2003 Conference Proceedings

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INNOVATIVE SUMMER TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS THAT TEACH AND INSPIRE YOUTH

Presenter
Dale T. Otto
President and CEO
Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind
1120 20th Street NW, Suite 750 South
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 454-6400
Email: dtotto@clb.org

Tracy Leonard
Director of Technology Initiatives
Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind
1120 20th Street NW, Suite 750 South
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 454-6400
Email: tleonard@clb.org

Assistive technology (AT) is enabling people who are blind or visually impaired to obtain and maintain academic, social and economic independence in a more meaningful way than ever before. Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind (CLB) has launched summer programs to ensure that youth who are blind or visually impaired also share in the opportunities made possible with technology.

For several years, there have been a wide variety of summer technology programs in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area for children and teenagers, but none that specifically addressed the needs of youth who are visually impaired. Columbia Lighthouse, with the support of several community organizations, decided to change that. In 2000, Columbia Lighthouse launched the first summer technology programs to teach blind or visually impaired youth assistive technologies to enable them to expand their creative talents and computer skills, enrich their classroom experience and, ultimately, find meaningful employment.

The first technology summer camp taught computer and assistive technology skills to high school students. Over three weeks in July, five students learned word processing, PowerPoint, the internet and email, and screen reading software. In 2001, Columbia Lighthouse expanded its summer technology program to include two two-week computer camps for middle school students, where students learned the basics of web site design and the fundamentals of how computer hardware works. Since their inception, twenty-four students have taken part in the camps.

Students participating in the summer technology camps improve their computer and assistive technology skills with hands-on, creative exercises and projects. They are exposed to a wide range of technology applications including web design, digital audio recording, PowerPoint, word processing and numerous assistive technologies. They learn about myriad job possibilities from guest instructors who are blind or visually impaired and who are working in the technology sector. At the camps, students not only learn about opportunities open to them, but also gain skills that will enable them to achieve those opportunities. Each camp ends with a day of "show and tell" where students show off what they have learned to parents and friends.

The camps became a reality because of strong relationships Columbia Lighthouse forged with community organizations. Unisys Corporation has played an instrumental role in making the camps a reality, donating equipment, classroom space, guest instructors and tours of their assistive technology lab to benefit the students. Fairfax County Public Library Access Services has made classroom space and guest instructors available. Northern Virginia Regional Partnership has provided financial support. In addition, guest speakers from the National Library Services, the Access Board, America Online and the Goddard Space Flight Center have participated in the summer technology program. Vision teachers, working with Columbia Lighthouse, have informed parents and encouraged students to participate.

During this half-hour session, Columbia Lighthouse staff overseeing the technology camps and camp instructors will discuss the technology camps from start to finish: how they were conceived and launched, how they were structured and the curricula delivered, what the students learned at camp, what challenges were faced and how they were overcome, and how the camps may be replicated in other communities.


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