The Braille Monitor                                                                                               May, 2002

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How to Select a Suitable Adaptive Technology Training Program

by Robert Leblond

Robert Leblond
Robert Leblond

From the Editor: Bob Leblond's wife Connie and his two children, Hope and Seth, are all blind, so he has long firsthand experience with the struggle to obtain efficient access technology. Bob served as the Treasurer of the NFB of Maine for several years and the President of the New England Parents Division for several more. He and Connie recently moved to Colorado, where he is in the technology department at Beyond Sight and developed and directs the online distance learning program for the company. Bob is a Microsoft-certified professional in Internet technologies. This is what he says:

Over the years several individuals and organizations have written articles about choosing appropriate adaptive technology and reviewing competing technologies. As adaptive technology continues to evolve and proliferate, the need for proper training has become the subject of an increasingly important national discussion: namely, what constitutes appropriate training, and how can you find it?

The field of adaptive technology training is more varied than most in that this type of instruction spans age groups ranging from six to eighty-six and various user environments, including schools, jobsites, home offices, and personal recreational use. Before selecting a trainer or training facility, take a moment to evaluate your needs. What will you use the computer for? Training techniques for seniors wishing to exchange e-mail messages with family and friends vary greatly from the needs of an office employee creating databases and interpreting spreadsheets or a laboratory worker conducting research online.

The most important criterion is also the one most overlooked: can the person teaching you teach? Several people nationwide have vast stores of knowledge relating to technology of various types but cannot convey the information to their students. Ask whether or not your instructor has a current teaching certificate or has ever held a teaching certificate. The subject taught is not particularly important. My degree, for example, is in music education. What you are trying to establish at this point is whether or not the individual who will be teaching you has ever been a teacher. If the answer is yes, then the first hurdle has been cleared.

The next question to be asked is what experience the potential trainer has in the subject matter to be taught. What adaptive software will you be using, and does your prospective teacher know about it? Most adaptive technology instructors I have met know everything there is to know about one of the two major screen readers and almost nothing about the other. The same applies to OCR and magnification products. It is not unusual to find a person who knows JAWS, Open Book, and Zoomtext well, but nothing about Window Eyes, Kurzweil, or Magic. The reverse might also be true. Will you be using a notetaker like a BrailleNote or a Braille Lite? Perhaps you will be using Dragon software to dictate documents or control your computer. The possible combinations of hardware and software are virtually unlimited. Know what adaptive devices and applications you will be using, and make sure the instructor knows the technology well.

Now that you have found an instructor who can teach and is well versed in several adaptive technologies, we come to the next question: how much does the instructor know about mainstream technology? The fact of the matter is that nobody wants to use adaptive technology by itself because alone it is worthless. Nobody spends the day using JAWS or Zoomtext or Window Eyes; what you want it to do is to run the way you want it to and then get out of your way so that you can use Internet Explorer, an e-mail client, a word processor, a spreadsheet or database, or another application.

Therefore a very important question is whether or not your prospective instructor can show you how to use JAWS with Microsoft Word, or Excel, or on the Web. Ask if your teacher has any technical certifications. Has he or she graduated from a computer science course at a college or university? Other valuable professional certifications include various Microsoft certifications: MCP, MCSE, etc., or certifications available from several online sources. If your instructor holds any of these, that is a good indicator that he or she is familiar with mainstream applications.

If you find an individual or a formal training program that fulfills all of the requirements above, you have found a rare phenomenon. In the absence of a reliable accreditation process in the world of adaptive technology, the only way to be reasonably assured that you are learning from a suitable individual is to know what questions to ask, then to go ahead and ask them. Don't be shy. Your training is at stake. Know your teacher and be certain his or her qualifications match your needs. Anyone who has any of the skills or certifications above will be more than happy to provide that information to you.

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