2006 Conference General Sessions

ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY TRAINING FOR BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED INDIVIDUALS: EFFECTIVE METHODS AND MATERIALS

 

Presenter(s)
Laurie Merryman
Iowa Department for the Blind

524 Fourth Street
Des Moines IA 50309

Day Phone: 515—281—1399
Fax: 515—281—1263
Email: merryman.laurie@blind.state.ia.us

Presenter #2
Michael Barber
Iowa Department for the Blind

524 Fourth Street
Des Moines IA 50309

Day Phone: 515—281—1305
Fax: 515—281—1263
Email: barber.michaei@blind.state.ia.us

 

Presenter #3
Shan Sasser
Iowa Department for the Blind

524 Fourth Street
Des Moines LA 50309
Day Phone: 515—281—1333
Fax: 515—281—1263
Email: sasser.shan@hlind.state.ia.us

This presentation discusses Project ASSIST’s online training results to date, lessons learned, and effective methods and materials for assistive technology training for blind and visually impaired individuals.

 
Presentation Proposal
This presentation focuses on effective assistive technology training methods and materials. We will discuss Project ASSIST’s experiences in providing training via distance learning and in preparing blind test takers for the Microsoft Office Specialist exams. In addition, we will offer effective solutions to the common challenges in assistive technology training for blind and visually impaired individuals. Finally, we will spend a brief amount of time outlining the project’s future activities.

Background
For nine years, the Iowa Department for the Blind’s Project ASSIST with Windows program has offered in-depth computer training to blind and visually impaired individuals. We have offered numerous tutorials for self—study and several online courses that prepare students for the Microsoft Off ice Specialist certification exams. As part of our online effort (ASSIST Online), we have conducted thirty online Microsoft Office courses and two Train the Trainer workshops. Since January 2005, we distributed over 400 tutorials worldwide.

Project ASSIST is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).

Trials and Tribulations of Certification Exams A significant finding from our work on preparing students for the Microsoft Office Specialist certification exams is that those
students who had previous experience on the computer had greater success on the exams. We had anticipated being able to successfully prepare a beginner-level computer user for the certification exam. However, successful completion of the exam requires that the student not only be knowledgeable of the tested material and able to complete4tasks in a timed environment, but also able to troubleshoot technical problems that may arise during the exam. Whereas we found that a beginner student was capable of learning the content, inexperience made them more vulnerable to the inaccessibility of the exams. Indeed, many of those who tailed a certification exam listed problems with the accessibility of the certification exam as a cause for the failure. Some problems included nonworking keystrokes, system crashes, and resistance to accommodations, such as installation of screen reader software and use of a reader. In our presentation we will detail problems and issues blind test takers encountered and offer recommendations for overcoming them.

Assistive Technology Training Challenges Meeting Demand Time and travel are constant challenges for assistive technology trainers and the clients they serve. In most circumstances, for a training to occur either the trainer must go to a client’s home or place of employment or the client must travel to a center. Trainers are often responsible for providing individualized training to numerous clients, which involves time and expense. As a result, instruction is intermittent with little follow—up.

Diversity of Training Needs
Keeping current with technology is another issue for trainers. Because clients have different training needs, trainers must be well versed in mainstream software and hardware as well as assistive technology. Some clients require JAWS training and others need ZoomText or OpenBook. One client may require in-depth training on Word while another needs to focus on Excel. Further, clients may require training on other devices, such as scanners, PDAs, or cell phones.

In addition to educating clients, trainers and other disability service professionals need to be able to offer potential employers information on the assistive technology available and demonstrate its use. Researchers studying employment of persons with visual impairments have found that employment success is greater when VR professionals make efforts to identify, obtain, install, and train potential employees in a timely manner.

Diversity of Client Skills
Just as clients have diversity in the technology on which they require training, clients come to training with a wide variety of skills. One client may have worked on computers for years and needs to learn how to use proprietary software at his place of employment. Another client may not have ever touched a computer before and is intimidated by technology. While tailoring training to a client’s skill is feasible for one—on—one training, most trainers do not have the luxury to provide ongoing one—on—one training and must use group training instead. Group training allows the trainer to reach more clients in a shorter amount of time but poses problems when the clients in the group have widely diverse skills.

Developing Training Materials
Many trainers struggle with developing effective training materials that will supplement and reinforce the training they provide. Writing an effective lesson plan to organize a training session is a complex task. Developing an activity assignment that can assess skills requires a lot of time, thought, and preparation. Training materials are just as important as the trainer, as they allow the client to obtain additional practice and learn to use the technology in the trainer’s absence.

Assistive Technology Training Solutions
Effective Strategies, Methods, and Materials ASSIST staff will address these challenges by providing attendees with tips, strategies, and methods for providing assistive technology training. We will discuss how trainers can utilize distance learning in their training. We will also offer tips and methods on preparing lesson plans and training materials. Further, we will give participants training templates and samples developed by other trainers.


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