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WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

Quan to bring enthusiasm to UMass Amherst

Provided by Alan Quan
Quan holds a sign for UMass Amherst, where he will be going to college.

At WA, senior Alan Quan is often found with a smile on his face. By day, he takes part in WA’s various clubs, from DECA to Ghosts & Goblins. By night, he can be found sitting behind the WATA ticket stands, cheerfully greeting students and parents as he checks them in, or cheering by the football field as a manager for the team.

And although all of these involvements may seem vastly different from each other, one thing is clear: Quan’s ability to find passion and enthusiasm wherever he goes. While Quan was born with a visual impairment that prevents vision completely in his left eye and partially in the other, he has not let this stop him from thriving, both in and out of the classroom, over the past four years.

“I think people think that  people who are blind or visually impaired are less capable than sighted people, which is absolutely not true,” Quan said. “A lot of things, like checking in tickets, people assume you need vision, but I love doing it and you can modify it to suit your needs. […] We do all the same things. Do I do things differently? Yes. But the end result is the same.”

In line with this, Quan describes himself as an avid researcher who loves delving deeper into topics, which have recently involved public transportation, the airline industry, or even new technologies. This enthusiasm for learning is something that Westford teacher of visually impaired students, Susan Cantos, has noticed in Quan since he was young.

“[He is] very, very excited about learning, and loves to research,” Cantos said. “He is a student that never let his disability get him down. He always is a can-do kid, who loves being with people and is very excited about topics that he’s interested in.”

Quan points towards Cantos, his teachers, and the ever-evolving world of technology as a huge factor in assisting with accessibility and his day-to-day life. Since he was three, Quan has worked with Cantos to learn braille, a writing system formed by raised dots, and to smoothly incorporate these accommodations to the classroom, which can often be a challenge to coordinate.

During his classes, Quan often relies on verbal presentations or has slideshows shared to him ahead of time, in addition to the text-to-speech features on his devices.

“The biggest challenge is making sure [Quan] and all my students have all the skills they need, and keeping up with latest and greatest technology,” Cantos said. “But I see his maturity level, his responsibility level, wanting to get his work done, wanting to advocate for himself, and that is huge.” 

In particular, Cantos has found the pandemic as a major shift in the technologies and assistive equipment that Quan was able to use. As more classroom assignments became digital, Quan was able to access more materials from teachers on his braille device, rather than have Cantos manually do so through a braille printer. 

While there may be slight differences with these adaptations in the way Quan approaches activities, student support services teacher Bruce Rich ultimately describes him as a “go-getter” who is persistent in finding opportunities he is interested in. 

“When [Quan] walks into a room he lights up the room,” Rich said. “He’s just always in a good mood and he’s always someone you can talk to. We love having him around in our space. […] And if we’re not [accessible], he’s gonna make sure we are.”

Outside of school, Quan’s  passion for public transportation has most recently manifested into his Youtube channel, Alan’s Transits and More. While Quan’s channel began as a seemingly random decision, the videos have accumulated over 15,000 views, expanding to include footage of him using elevators and even self checkout machines.

There’s no editing, no music, it’s very no thrill, and I don’t have a fancy camera. This started as a random thing but then, by popular demand, I’ve kept posting,” Quan said. “It’s about, if [you] were to go out on [public transportation] today, what would it really be like? Because there is not enough of that on the internet.”

Although sharing these videos is a casual hobby for Quan, they also carry a larger goal: to share the realities of public transportation and accessibility today, both as an enthusiast for the topic and someone who is visually impaired. 

“Unfortunately, the world is still really built for people who are sighted,” Quan said. “For those of us who are can’t see very well, it is harder. For example, the way intersections are designed, and cars on the road, or baselining, they don’t take into account people who are blind and visually impaired. […] Sometimes [companies] prioritize cost saving over what will help people.”

Ultimately, these last few years have culminated in his commitment to UMass Amherst, where he will be majoring in Business Tourism and Hospitality. Among the factors that led him to the school include its particularly accessible campus and support systems, along with its welcoming environment and proximity to home. Although he had not originally anticipated this major, his years of competing in Hotel & Lodging for DECA, along with his recently-found curiosity for the tourism industry were what solidified his decision.

“I love going on vacation, as I think all of us do. But just the way that my mind works it has turned into more of an obsession,” Quan said. “I do research, I love that kind of thing, and I’ve loved the industry. I bookmark all the industry news on my phone, but I never thought it was something I could major in.”

As with any student, going into college is a huge marker of independence for Quan. However, this shift will also mean that he will no longer have support from the Westford system, instead shifting to the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind for assistive services and technology. Above all, Quan emphasises his appreciation for WA and the support he has received over the years.

“I’m going to miss WA a lot. It will always have a special place in my heart. All the teachers and students are so understanding and I have never had any major problems [because] they are always so accommodating,” Quan said. “Being away from home is going to be different, and I’m nervous but it’ll be fun to have a different experience.”

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About the Contributor
Deepa Gautam
Deepa Gautam, Editor-in-Chief
Hi! My name is Deepa and I am a junior Editor in Chief for the Ghostwriter! This is my third year on the paper and I joined because I love to read, write, and try new things. In my free time, I love watching movies, listening to music, trying new foods, and spending time with my family! :)

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