2001 Conference Proceedings

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TECHNOLOGY - IS IT TRULY THE GREAT EQUALIZER?

Elizabeth M. Perrotto, M.Ed.
Certified Teacher of the Visually Impaired, COMS
10933 Bywood
El Paso, TX 79936

Olivia Chavez Schonberger, M.Ed.
Certified Teacher of the Visually Impaired
Program Manager - Region 19 ESC
Services for the Visually Impaired
424 Sharondale
El Paso, TX 79912

Technology is a wonderful tool by which the playing field in a non-disabled world becomes equal. Now lets explore that thought, are the opportunities truly equal? Is a piece of equipment all that is needed to provide equality in the workplace or in the school setting? This is the thought of most parents of students with visual impairments and the belief of most people with visual impairments trying to break into the work force. So then why is the unemployment rate among the visually impaired so high? That is the issue at hand, technology for all its wonderful benefits still carries with it some pitfalls. Those problems and some possible solutions will be addressed in this paper.

Problem 1: The equipment a student uses must be at school and at home. This is easy enough if, you are talking about a Braille N Speak or some other type of notetaker but what about a desktop computer! Once the student has equipment in the home, what happens when it does not work correctly or the student does not remember the commands. Who can help? Parents for the most part do not receive training on the specialized equipment, even if they are computer literate the problems that arise with screen readers, scanners, embossers, and braille translation software is very unique.

Problem 2: Certified Teachers of the Visually Impaired are responsible for the instruction of technology to their students. The problem is few teachers have received adequate instruction on any piece of equipment their students might require. Students might need a Braille N Speak, Braille Lite, Computer with a screen reader (JAWS, Window Eyes, Dragon, etc.), word processor with braille output, scanner, printer, and braille embosser. The only way to get training is to attend seminars when they are offered and if someone has the money to spend on the training. If lucky enough to go to training, the sessions are never enough to absorb all the information covered. Also, the trouble shooting that is covered is the usual, maybe even expected or can be anticipated problems not those extra special problems that occur. Therefore, teachers usually rely on the manuals and trial and error. This approach can work until there is a problem with the equipment... the manual is searched for troubleshooting tips but the malfunction is not listed or the person does not know what the malfunction is exactly. For example, how many computer users know that each time there is an upgrade in software, the possibilities of malfunctions occurring rises. The problem could be that the screen reader system does not like the braille translator system, or the scanner is having difficulty with the computer’s hard drive or video card, or any other numerous possibilities. Now what can be done?

Problem 3: Call the Tech Support number! There is an animated voice on the end of the line asking for a name and phone number for a return call. Of course, there might be an answer but the information given to the technician may not be correct, all of his suggestions are not working, or the problem cannot be corrected over the phone. The equipment must be sent in for repairs.

Problem 4: Where can a replacement piece be found? All technology used by individuals with impairments comes with a very large price tag. Which results in school districts, individuals, and agencies only having enough equipment to handle the demand. The thought of having extra replacement equipment is not possible or at least viewed as a luxury no one can afford.

While all this is going on the person who is visually impaired is out of commission, unless they can rely on some other way to keep up their production whether it be in the classroom or the work place. The person who has been relying on this equipment now must improvise and use their best public relations skills with teachers, co-workers, bosses.

Problem 5: The technology changes faster than the adaptive equipment producers can keep pace. Just as the bugs are worked out for any particular software working smoothly with the mainstream systems, they have been revamped. This can cause havoc for the individual using the adaptive materials.

Problem 6: Most children being taught computer skills in schools are started on Macintosh Computers and then have to switch to Windows-based Computers to use the adaptive software they need. Therefore, they are expected and really forced to learn to completely different systems. In addition, to having to learn all the commands for their other pieces of adaptive equipment (for example: notetakers, screen readers, scanners, and braille transcription programs. Now they can revert back to a braille writer or even a slate and stylus both useful but not very practical in terms of speed of produced materials. What if the need is access to the internet? The aforementioned solutions are not solutions at all. One option could be to use another computer and have someone read the screen, but what are the chances of that being a viable solution? If they know another individual who uses the same equipment calling them for help might be useful. Chances are that a person who uses the equipment all the time might have faced the same malfunction and found an expedient solution. However, that only works if you know someone and they can be contacted for advice. The picture does seem dark and that is not the intention of the writers. It is our wish to shed some awareness on the problems that can occur when technology is being used and hopefully give some trouble shooting tips that have stemmed from experience.


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