2001 Conference Proceedings

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Michael Barber, Assistive Technology Analyst
E-mail: Barber.Michael@blind.state.ia.us 

Laurie Merryman, Assistive Technology Instructor
E-mail: Merryman.Laurie@blind.state.ia.us 

Project ASSIST With Windows
Iowa Department for the Blind
524 Fourth Street, Des Moines, IA 50309

The Problem

The computer has become an important tool for high school and college students. Blind and visually impaired students must possess computer skills beyond basic word processing in order to meet educational demands. They are required to use e-mail to communicate with their professors and peers, Internet browsers to conduct research, word-processors to write projects and papers, and more.

Sophisticated programs require that users know how to complete complex tasks with the program and their screen reader. Many of the advanced features continue to be inaccessible or difficult to use. Frequently, a blind or visually impaired student must define custom settings for the program and create their own configuration files for their screen reader program.

Like their peers, blind students find their time is precious and often cannot spend hours investigating the options that their programs have to offer. However, they cannot turn to conventional sources such as software documentation, friends, and off-the-shelf books for help.

The Solution

Since 1997, Project ASSIST With Windows has been creating tutorials on using popular Windows programs with a specific screen reader. The tutorials use keyboard instruction, include keystrokes and strategies for a specific screen reader, and offer step-by-step exercises. The topics covered in the tutorials are comparable to those taught in classes offered by commercial training companies.

Project ASSIST has worked extensively with the Microsoft Office 97 and 2000 programs and Corel WordPerfect. In addition, we have worked with numerous screen reader programs including Hal, JAWS For Windows, Window Bridge, Window-Eyes, and WinVision. We have developed many working solutions for using these programs to complete many school-related tasks.

Presentation Overview

This presentation will be useful to professionals in the blindness field as well as to blind individuals. The presentation will cover the following topics:

1. Academic Tasks. We will demonstrate tasks that a college student might perform in completing a research and presentation assignment. These tasks include using Microsoft Outlook to communicate with professors, preparing a research paper in Word, researching online with Internet Explorer, and preparing a PowerPoint presentation. Proposed demonstrations:

a. Working with the Address Book and Sending E-mail Messages in Outlook.

b. Researching Online with Internet Explorer.

c. Using Templates, Styles, and Footnotes in Word.

d. Working With PowerPoint.

A screen reader will be used in all demonstrations.

We will provide participants with a reference sheet and keyboard guide. The reference sheet can be copied and given to students to demonstrate how they can complete common academic tasks. The keyboard guide will list step-by-step instructions to complete these tasks.

2. Screen Reader Customization. We will offer tips for creating configuration files and changing screen reader settings.

3. Resources. We will also give participants a resource handout for more information. This handout will include sources for tutorials and keyboard guides, e-mail lists for applications, and web sites.

By sharing our knowledge and experience, we hope to avoid duplication of efforts and improve the computer skills of the participants. Most importantly, we will demonstrate that blind and visually impaired students can complete advanced computing tasks.

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