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Democrat Photo by Jeanne Sager

CHRISTOPHER ORTEGA PRACTICES with his new talking dictionary. The 8-year-old is blind, and the dictionary helps him with his vocabulary studies.

Local Boy Has
New Way to Study

By Jeanne Sager
FALLSBURG — March 30, 2004 – Chris Ortega’s the envy of his third grade class – his dictionary talks to him.
Ortega is a pretty normal third grader. He rides the school bus to Benjamin Cosor Elementary School.
He loves math and maps, and he’s a little weak in spelling.
He likes soccer and plays “Smackdown” on his Playstation.
But Ortega is also blind. The 8-year-old was diagnosed with retinoblastoma when he was 2 years old, and he’s been blind since doctors were forced to remove his eyes.
And when members of the Fallsburg Lions Club heard that a child in the local school could use some help, they answered the call.
The Lions arrived early this month at a Fallsburg Central School District Board of Education meeting with a Franklin Language Master Talking Dictionary – a small device that has opened doors for young Chris Ortega.
The handheld device has about 130,000 words from the US Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and Ortega can look up everything from definitions to appropriate uses.
He can enter a word the way he thinks it should be spelled, and the dictionary will spit out possible hits.
He can look up parts of speech or a word’s origin, all with the touch of a few buttons.
According to Lions Club President Stuart Wizwer, the group focuses on helping people who have sight challenges.
They buy glasses for those who need them or, in this case, products that will help those who are completely sightless.
“In this case, we can’t help him with glasses,” Wizwer said, “but we can help him forward his education.
“I understand he’s a very bright little boy.”
The dictionary cost more than $400, but it’s a small price for the Lions to pay to see a child succeed, Wizwer said.
Already, Ortega’s teacher has seen a difference in her student.
Jennifer McClarin is a BOCES employee who travels around the county working with visually impaired students.
Ortega is one of the best to work with, she said.
“He’s very easygoing, cheerful,” she said. “And he has wonderful family support – they’re very involved.”
Ortega is a student who works right on grade level, right alongside his peers, she continued.
Although he does all his work in Braille, which is translated for his regular classroom teacher by either McClarin or a transcriptionist on staff to work with him, he’s able to keep pace with the rest of the class.
“He has used his other senses to navigate the world,” McClarin explained.
“And navigate it he does,” she added, “with his white cane and his cheerful personality!
“He’s a great kid,” she said. “He’s very inquisitive.”
Ortega has been at Benjamin Cosor since kindergarten, and he knows his way around the halls where he stops to say hello to the teachers or exchange a few words in his native Spanish with a woman in the hallway.
Ortega was born in Mexico and moved to the United States when he was 2 years old.
The son of Maria and Richard Fletcher, he lives in Glen Wild with his parents, sister Brit, and brothers Richie and Saul.
His mom owns a Hispanic store, and when Ortega is on duty, he’s eager to speak Spanish with the customers.
When Ortega walks into a room looking for someone, he’s not afraid to call out, “Anybody home?” while he looks for a seat.
The dictionary has helped him become more independent, McClarin said.
Because a Braille dictionary is extremely large and Ortega can’t always be around a computer with the speech software he needs, the dictionary has allowed him to get his work done without relying on others for help.
“He’s a lot faster with his vocabulary,” McClarin explained. “As he gets used to having it, he’ll use it more and more.”
Ortega has taken to his new machine like a duck to water.
“It’s pretty easy once you know where the keys are,” he explained.
“Sometimes I use it at home,” Ortega added, “if I don’t get a word when I’m reading.
“Mostly I use it at school,” he noted.
Ortega isn’t afraid to whip out his trusty handheld when a classmate is struggling to spell a word or his teacher can’t put her finger on a definition.
“It doesn’t just help me, it helps everyone in my class,” he said.
McClarin hopes to see Ortega move on and take advantage of the technology that allows blind people to be more independent.
Ortega is a kid who has already shown success – he placed second in a national Braille contest last year, and he just won a bus report contest at his own school.
“Chris is going to go to college,” McClarin said.

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