Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Michael Taboada : Former student in our parish

Another former student, David Faucheux of Lafayette, found this and sent this to me.
Eagle Scout honored for Braille project at LSU
By Mark H. Hunter
Special to The Advocate
February 22, 2012

Michael Taboada was a high school senior visiting the LSU campus during the 2010 Spring Invitational when he had to use the restroom.
Most people can just look for a sign, so finding a restroom is no big deal, but Taboada, being almost totally blind, has to find buildings, classrooms and restrooms by touching Braille signs.
After asking for directions, he found a restroom and filed its location into his memory. But what he learned is that in many older LSU buildings, restrooms are not marked with Braille signs — a discovery that sparked an idea that would net him the 2011 Eagle Project of the Year for the Boy Scouts of America's 13-parish Istrouma Area Council.
Taboada, a licensed amateur (ham) radio operator, who plays the piano and trumpet, practices tae kwon do as a second degree black belt, has even learned to snow ski, so he is used to taking on challenges.
He and his pals from Boy Scout Troop 5 last year applied more than 100 clear vinyl labels he made with his Braille printer to men's and women's restroom doors in several dozen LSU buildings. They also applied some labels in a few elevators to mark the floor numbers on the control panel.
"A big part of the Eagle project is supposed to be service to the community and in this case the LSU community and the blind community," said Taboada, now an 18-year-old LSU sophomore. "Not only will it help me, but it will help a lot of people, I believe."
He knows of at least five other blind students his project has assisted.
"Michael Taboada is leaving his mark on the LSU campus, and all vision-impaired students at the university will benefit from his passion and willingness to make a difference," said Tammy Millican, manager of communications for the LSU Facility Services in an email.
Taboada made his own signs, he said, because such building laws as the Americans With Disabilities Act don't require Braille signs in older buildings until they are renovated.
"Since LSU really doesn't have the money to renovate a lot of the buildings, and I don't see them being renovated in quite a few years, that's quite a few years they won't have Braille signs except the ones I put up," Taboada said.
Millican said it costs LSU from $120 to $200 per sign to install actual ADA signage. J. Lea Callaway, executive director for the Boy Scouts' Istrouma Council, characterized Taboada's Project of the Year award as "huge," and reported that it will be submitted to the national Eagle Scout project contest.
Cathie Louis, a longtime volunteer in the Istrouma Council who organized a recent awards ceremony at the Catholic Life Center, said of Taboada, "What he has in common with a lot of Eagle Scouts is that he has the ability to set goals. They know what they want and they know they have to work for it and they're not afraid of going for it."
Taboada has grown up in Baton Rouge, the son of Joseph Taboada, a veterinarian and associate dean at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, and Sandy Merchant Taboada, also a professor at the LSU Vet School. He graduated from McKinley High School in 2010, a year early, and has one brother, Robert, 16, who attends the Runnels School.
Michael Taboada was 2½ when it was discovered that he had a pituitary tumor called a craniopharyngioma, his father said in an email. The tumor was removed at Ochsner Hospital in New Orleans.
"I was throwing a ball with him the day before surgery, and he had no difficulty catching it," Joseph Taboada wrote. "But when he came out of surgery he was blind."
Michael Taboada said he can see shadows and outlines but cannot read or clearly see a TV or computer screen. He utilizes audio programs, such as on his cellphone, and reads with Braille or someone reads his homework assignments to him.
He is pursuing a double major of computer science and math and hopes a master's degree program in computer gaming is soon created so he can attend that program. He wants a future career in computer gaming, he said, and is already creating games featuring audio signals to indicate what is occurring in the game play.
Taboada lives on campus in an honors dorm and walks everywhere, at a brisk pace, using a long white, fiberglass cane to feel the ground in front of him. He sweeps it from side to side and when his cane hits an object he generally knows whether it is a curb, or a step or wall or doorway.
"One time I almost lost my cane down a storm grate," he said with a laugh while striding across campus. Students around him are often courteous and get out of his way and open doors for him.
He also listens carefully to noises around him and has much of the campus memorized, including where to turn and how many steps are in his path to a certain place.
His father gives a lot of credit for his son's progress to a blind couple named Ed and Toni Ames who are advocates for service dogs and members of the National Federation of the Blind.
"We met so many successful blind people through the NFB, and we realized that he had a future and that he could do anything that he set his mind to," Joseph Taboada wrote. "I really believe that there was some divine intervention that steered us here (in 1988) because … despite all of the problems with the schools in Baton Rouge, EBR had one of the best programs for blind children in the country. Michael had great teachers, especially Ms. Gail Canova, who were able to help him fulfill the promise of a gifted student who happened to be blind."
As a lifelong Scout, Michael Taboada has not shied away from the usual outdoor activities of camping, hiking, fishing and canoeing.
He described family snow skiing trips in Colorado and Montana.
"At first, when I was learning (instructors) had this bamboo pole they'd hold, one on each end, and I'd be in the middle, so they could help me learn how to turn," he said. "And once I got better they basically just told me when to turn.
"At first it was scary, because I didn't know how I would do it, but once I got better at it, it wasn't too scary," Taboada said. "It's pretty fun feeling the wind whip across you and knowing, 'Oh my gosh! I'm going so fast.'"
To earn his ham radio license, his mother read him the entire Federal Communications Commission book of rules and regulations so he could pass the test, his dad said.
Those skills paid off after Hurricane Katrina when he helped emergency responders.
"One time I was moving through the different repeaters in Baton Rouge and I heard someone calling from the Texas Emergency office for the Louisiana Emergency preparedness people and no one was answering," he said. "I happened to know that a link between repeaters had become undone so I had to relay traffic between them."
As a member of the National Federation of the Blind, Taboada is interested in increasing the public's awareness of the issues affecting visually impaired people and the language and terms used for various impairments.
He wants others to see visual impairment as a personal characteristic, "like having brown hair," rather than as a "disability."
"Don't let it make you think of us any different," he said.
Taboada plans to stay involved in Scouting, too,
"I think Scouting should be a lifelong thing," he said. "I think it teaches you a lot of ethics, morals, and it gives you life skills that you may not gain by yourself."

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