2002 Conference Proceedings

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Distance-Learning Computer Certification Training Program for Blind and Visually Impaired Individuals

Presented By:
Shan Sasser
Assistive Technology Documentation Specialist
ASSIST With Windows
Iowa Department for the Blind
sasser.shan@blind.state.ia.us
(515) 281-1333

The Iowa Department for the Blind was recently awarded a federal grant to research and implement a distance-learning project. The purpose of the distance-learning project is to provide instruction on Microsoft Office software to blind and visually impaired individuals and prepare these students for the Microsoft Office User Specialist (MOUS) certification exam. The program will be open to blind and visually impaired individuals nationwide. The program will also offer train the trainer courses to rehabilitation professionals who provide computer training to blind and visually impaired individuals. This session will our new project. We will discuss the project objectives and goals and provide details on the distance-learning program.

Project Purpose / Intent. Jobs in the Information Technology (IT) field are available in almost every sector of the economy today. Indeed, many employers have jobs that must go unfilled because of a lack of qualified candidates. With proper training in IT software and assistive technology, blind and visually impaired persons can become qualified for a wide variety of those jobs. Standard approaches to computer training are not appropriate for blind people because they cannot use a mouse, and they must use additional assistive technology to read the screen. Further, specialized training for blind computer users is not universally available and is traditionally very expensive because blindness is a low-incidence disability. Also, there is a lack of qualified computer trainers to provide the in-depth training necessary to obtain IT related jobs. Finally, blind persons often encounter transportation barriers that prohibit training. The proposed program will train blind and visually impaired individuals for IT related jobs. The training will use a keyboard and screen reader specific approach to the computer, be available to anyone within the United States, and provide comprehensive, software-specific training with interactive support from instructors.

Project Goals and Objectives. The goal of this project is to create a model distance-learning program to deliver computer training to blind and visually impaired people, which will increase IT educational opportunities and employability in the IT field. The project's objectives are to
1.) develop a model distance-learning computer training program for blind persons that will result in employment in the IT field;
2.) develop 13 distance-learning computer training courses for blind and visually impaired persons and Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) professionals;
3.) train and prepare 150 blind people for Microsoft Office certification and thus prepare them for entry-level IT positions;
4.) train 50 blind people and VR professionals to provide computer training to blind job seekers, and thus increase future IT educational opportunities for blind and visually impaired people; and
5.) disseminate training materials and research results to agencies serving blind and visually impaired individuals.

Project Impact. This project will provide blind and visually impaired individuals with in-depth computer skills, enabling them to obtain higher paying jobs in a wider variety of positions throughout the public and private sectors. It will educate VR professionals, which will increase IT educational opportunities for blind and visually impaired individuals. In addition, developing distance-learning methodologies will make appropriate computer training for blind persons more universally available, thereby giving more and more blind and visually impaired persons the tools they need to work in tomorrow's economy. Finally, the issues identified by this project will assist other organizations seeking to ensure their distance-learning programs are accessible to persons with disabilities.

Expected Outcomes. This project will achieve several outcomes. An effective distance-learning training model for blind persons will be developed that teaches computer skills, which can be replicated throughout the U.S. to teach both proprietary and general use software. Distance-learning training will eliminate transportation barriers and provide interactive directed training for blind persons nationwide. The participants' certification in standard software will greatly enhance their ability to secure permanent employment in the IT field. The number of qualified instructors to provide in-depth computer training will be increased. Finally, the business sector will have a new pool of applicants who possess much needed IT skills.


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