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Helping blind students succeed

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SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – When Lourdes Morales was just a kid, doctors said she had a genetic condition that would make her blind. 

"It wasn't until I was in tenth grade that I started noticing that I couldn't read exams," Morales said.

She was legally blind and the once-star-student found it hard to keep up.

"I almost dropped out of school," explained Morales.

But special tools like electronic magnifiers helped her through high school and college. Today she's a third year graduate student.

My dream was computer engineering because I just really liked computers," Morales said.

Now as part of her thesis, she  is helping other blind students. Most, like Caitlin Hernandez who's been blind her whole life, can type well, but formatting a document is difficult when you can't see.

"We've never seen a pamphlet or a resume, so we don't know what's supposed to be centered, and what's supposed to jump out at you," Hernandez said.

"What you would probably think is this person didn't put in the time or effort to do this properly," Morales added.

So Morales is developing software to help blind students format documents. The program tells users exactly where certain layout changes are needed.

More than 6.7-million people in the US suffer from some degree of blindness. Only about 12% of them have a bachelor's degree. Lourdes hopes to make getting a higher education more attainable for those with the disability.

"I almost dropped out of school. I almost did not get this chance, but I did because I had those tools that were there for me," explained Morales.

She's hoping the tools she creates will help others see their true potential.

Morales has also been involved with several other projects to help people with all kinds of disabilities. She's worked on a game to help stroke survivors learn math, narrated a game to help kids perform physical therapy after cleft palate surgery, and performed user tests for a vibrating belt developed at Toyota that could help blind people navigate.