Carissa became the Eir disability champion because of her work on the Appventure project she did with the help of her mentor Trevor Boland, DIT’s assistant technology officer.
Appventure is a website that is designed to help students navigate DIT by giving them handy tips, like Microsoft Office being free to students, and informing them about technologies that make student life easier.
Carissa found out she was dyslexic at the age of 20 while taking a two year PLC.
Smith says about learning disabilities that “people see it as a disability … you find some things hard but some things are a lot easier because of it”.
Carissa has always had an interest in technology. “My Mam said when I was really young I used to do things like take a clock off the wall and take it apart to see how it worked. My Dad always had tools lying around so that got me into it”, she said.
Considering her natural curiosity and flare for mechanics, one would assume her talents would transfer into her academics, but she struggled through secondary school. “You get this reputation as a messer but a lot of the time I would be messing because I couldn’t do something … there was times I couldn’t recognize my own name in someone else’s handwriting”.
“I made it through school because I used technology…I used to go take computers apart and put them back together…I would get home and I would scan a document in and play the audio of what it said on the computer”.
As you can imagine Carissa was always exhausted after a day of doing this but she was still called ‘lazy’ and a ‘messer’ because she couldn’t concentrate on something she couldn’t understand.
“If you think about a b, a d, a p and a q all lower case are all the same to me. I went to a youth club once a week who believed I could do it (homework), so every Thursday I would have my homework done because someone would sit down with me and help me do it.”
“Then I got the reputation as badly behaved and lazy because they didn’t understand how I could do it once a week.”
“When I was 18 I was taught how to read again. I could read but I would get stuck on certain words…It was the hardest thing ever, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy…I did a two year PLC and finished near the top of my class but people still doubted I would make it to college”
“If you don’t need it you don’t know”.
“All you need is that group of people who believe in you and it makes everything a lot easier”.
“It was the first youth club I wasn’t kicked out of for poor behaviour. They really believed in me and pushed me and now I am a youth leader of a special needs group in that club”. The name of the youth club, Urban Junction in Blackrock, brought Carissa on as a youth mentor. “I now have 12 kids I mentor in the youth club”.
She even devised a way to take notes through a system of illustrations because it made more sense to her mind than a sequence of incomprehensible letters. As you can imagine her teachers dismissed it as more of her ‘messing’, despite her best efforts to explain herself.
From her experiences in school Carissa “never thought she would make it to college”, let alone become the ‘technology mentor’ of the college in her second year.
Despite her disabilities Carissa is thriving in college. When she meets people from her school they find it hard to believe she is a second year student of information systems and computer science.
As technology mentor in DIT Carissa shows students with disabilities alternative ways to do their college work that they may find easier than the classic secondary school model of learning vast amounts of information and regurgitating it later in an exam situation. Carissa’s struggles during her school years with her own disabilities makes her the perfect candidate for the job.
“I wake up happy now compared to back in school when I would just be in a bad humour”.