2001 Conference Proceedings

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ACCESSTECH 2000: COMMUNITY BASED COMPUTER COURSES IN PUBLIC LIBRARIES REACH UNDERSERVED BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED ADULTS WITH ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY

Joseph Adamo
De Witt & Associates
700 Godwin Avenue
Midland Park, NJ 07432
(201) 447-6500
Josepha@dewittassociates.net

AccessTech 2000 is a unique independent living project spearheaded by the New Jersey legislature, founded on the principle of equal participation in the Internet by all citizens. Blind and visually impaired adults obtain basic computer literacy using speech or large print, many for the first time in their lives. classes are held in local public library technology centers in cooperation with the New Jersey State Library. Typically underserved adults are provided free instruction in a community based setting. This session will focus on how the program is funded, implemented has been received and grown. 

De Witt & Associates' Director of Training will discuss:

  1. How the program is funded and implemented:
    a. The State funds the cost of appropriate assistive technology and instructors.
    b. Local public libraries provide a space to hold the classes.
    c. Existing library computers are utilized, if possible. If necessary, De Witt & Associates supplies additional hardware.

  2. Who is served by the program?
    a. Unlike many state programs, AccessTech 2000 focuses on non-vocational needs.
    b. The majority of the students are senior citizens who are not eligible for traditional vocational rehabilitation services.

  3. Curriculum
    a. Teaching keyboarding to novice computer users: The majority of our students have little or no experience using a keyboard of any type. We have developed methods to help these students start learning the basics, without having to spend extensive classroom time practicing their keyboarding skills.
    b. Covering the basics - Word and Windows: In our introductory classes, students learn to use basic functions in both Microsoft Word and Windows 95/98 or NT.
    c. The Internet: We provide an introduction to the internet using PW Webspeak and Internet Explorer.
    d. Intermediate Word and Internet Classes: We have just implemented an intermediate class that teaches more advanced Word functions and how to use Web based E-mail. Web based e-mail is important because students can set up an account without having to own their own computer and then they can check and send mail using any internet connected computer. Students are encouraged to return to the library to use the equipment during non-class hours.
    e. This class is being offered to all students who have completed the introductory class.
    f. Financial Software instruction: Another new class for students who have successfully completed the beginner class focuses on the use of Quicken 2000 to handle personal finances.

  4. Implementing the program:
    a. Finding Libraries: Quite surprisingly, we found that not all libraries were interested in having us provide free classes at their facility. Their major concerns included taking time away from internal staff training and use by other library patrons. Some libraries also were concerned about using library resources for students from out of their town or district.
    b. Transportation needs and solutions: Most classes were located in County Public Libraries which are served by mass transit. However, we still needed to supplement that with transportation allowances and drivers. Funds are now available to pay for transporting students to and from home, if requested.
    c. Student attendance: free or low cost classes tend to have a high attrition rate. How to encourage and keep students in the program is a concern. This issue is still being addressed.

Results:
a. Approximately 500 Students have been served in two years
b. Students are returning to the libraries outside of class time to use the equipment.
c. Other libraries are applying for grants to add assistive technology to their facilities because of AccessTech 2000's success, even though they do not have space for a full fledged classroom.


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