2003 Conference Proceedings

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COMPUTER TRAINING ISSUES FOR INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE BLIND, VISUALLY-IMPAIRED, OR DEAFBLIND

Presenters
Harris Rosensweig
Manager Adaptive Technology
Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind
Private Bag 99941, Newmarket, Auckland, 1031, New Zealand
Phone +64 9 355-6904
Fax +64 9 355-6919
Email: hrosensweig@rnzfb.org.nz
Website: http://www.rnzfb.org.nz

Steve Tyler
Senior Strategic Manager - Digital Technology
Royal National Institute for the Blind
105 Judd Street, London WC1H 9NE
Email: styler@rnib.ork.uk
Website: http://www.rnib.org.uk

Shan Sasser
Project ASSIST With Windows
Iowa Department for the Blind
524 Fourth Street
Des Moines, IA 50309
Email: Sasser.shan@blind.state.ia.us
Website: http://www.blind.state.ia.us/assist/

Summary

An interactive discussion of three organizations' approaches to computer training for individuals who are blind, visually-impaired, or deaf blind.

Issues

Institutes and agencies serving blind and visually-impaired individuals across the globe face an ever-growing need to provide effective computer training to their clients so that they may retain or secure competitive employment and participate in the increasing online community. Two major challenges institutes and agencies face in providing computer training to blind and visually impaired individuals are delivering computer training to clients and offering teachers and trainers who possess thorough computer and assistive technology skills. These challenges are exacerbated by the dearth of appropriate training materials and avenues for sharing training materials and strategies among blindness-related institutes, agencies, and organizations.

To provide clients with the type of training necessary to prepare them for employment or online interaction with peers, government agencies, merchants, etc., the assistive technology teachers must be well versed in both mainstream software and the assistive technology. They must know how to operate the computer from the keyboard only. Because the mainstream and assistive technology software isn't always compatible, they must know how to work-around problems that arise. Finally, they must be prepared to provide customized training to clients who require varying degrees of computer training. For instance, some clients may simply wish to learn how to access their e-mail or create basic word-processing documents; while other clients need to learn how to work with databases and proprietary software. Few professionals have the time needed to investigate and keep pace with changes to the mainstream and screen reader software and prepare training materials that address the varying needs of their clients.

Solutions

This purpose of this session is to serve as a forum where assistive technology trainers can share ideas, materials,and information. The session will focus on computer training for blind, visually impaired, and deafblind individuals and the approaches and materials that are used by the Iowa Department for the Blind (Project ASSIST), the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), and the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind (RNZFB). One goal of the session is to assess the viability of forming an international consortium /resource/ clearinghouse where professionals from around the world may obtain information and training materials on providing computer training to blind, visually impaired, or deafblind individuals. Session moderators will provide a brief overview of their training programs and materials and methodology used in those programs. Below are brief descriptions of the programs sponsored by the moderators.

Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind (RNZFB) The RNZFB has a membership of 13,000 persons with low vision and the blind throughout New Zealand and is the sole organization in New Zealand serving these populations. During the past year, a new vocationally focused Adaptive Technology training course has been piloted in Auckland. A group of 8 people of working age are trained in Microsoft Office applications in conjunction with assistive technology (display magnification software and/or screen reader software) over the course of 10 weeks (30 hours per week). The primary aim of this classroom is to provide the students with a safe space to learn their adaptive technology software in depth in the context of Microsoft Office applications and to learn the fundamentals of computer troubleshooting. A further aim is to encourage peer support amongst the students and to focus them on how best to proceed into higher education or industry at the conclusion of the course. Self-paced tutorials acquired from the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind (RVIB) and modified and supplemented by RNZFB staff are the primary training materials used. These tutorials incorporate the teaching of the Microsoft Office applications in tandem with their AT software. Group exercises, lectures, and hands-on demonstrations also supplement the tutorials. Furthermore, all materials have been modified to allow students to pass competencies (unit standards) that are nationally accredited. As of October 1, 2002, two classes of 8 students have graduated and a third is in progress. 6 out of the 8 students from the first class have found jobs or have enrolled in higher education. Statistics for the second class will be compiled 2 months post graduation. Furthermore, the tutorials have been extremely well received by the students and RNZFB is looking at ways to distribute these tutorials to senior citizens around New Zealand who are not eligible for the training course. The moderator will discuss the challenges of maintaining such a course and running multiple courses in remote locations.

Royal National Institute for the Blind The RNIB has developed a Trainer Certification Scheme aimed at ensuring standards within the assistive technology industry. In addition, we have put together some trial training programs aimed at people who are completely new to technology or have technology literacy problems; these course materials are centered on outcomes that those types of users will better understand - reading letters, getting newspapers, writing to grandchildren. Additionally, we have worked started work on assessor certification and are in the process of pulling together requirements for such a scheme.

Iowa Department for the Blind

In 1997, the Iowa Department for the Blind began work on project ASSIST With Windows (Accessible Step by Step Instructions for Speech Technology With Windows). The purpose of Project ASSIST is to develop and distribute computer training materials to blind and visually impaired individuals. Recently, project ASSIST received grants from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to expand our training efforts.

Project ASSIST will begin offering computer training materials tailored to the needs of deafblind individuals. In addition, we have developed and begun implementing a distance-learning computer training program focused around the Microsoft Office User Specialist certification program.


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