for blind and visually impaired students. The platform addresses the gap between education and accessibility. Over 70% of blind students are at least a grade level behind in math. There’s a need for tools to bridge this gap. Initially, my role was very technical-heavy. I coded the website and created the games, which use artificial intelligence to understand what the user is saying. As time went on, my role became more community-focused. Now, I reach out to teachers and students too. So I’m balancing making a good product with connecting it with the community.

Why is this issue so important to you?

It’s so important because as technology is growing, people have access to all these new tools. There’s infinite possibility for people to be doing new things. But blind students, in particular, are often left behind in this new age of AI and technology. There are so many resources for blind students to use technology. All students should have the right to education; just because students have disabilities doesn’t mean they should have fewer resources than everyone else. And with the upcoming possibilities that exist with all this new technology, it’s great to see technology used to help people with accessibility barriers as well.

What inspired you to get started with this initiative?

Over the summer, I did some research at Texas A&M University. I published a paper that was about creating an audio-based and accessible version of the game Wordle. While researching that project, I was able to meet a visually impaired student in the lab, and she wasn’t even able to play the game because it was all visual-based. There was no audio or tactile alternative to playing Wordle. That introduced me to the world of accessibility and all that blind and visually impaired people might be missing out on.

I thought, if they’re missing out on this simple form of entertainment, they’re probably unable to access other crucial things, like educational tools and other things that would be greatly beneficial to their lives. So then, I started developing Audemy to help address these issues.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

The most rewarding part is getting to meet all the people and see the impact it’s had on them. There’s a girl in my school. She’s blind; she lost her vision in third grade. She really liked the games a lot – I remember her smiling while playing one of the math games and laughing when she got an answer right. It was great seeing how these educational games were able to impact her. When I show Audemy to teachers around the nation, I love seeing them support the platform and share it with fellow teachers. It’s been really rewarding seeing the use of the platform I’ve developed, and then also seeing how it benefits blind and visually impaired students.

What are your long-term plans or goals for the organization?

Currently, Audemy is used in seven schools for the blind and visually impaired. I hope it will eventually be used as a tool in all the blind and visually impaired schools around the nation. Also, in the future, I’d love for Audemy to become international – expanding the audio-based system into other languages to have a global reach. Then, there’s just improving the educational content and having more collaborations with schools. Overall, my goals include seeing the technology continue to create a really beneficial tool for all blind and visually impaired people around the community and beyond.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

As I’ve started volunteering, I’ve realized that everyone can make a big change in their communities. Before, I didn’t have much experience in helping the blind and visually impaired community. But through volunteering, I learned that everyone can make a difference. I was just a little girl who liked creating projects with computer science. Then I realized I could combine this previous interest with social impact, and with a social topic I’m passionate about. It’s great that everyone’s able to apply their own individual skills and strengths into volunteering and helping the community.

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

Just start volunteering! There are always people who need support. There are always social issues that need to be addressed. There are a ton of organizations out there addressing the issues you might care about. Don’t be afraid to try to make your own ideas come to life. If there’s an unaddressed issue and you can find a solution that harnesses your own skills, you should go out and try that.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Crystal? Find local volunteer opportunities.

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