2003 Conference Proceedings

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The Information Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center (ITTATC)

Presenter
Jim Tobias
Lead, ITTATC Education and Training Working Group

Introduction

The Georgia Institute of Technology's Center for Assistive Technology & Environmental Access (CATEA), supported by a cooperative agreement from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), has established the Information Technology Technical Assistance & Training Center (ITTATC) to promote the development of accessible electronic & information technology (E&IT) by providing technical assistance, training, and information.

Established in November 2000, ITTATC works with a broad constituency to accomplish three principal objectives:

ITTATC is principally concerned with mainstream technologies, specifically their accessibility and compatibility with assistive technologies. ITTATC's focus is on the implementation of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act. These federal regulations require the development and procurement of improved accessibility in E&IT and telecommunication products and services. While Section 508 specifically impacts purchases made by the Federal government, the benefits of it extend to state government and the consumer. Section 255 relates to Telecommunication accessibility where the consumer can have a more direct role.

Research

Fortunately, ITTATC has collected and will continue to collect information about the supply of and demand for accessible E&IT in education, training, and technical assistance. Several needs assessment studies have been completed interviewing industry, state Assistive Technology (AT) projects, and state officials and information technology staff. ITTATC has also performed a case study analysis on a limited number of companies to obtain a better understanding of their policies, procedures, and processes for achieving greater accessibility in their products. This includes an analysis of all their product development processes from design and development to marketing, with particular emphasis on how those processes have changed in response to the implementation of Sections 508 and 255. From this work, ITATTC expects to publish a "best practices" model articulating specific interventions or steps in the processes that correlated positively with more accessible designs. ITTATC believes this will assist companies in evaluating their own organizational policies and practices against this model.

The Education and Training Working Group manages ITTATC's efforts in training and education, and benefits from lessons learned from the needs assessment efforts. This challenging responsibility has led the project to consider:

ITTATC also has researched what training is already available from other sources in order to identify and determine the requirements for training that is not available or in short supply. Substantial resources are being devoted to develop training and training materials to meet these needs or to expand supply.

This is a rapidly changing field as the market and procurement officers adapt to Sections 508 and 255 implementations. ITTATC will be constantly vigilant to identify areas of greatest need. As the training program evolves, the design will be refreshed in response to additional data from future research and feedback from its constituencies.

Audiences

CSUN attendees may be most familiar with the training needs of rehabilitation professionals in the AT field, such as Occupational Therapists (OTs), speech therapists, and special educators. ITTATC's audiences are diverse and include:

The challenge lies in the differences in these groups. Those who fall in the first four groups listed above often have little or no background in disability and their responsibilities related to achieving product accessibility may be only a small part of their role. Usually their formal education does not instruct them in issues of people with disabilities. And they may only be permitted limited time to attend training associated with their job requirements.

In contrast, rehabilitation professionals have substantial knowledge of both the abilities and limitations of a wide range of people with disabilities, but may know little about product design.

Clearly, these audiences have different needs and must be reached in different ways and with different media depending on the audience and the content. ITTATC must meet the range of training needs of audiences who need to learn the few key skills that their roles require.

Training Content

There are many specialized topics within the field of accessible technology: disability awareness, market analysis, disability statistics, assistive technology, universal design, product development processes, accessible product documentation, etc. To fully understand the requirements of Sections 508 and 255 all of these topics should be understood.

ITTATC has concluded that not all audiences need to understand every single topic at the same depth. In view of that, it became essential to understand which topics are high priorities for which audiences and which require only basic information. For example, market researchers should learn more about disability statistics, but relatively little about how screen readers work. Consumers with disabilities may be well versed in disability statistics, but not know much about a product life cycle and how companies respond to their feedback in the context of that cycle.

Using some needs assessment research and the experience of our expert collaborators in the field of accessible E&IT, ITTATC has developed a Matrix of audiences and topics. This is a table with topics as columns and audiences as rows. At each intersection there is a cell that indicates how much and what content at what level each audience type needs. For example, "designers" need lots of training on "accessible design methodologies", but little on "disability market analysis". Conversely, "marketers" need little information on "accessible design methodologies", but lots on "disability market analysis". The Matrix also provides information on training opportunities currently available to meet those needs.

Supporting trainers

Once we include people with disabilities and their social networks, ITTATC's large constituency represents a wide range of needs. The resources necessary to meet these needs is far bigger than the ITTATC project. The goal is to support the efforts of other trainers, to encourage more trainers to enter this field to dramatically expand the number of training opportunities, and provide materials to encourage high quality training.

ITTATC must use its resources to focus on training topics and audiences that are currently being missed or underserved. For example, many people with disabilities may not know what accessibility features to look for when making E&IT purchases. Others may not know they have certain rights under the law as consumers or as government employees. Similarly, state procurement officials do not understand accessibility in detail and have limited access to those with this expertise. They try to identify the most accessible product, but lack knowledge of how to make that identification or test vendor assertions. They are seeking training on a variety of topics that would help them purchase accessible E&IT.

Train-the-trainer

There are many excellent trainers in their field and who with additional training themselves on specific topics could help increase the supply of accessibility training. ITTATC believes this is especially true of the AT community. There is a great deal of talent among these professionals with experience in AT, but with perhaps less background in mainstream technologies, corporate business practices, and a detailed understanding of Sections 508 and 255. ITTATC believes that AT-savvy trainers can offer excellent mainstream training services. ITTATC intends to offer training to anyone who wants to expand his or her current training capabilities.

Expert network

ITTATC has also identified trainers in the accessibility field who may want to use our materials in their training. These individuals attend particular train-the-trainer offerings and agree to assist the project by giving feedback and measuring the efficacy of the deliverables they use. They may even receive compensation for expenses and incentives related to their audience types and feedback returned to the project. This type of feedback is essential in the continuous improvement of ITTATC deliverables and a requirement of NIDRR.

Venues

ITTATC hopes to develop a cooperative "training opportunity exchange" with all trainers. This means that when ITTATC receives a request for training, available trainers can be identified to the requester. In the reverse, when trainers receive training requests that they cannot fulfill themselves, they can refer them to ITTATC. One example is the large number of industry trade shows in information technology and telecommunications. Accessibility training could be made available to the thousands of designers and marketers who attend those shows. ITTATC is exploring ways to facilitate scheduling and supporting this activity and an exchange with trainers.

Developing and disseminating high-quality materials.

In addition to the resources ITTATC provides via the web site (www.ittatc.org), specific training materials will be available for use in ITTATC training and for use by others.

Accessibility Training Preview

One such product is the Accessibility Training Preview. The intended audience for this material is mainstream E&IT industry designers and marketers. The Preview includes multimedia materials on disability awareness, laws and regulations, market motivations, and universal design. Design issues for one of the Section 508 Standards is examined as an illustration.

The goal of this 2-hour presentation is to make the audience aware of the topics and be able to articulate where they need training. During the Preview, audiences receive a handout that helps them identify which content areas are needed by their different company staff members based on their role. ITTATC can assist them in recommending a training program that meets their needs and assist with referrals for further training.

This presentation is most effective given in a presentation format (live presenter with an audience) because the interaction between the presenter and the audience can be very instructive and beneficial. To do this effectively, it is essential that the presenter have in-depth knowledge of all the topics discussed. In support of this, ITTATC offers train-the-trainer sessions for anyone interested in delivering the Preview.

ITTATC also recognizes that companies may not be able to send representatives to the live presentations. In order to reach as many people as possible, we also have the Preview available on-line on our web site (www.ittatc.org) and includes the handout for their use just as in the live presentations.

DBTAC Toolkit

ITTATC developed a collection of training materials for use by the Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers (DBTACs --also known as the ADA Technical Assistance Centers) funded by NIDRR. The Toolkit consists of multimedia modules that cover a wide range of topics. The intended audience for this material is consumers and state officials. Similar to the Preview, it is not in-depth training on any one topic, but provides enough information for people to understand disability, the issues of accessible E&IT, the basic requirements of Sections 508 and 255, and for citizens to understand their rights under the laws. It also has demonstrations of products or features that make products we use everyday more accessible for all.

Future Materials

At the time of this writing, ITTATC is making plans to provide other products and services to provide or assist with training for in-depth knowledge or for specific audiences. If you have any suggests, please feel free to contact us at www.ittatc.org or 1-866-9-ITTATC (948-8282)(V/TTY)

Conclusion

ITTATC hopes to transform the field of accessible technology by greatly expanding the understanding of industry, state officials, trainers, and consumers through the availability of quality training and education. Most of the people who will receive this training are not professionals in assistive technology, but people in mainstream industry or the public sector. Their unique training needs are the focus of ITTATC's Education and Training efforts. Additionally, ITTATC wants to help consumers by providing information and training so that they realize the benefits of accessible E&IT in the market place. ITTATC hopes to interest AT professionals in adding these audiences to their training programs; the ITTATC train-the-trainer program will provide support.

ITTATC is funded under cooperative agreement #H133A000405 by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR)


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