Spending hours in the classroom can get tiring. For Jazlin Otero, going to her physical education class is the perfect break from working in class all day. Whether that’s to play volleyball, walk around the track, or play ball with her peers. “My favorite thing at school is going to P.E. because I get to use my walker and exercise,” said Jazlin, Patriot High School 9th-grader.
Jazlin has cerebral palsy, which has affected her development in speech and mobility. With the assistance of an alternative and augmented communication device (AAC), controlled solely by her eye gaze, Jazlin communicates more effectively with her family and peers.
Jacqueline Bui, a teacher on special assignment with special education, has worked with Jazlin since she was in fourth grade in the Riverside County Special Education program. To improve Jazlin’s communication skills with the people in her life, Ms. Bui was brought on to try the idea of using an eye gaze device.
Ms. Bui worked closely with Jazlin’s speech therapist and a vendor to make sure they found and customized the best device for Jazlin’s capabilities, conducting trial runs and collecting data. After three months of analyzing all the data they had and customizing the device to meet her needs, Jazlin began using an AAC device in fourth grade. Last year, she received an upgraded device with better access to the internet and more features.
The AAC device has built-in eye-tracking, which is how Jazlin is able to select icons on the device’s screen in order to communicate and access the internet. “She’s a poster child for the device,” said Ms. Bui about Jazlin’s adaptation to her AAC device. Since getting the device, Jazlin has thrived at home and at school, participating in classroom activities, advocating for herself, and expressing her personality more with the people in her life.
In 2020, Jazlin transitioned from the county program to the functional skills program in JUSD, first attending Mira Loma Middle School before enrolling in Patriot High School this year. At Patriot, Jazlin has found the perfect fit in Michele Rodriguez’s functional skills class, where efficient communication is the primary focus. “It’s the spirit of independence,” said Ms. Rodriguez. “[Students] feel a lot of pride and it helps them with their self-esteem [when they can communicate effectively].”
When students can advocate for themselves to get their needs met and to have access to the curriculum, they receive an equitable education, said Ms. Rodriguez. Jazlin’s experience is a shining example of equity in JUSD. Her AAC device amplifies her voice and helps reveal her fun side. “She communicates with [her peers] about her likes, and dislikes, especially her dislikes,” said Ms. Rodriguez, laughing. “She shows her personality, she’s very funny, has a great sense of humor, and she’s quick to respond, too… The students get to connect with her more now.”
Not only is the device helping Jazlin with her academics and communication but it also allows her to develop a digital footprint like other teenagers. That includes having access to different websites such as YouTube, where she enjoys listening to her favorite Puerto Rican superstar, Bad Bunny.
Jazlin’s mother, Jaine Otero, is incredibly proud of her. “It makes me happy that I know she will be okay,” she said. “She is blooming.” Becoming emotional, Ms. Otero added that the device brings Jazlin confidence, helps her express her concerns, and reveals her personality to the world.