April 28, 2010


Homer senior’s dyslexia inspires business idea

Student among 10 finalists at annual regional business plan competition for high schoolers

CompetitionJ.D. Thrasher/ contributing photographer
Homer senior Tara Wallace, right, stands with her economics teacher Joe Cortese Tuesday at the New York’s Creative Core business plan competition for high school students.

Staff Reporter

SYRACUSE — Tara Wallace, a girl with brown hair and an easy smile, is relaxed when talking about dyslexia. The Homer High School senior was diagnosed with the neurological disorder in the first grade.
She has difficulty comprehending and retaining material that she has read. But tasks such as sending a text message to friends is easier and not as stressful.Wallace organized her observations into a business plan.
She developed an idea to implement keyboards, fashioned like cell phones with text messaging-like capabilities in schools. She submitted her idea to New York’s Creative Core business competition, where she was named a finalist.
Her idea would use the capabilities of mobile phone text messaging to type full length reports and articles in less time. The device would be a keyboard the size of a cell phone and students would be able to type words by texting them to the computer. She said the use of the device would improve the classroom experience for all students.
The device will be successful, said Wallace. She contends the rise of high school students’ texting is common, and students who live in a world of modern technology will be able to complete homework assignments faster.
“I wanted to come up with an idea that would help kids type faster,” said Wallace, who said she heard the same complaints from other students, even before she made her own observations.
Wallace, along with 10 other students from high schools and colleges in Central New York, competed for $6,000 in the Creative Core finalist competition Tuesday at Onondaga Community College. Eight judges reviewed each idea. There were about 200 spectators at the event, which is in its fourth year. Over 100 applicants submitted ideas.
Entering the contest was a mandatory assignment for an economics course Wallace was taking.
Homer High School teacher Joe Cortese has required students in his class, which is only open to seniors, to enter the competition since 2008. In 2009, Caleb Earl, a student in the economics class, was awarded the $5,000 prize for his idea for biodegradable fishing hooks.
Wallace, the only finalist from the Cortland area, explained exactly how her keyboard device would work. For example, the word “hippopotamus” can be typed out by clicking a few buttons, compared to clicking all the letters of the word. Wallace’s device will also complete the spellings of commonly spelled words, so that the writer does not have to type each letter.
“T9 completes words,” said Wallace. “I don’t have to finish it all the way.”
A Liverpool High School team of two boys won this year’s competition with their idea for a calculator holder for desks, to prevent calculators from falling.
Although her idea was not awarded the top prize, Wallace hopes to see it materialize because it would improve the lives of all students, especially students with learning disadvantages, she said.
Wallace is enrolled in resource classes, and she also goes to school early and stays after school to get additional help from teachers, if needed.
She is not required to take a foreign language, Carlette Wallace said. Foreign language is important, Carlette Wallace said, but if comprehending reading in your native language is difficult, imagine the difficulty of comprehension in a foreign language, one that is not around you at all times.
“It takes forever,” she said of her daughter’s time to finish reports, but her daughter finishes all her homework and tests, despite the difficulty.
Despite challenges, such as misusing words and frequently using misnomers, Wallace is an honor roll student.
Her parents say it is her will to persevere that has been the root of her success.
“Apparently a light bulb turned on for her,” said Stephen Wallace. He said the chances of success for people with disabilities has changed since he graduated high school about 20 years ago.
“If you had a learning disorder, you were branded stupid,” said Stephen Wallace, who has had dyslexia since he was young. He said other members of his family also have dyslexia.
Stephen Wallace said when he was a boy there was a stigma about physical and learning disabilities, but times have changed. A person with a disability, as his daughter proved, can become an entrepreneur.
It is possible Wallace looked to her parents for inspiration, said Cortese.
Wallace’s parents are business owners. Stephen Wallace owns Wallace Construction and her mother owns Arnold’s Florist in Homer.
Wallace said she hopes to submit the idea to a software company, because the use of the device in the classroom will improve grade scores and confidence in students, possibly raising college acceptance rates and minimizing the drop out rate.
“If I can take the idea further, I want to,” Wallace said.
Wallace plans to attend Alfred State College in the fall, where she will major in architecture.


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