2003 Conference Proceedings

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EFFECTIVE TECHNIQUES TO INTEGRATE ACCESS TECHNOLOGY IN SCHOOL AND WORK

Presenter
Somphone Chen
Braille Institute, Orange County Regional Center
527 North Dale Avenue, Anaheim, CA 92801
(714) 821-5000

John Zamora
Braille Institute, Orange County Regional Center
527 North Dale Avenue, Anaheim, CA 92801
(714) 821-5000

For a vision-impaired or blind individual, the introduction of access technology in an effective manner can mean the difference between success or failure in school and work settings. The motivation and competency of the people involved is critical. If the technology is introduced in an artificial manner not directly related to tasks that the "end-user" finds important, it is unlikely that individuals will be effective in using the technology to resolve access issues. Similarly, if individuals are introduced to technology at the same time they are being asked to perform new job functions, their chances for success would be limited. However, technological solutions that are integrated into a practical approach are more likely to result in a positive outcome.

The following five practical approaches (two involving student initiatives, and three involving employment interactions) are being submitted as possible models for duplication and are based on experiential application and observation:

Other responsibilities are built into this program, such as a requirement to care for the equipment, participation in mandatory training with the adaptive technology specialist and reporting any equipment malfunction or loss.

The appeal of this approach is that the responsibility is placed on the student to comply or lose the use of the unit. Most students having been introduced to the multiple functions of the note takers quickly end up integrating the units into their personal lives. In this fashion they develop a better sense of organization and independence. The units can also be used in work settings and as tools to communicate in social and volunteer involvements as well. The note takers soon become an invaluable part of the user's ability to function more independently.

The program uses two California State University employees and one access technology specialist from Braille Institute. The program takes place at the Braille Institute, Orange County Regional Center's computer facilities. It is designed to cover technology needs that the teachers will face in the field, including access computer programs, transcribing technology and computer note taking technology.

Students who are not computer literate but have basic keyboarding skills are brought in to receive specific one-on-one assessment from the teachers in training. They are given one week of follow-up training. With this approach, the teachers not only get instruction themselves but also receive the opportunity to apply the training and receive feedback.

The program is valuable in reducing the stigma of access technology being overly complicated or technical. Teachers are empowered to address their own students' access technology needs during the course of the school year.

From a technical standpoint, interns must be assisted to see if they have the skills required to do the work. The job involves printing out notes, transcribing letters, answering telephones and conducting Internet research. In the case of this initiative, the interns are high school seniors, paid through a school-base funded program. They require additional training in most cases.

Aside from the technical assessment and instruction, interns need to work on appropriate employment etiquette. The proper communication and response in the work site is included in the training as well as understanding the employer's expectations.

In the initial years of this effort, the employer was serviced by access technology specialists from public and private agencies. This proved to be not only a costly approach but also an awkward one given the proprietary nature of the company's system. Outside assistance could only go so far in adapting the employer's process to the needs of vision-impaired/blind employees without being involved in private company information. In addition, the rapid daily changes associated with the work place required that an individual be present on a regular basis.

In order to provide the proper support in a cost-effective manner an associate who used the access technology and had an intimate knowledge of the job duties was established as the in-house access technology expert. With more than a dozen employees using audio/tactile-output devices, screen reading software and other adaptive devices, consistent follow-up at the job site is required. In addition, the employee is able to perform his "regular" job duties when his services to train or troubleshoot with his fellow employees are not needed.

In establishing an employer expert, the company itself became more empowered in dealing with the special needs of its employees with vision impairment. As the company's familiarity and commitment grew, so did their ability to integrate access technology and hire more individuals who would use it.

The solution to these issues would be to encourage an employer to allow a technology station, a mock set-up of the employment situation, to be housed at a training site. In a pilot program Braille Institute is presently undertaking, the employer's proprietary technology system has been integrated with a screen-reading software and refreshable Braille display in a computer station used for training one candidate. The technology specialist worked with the employer to develop the mock job site and has been able to provide technical support to the individual. Moreover, the candidate has had ample time to practice with the actual system he will be using on the job. Any problems with the system itself have been worked out over time and with no impact on the employment site.

In the near future, both the system and the new employee will be placed at the permanent job site and we are expecting limited disruption to productivity.

Through the above five strategies we have seen young people gain more confidence in using technology, more effective and practical use of technology and an avoidance of the disruption access technology might cause at a work site. The end result is an increase in employment of individuals who are vision-impaired or blind and a greater integration of access technology, resulting in greater productivity in school and work settings.


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