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William M. Devine, MA
TIL Lead Instructor
29 Emmons Park Drive
Taft, California 93268
The Transition to Independent Living Program at Taft College began in August 1995 with funding from Kern Regional Center. The college serves as the sponsoring agency. TIL was created for developmentally disabled adults who wanted a postsecondary educational experience that taught them independent living skills. There are 30 students in TIL living in on campus dormitories every year. The students take Basic Skills classes from Student Support Services; work at on or off campus jobs 8 hours a week, have the opportunity to take regular college classes, and spend 6 hours each weekday afternoon learning independent living skills. It is an intense, busy schedule that challenges the students for 22 months to learn, develop, and realize their independent living potential. TIL has a Transition Specialist who tracks TIL graduates and helps us measure our success. Based on the Transition Specialist's assessment, TIL has made a very significant difference in the lives of its graduated students. On the whole, they are substantially more successful than their developmentally disabled peers in society. In addition, her reports also enable us to improve, as she reports the needs our students have living on their own. Being involved in the "Technology and Persons with Disabilities" conference also represents our effort to serve the needs of our students in any way possible.
The students in the TIL program are adults who want to live on their own. The disabilities of the students vary. These include legal blindness, speech impairments, hearing impairments, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, autism, Downs Syndrome, William's Syndrome, and learning disabilities. All of the students must have the potential to live independently. After graduation, they report they are working, living independently and that they are happy with their lives. They are pioneers for those with disabilities, leading the way into the future. That is why it is so important to provide them with the best tools to thrive on their own.
There are a number of classes at TIL that teach technology in one guise or another. The Basic Skills Safety class teaches practical skills for life in the student's own home. It teaches setting alarm clocks, securing the dorm room, emergency procedures, carrying ID, setting thermostats for heating and air conditioning, using swamp coolers, knife safety, pedestrian and bicycle safety, recycling, hanging items on the walls, electrical safety, plumbing and insect control. In addition, they must demonstrate appropriate use and storage of poisonous and household products, how to turn off the water supply, how to plunge a toilet, how to change the battery in the smoke alarm, and knowledge of First Aid. The TIL program does not use any specific assistive technology for these lessons and tasks.
The Basic Computer class introduces word processing skills, Internet access and search engines, and email procedures. All students in the program are provided with a free campus email address. The Advanced Computer class also emphasizes practical basic techniques. It reviews settings and saving documents in Word, how to copy and paste from one document or program to another, how to make attachments to a new email message, how to organize files on the computer in Windows Explorer and their email program (including how to mark files and move them around easier), reviews search engines, printing a selection online, setting a photo as wallpaper, using selected sites like Mapquest or Webshots, how to make a schedule in Word, and how to make a chart in Word. The class uses a big screen TV to model steps to take on the computer, while students each have their own computer to use in the classroom. No assistive technologies are used for this class.
The students have a Personal Finance class in which they learn to use ATM cards. They learn to make purchases, withdrawals, transfers, and check their balances electronically. This is a great convenience for them, but it does not represent an assistive technology. The staff has used a program called Tegrity to burn CD's instructing students on budgeting. Tegrity inserts video instruction into one corner of a PowerPoint slide presentation. This enables the instructor to provide step-by-step directions on video while the student watches and listens to the video and studies each slide in the budgeting presentation. The Tegrity Web Learner makes these instructions available online as well.
They have Communications objectives as well, whereby they learn how to use telephone technology. This includes using a pay phone, calling for directory assistance, making collect calls, taking messages, and using a calling card. The program has begun using assistive technology in this area. There have been students who have difficulty making phone calls. They have used a Picture-Touch phone to overcome this difficulty. Pictures were inserted into each number on the phone representing people or places whose phone number would be dialed when they pushed a button and that number. For example, a picture of their parents was placed at number one, number two was their brother's family, number three was work, number 5 was scissors for the haircut place, and number 6 was a picture of pizza for their favorite pizza place. This was quite useful and effective for these students. Another student also used assistive technology because of a speech impairment. He used TTY (text telephone, teletype) to communicate by phone with people without a TTY, using the California Relay Service (CRS). He typed in a message and sent it along the telephone line to an operator. She verbally communicated his written text to the party called. This service was useful. It is not ideal to communicate through a third party, but it enabled the student to communicate clearly with others when he could not do so otherwise. It took time to type out the messages, but it reduced the time spent guessing at what the student was trying to communicate. For students who can type and spell well enough to be understood, this technology is a step forward in communications.
The newly remodeled kitchen used for cooking classes is designed to accommodate individuals in wheelchairs. One set of the three counters is set lower. This adaptation allows these students access to tools and appliances. The students use a cutting board with spikes for tomatoes and onions. This is quite practical and makes cutting these items much easier. We also have a single gas burner, an electric frying pan and a toaster oven, all of which are easier and safer for some students to use. The students have access to a 1/2 gallon snap-on handle for cardboard orange juice or milk containers. This item has not seen much use. The students do use the adaptive jar openers. That item is particularly useful for students without fine motor skills or strength. We also have a safe electric can opener that cuts the entire top off of cans. That item has been useful and serves the purpose of preventing injuries. The instruction in cooking also includes videotaped cooking demonstrations we have taped ourselves. As an instructional component, using this technology to provide examples for students with our own staff has been beneficial and interesting for students.
In addition to the kitchen items, the TTY phone service, and the Picture-Dial phone mentioned above, there are other devices students have used while in the TIL program. Many students have been able to enhance their learning with the Omni 3000 scanner/reader from Kurzweil. It was after attending a California Community Colleges high-tech training center seminar that I was introduced to this technology. Taft College purchased it for student use soon after. It scans written texts into the computer and highlights it as it is read into a student's earphones. It is used for understanding assignments more easily, and those TIL students with reading difficulties have found it very useful. There is a substantial selection of literature on CD and many students have enjoyed being able to read for pleasure with this system.
There are some small electronic devices of use to students. One of these is the talking calculator. This can speak the numbers the students push on the calculator and reads the results. This helps students who understand and learn better from auditory input. This has been a beneficial tool for these students in their personal finance class. There is also an electronic pillbox that a few students have tried to use. It holds their pills and has a light that comes on 24 hours after the students push the button. It relies on the student to push the button, which is a reasonable procedure for students to learn, but it is a very small red light, so students are not likely to notice it and so not likely to remember their medication just from this method. Equally important, most students do not just take medications every 24 hours, so that limits its uses further. It is a simple assistive tool of limited use. Students with speech difficulties have used the type and speak machines. The students type in a message and the machine speaks the words in an electronic voice. This technology has been quite useful, but its usefulness to some extent depends on the student's dedication to the tool and their ability to type quickly and well. That is to say that its usefulness is in direct proportion to the student's facility with the machine and spelling. Because of this, its use has been in some cases occasional or limited and in some cases quite consistent and beneficial.
On a larger scale, those students who use electronic wheelchairs have benefited greatly from them. The joystick control enables them to maneuver with varying degrees of deftness, and the electric battery enables them to cover great distances much more easily than otherwise. Students feel it necessary to augment the use of this technology with exercise programs because they are exercising less as a result of their disability with the electric wheelchair. For some this means taking adaptive P.E. classes available here at Taft College, while for others it has meant using a walker for part of their day to ensure they don't allow their muscles to atrophy. These chairs provide great freedom and truly enhance the lives of these students.
The students in the TIL Program have taken on the challenge to live as independently as their potential allows. They have taken up the gauntlet to discover what their potential can be. Assistive Technology has been and will continue to be an integral part of that process. That is why it is so important that there be opportunities like this one for us to share what we are doing, find out what has worked most effectively, and continue to expand the life horizons of our students and clients. At this point I'd like to take comments or suggestions on assistive technology or answer questions about the TIL program that you may have. (Some of the assistive devices will be on display. A laptop demo describing the program will be cycling at the front of the classroom and a documentary video about the program will be available.)
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