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Blind Student Envisions Future in Computers

June 16, 1989

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ In the visual world of computers, a young blind woman envisions a new life.

Vera Saliba moved to the United States 5 1/2 years ago from her violent homeland in Lebanon and found a future in a field mostly for those who can see.

On Sunday, Ms. Saliba graduates from the Computer Science and Engineering School at the University of California, San Diego. She overcame her disability to become one of the college’s top computer science students.

″It always amazed me how much you could do with them,″ said the 22-year- old honors student. She uses a Braille keyboard and printer.

She hopes to soon put her knowledge to work developing software programs to give disabled people greater access to computers.

″There is a lot I can do now,″ Ms. Saliba said. ″If I write one program that will improve things for disabled individuals in general, that would be a great reward for me.″

She said she worries daily about her parents and four siblings who remain in East Beirut. But she wants to stay in the United States.

IBM wants to hire her, but she needs a work permit. The company is working with her in preparing her case before immigration officials. Ms. Saliba has stayed in the country on a student visa.

Ms. Saliba maintained a 3.7 grade point average at the university.

Few of her textbooks were available in Braille. She learned by listening to people reading the texts aloud and reviewing class notes they helped her take.

A black Labrador retriever named Amaris guided her to classes. She took all of her exams verbally.

She applied the lessons learned in research projects on her specially equipped computer.

She said her blindness ″doesn’t bug me, really,″ but she admitted to feeling frustrated at times.

″There were times I just wanted to give up,″ she said. ″The thing is I don’t believe in giving up because ... what’s left in life if you give up?″

Much of her frustration is rooted in not being able to communicate often with her family. She has not been able to get through by telephone or mail recently.

″I’m just hoping they’re still alive and they’re still OK,″ she said.

Her vision began to deteriorate at age 4, when the nerve relaying visual signals to the brain was cut off for unknown reasons. At 7, she could no longer read and she was blind by 13.

On a two-week tourist visa to visit a brother studying in Rhode Island, she decided to stay and enrolled at a high school.

She was encouraged in her studies by Narragansett High’s guidance office director, Maurice Allaire. ″He’s my U.S. dad,″ she said. Allaire is flying to San Diego to attend her graduation.

Scholarships and grants allowed her to go to college.

″She’s a real top student and she has changed a lot of attitudes on campus toward students with disabilities,″ said Connie Burton, UCSD’s director of disabled students services. ″She just seems to have a natural ability for computer programming.″

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