2004 Conference Proceedings

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Rycharde P. Martindale-Essington
Phone: 213-270-6024
Web: martindr2@juno.com
Email: martindale-essington@asila.org

General and specific technical skills' training is required to develop both competence and confidence in the use of Assistive Technology (AT) for differing applications. There is a direct positive correlation between the amount of time a person studies and practices a given thing and the level of proficiency gained in association with that activity. This conversation thus points to the need for training blind and visually impaired college and vocational students in the use of AT for the purpose of researching, compiling, and presenting a basic social science research paper. Training can and often does take various forms from learn-as-you-go self-paced tutorials to formal course instruction. When students with disabilities attend academic institutions already knowing how to use AT, any discussion concerning training beyond what is expected of everyone is insignificant because an assumption is made that such students are on a level playing field or equal in computer skill level with other classmates without known disabilities. However, if we instead address the level of preparedness by students using AT to complete a basic research paper, then our discussion should focus on the topics of how "readiness" is achieved and then what type of training or preparation is needed to assure equity of ability.

The technology exists enabling blind and visually impaired students to read textbooks and electronic media. With the proper training, they can carry out library research on the Internet as well. A problem exists today in which blind and visually impaired high school seniors are ill equipped to gather information and conduct research using the Internet because they are inadequately trained to do so within their high school curriculum. This lack of training can result in the student facing insurmountable challenges at the college and vocational level in performing research and processing information. These activities are easily accessible and utilized by those not needing to contend with AT. Though both sets of students may struggle with the elements of producing that first research paper, students with visual disabilities are disadvantaged if they must also consecutively learn the ins and outs of the specialized technology necessary to produce the same end result. A solution to the problem is the elimination of this disadvantage by making sure that students are experienced in using AT to produce a basic research paper using the Internet.

A survey of pertinent research and best practices will reveal which type of instruction works best when teaching the use of AT for this purpose. In the area of academic instruction, where structure, practice, encouragement and progress must not only be fostered but reinforced, formal training may be a superior method over that of informal methods where time considerations matter. For example, high school seniors entering vocational or academic endeavors need this knowledge before the first school course begins. If they cannot keep pace because of poor or non-existent AT training, negative marks and their repercussions will ensue. Yet the widespread application of AT as an approach to solving problems requires the use of a skilled educator/practitioner capable of analyzing, assessing, and then implementing training on an individualized basis. Thus what approaches in AT training exist to rectify the problem we have raised? Adult Education scholar, Rycharde Martindale-Essington, proposes a unique model enrichment program concept for blind and visually impaired high school graduates during the three month period prior to college and/or vocational enrollment.

The focus of such a program is to teach basic research techniques using AT and the Internet. Emphasis upon computerized library research, research paper design, and research project presentation will result in at least two outcomes: first, students will demonstrate their mastery of the aforementioned skills, and second, the acquired or reinforced skills will provide students with a competitive edge upon their arrival at college or vocational school.

What components will the curriculum for such a model enrichment program contain? What kinds of AT will need to be utilized? What structure should it adopt? What method of delivery might be employed for course material and communication-- an online approach, a distance learning format, a one-on-one or small group model, or a traditional classroom setting? Come and discuss the latest research regarding best practices and share your experiences and knowledge regarding enrichment programs aimed at students with disabilities. This dialogue seeks to achieve a better understanding of the academic use of AT and new and attainable ideas on how to attract, maintain and produce successful blind and visually impaired graduates.

Rycharde Martindale-Essington is a doctoral learner at Capella University's School of Education. He has written on the topics of Assistive Technology and post-secondary students, disability-related federal regulations and employment, and job placement strategies for persons with disabilities. He is also the current Community Relations Analyst for Access Services, Inc. and has over 20 years of disability services experience.

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