Braille Monitor June 2004
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The Heart of the Technology-Training Conference
by Anne Taylor
From the Editor: Anne Taylor is the NFB technology education manager. The primary responsibility for planning this conference was hers. This is the way she describes the hands-on sessions:
Anne Taylor, NFB training leader for this event, took the opportunity to thank participants for their enthusiastic engagement during the training sessions.
The "Technology Training for Technology Trainers" seminar provided participants a unique opportunity to take part in one of the most engaging and dynamic access technology training seminars ever offered anywhere in the country. This event provided an unprecedented venue for participants (all of whom work in the fields of rehabilitation, education, or access technology) to receive training directly from NFB technology experts as well as from experts associated with the leading access technology suppliers. Further, the seminar was conducted in eight small-group, interactive, hands-on sessions covering subjects important to the blindness access technology field. The participants were divided into groups that rotated through all eight sessions, each described briefly below.
"Portable Braille Devices" was presented by Anne Taylor, NFB technology education manager, with co-presenters from three companies in the access technology industry. The portable Braille devices demonstrated in the session were Elba Braille Assistance (demonstrated by Tommy Craig, Sighted Electronics), BrailleNote (demonstrated by Mathew Janusaukas, Pulse Data Humanware), and PAC Mate (demonstrated by Mark Reumann, Freedom Scientific).
In the session participants learned how portable Braille devices benefit blind people. They also learned what factors should be considered when purchasing a portable Braille device. Participants had plenty of time to get a firsthand look at each product represented, guided by the product suppliers.
According to the participants the session was well structured. An enthusiastic trainee commented, "Great format allowing us to see each product up close and personal. Well done group presentation." Another participant exclaimed, "Excellent! I really appreciated the detailed information as well as the opportunity to work hands-on with the devices."
Participants had ample time to discuss technology products with vendors in the exhibit hall. Richard Fox of Dewitt and Associates talks with three women in front of his display.
"Citrix Metaframe and Windows Terminal Services: Increased Accessibility and New Job Opportunities" was presented by Brad Hodges, NFB technology accessibility manager, and co-presented by Gareth Collins of Dolphin Computer Access and Doug Geoffray of GW Micro. The purpose of the session was to address opportunities and challenges for providing access to computer systems which operate over a Citrix Metaframe and a Windows terminal service network. Participants also learned how two screen-access software programs (Window-Eyes from GW Micro and Supernova from Dolphin Computer Access) interface with these programs.
Even though this topic is new and quite advanced, the session was a success because of Brad Hodges and the co-presenters' knowledge and expertise. A trainee commented on the session, "They made a very complex issue understandable. I had never even heard of Citrix before today. This was informative and beneficial. Very good introduction for me, this is a new area to me."
"EBooks," presented by Steven Booth, manager of the NFB's International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, and Dr. George Kerscher and Annemarie Cooke from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D). Under the instruction of Steven Booth and Dr. Kerscher the participants gained knowledge of how to use the various forms of electronic books (eBooks). Participants also had an opportunity to see demonstrations of hardware and software eBook players and discuss emerging issues relevant to the electronic books market.
Even though the topic was new to many people, the presenters were able to assist everyone to understand how to take full advantage of under-used eBook resources. A trainee, impressed with the instruction, commented, "Fantastic! This program was worth the price of admission. My understanding of the topic was less than zero. Now I have an excellent understanding of the process. This was presented very well. The trainers know their information and were very enthusiastic about the problems either solved or minimized by new technology."
Students listen intently to their trainer explain optical character recognition during one of the eight training sessions.
"Braille Translation: What Technology Trainers Need to Know" was presented by Curtis Chong, program administrator for field operations and access technology with the Iowa Department for the Blind. Curtis is one of the leading access technology experts in the nation and is president of the NFB in Computer Science. Curtis is known for his captivating teaching style and his presentations always packed with tangible tips. This Braille translation session was no different.
The goal of the session was to convey the generalities of Braille translation: the technical process, the tools (hardware and software components of the Braille-production process), and the role of Braille translation in access technology for the blind. Curtis also spent some time discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the most current and widely used commercially available and no-cost Braille translation software.
Curtis's advanced knowledge of Braille and Braille production and his concise presentation style were welcomed by the trainees. One trainee commented, "I learned more about what good Braille is in that brief period than in two years of working on it. Mr. Chong is knowledgeable and very personable. Lots of great information to pass on. Loved the material Mr. Chong provided in our manual, it is an excellent resource."
Trainers and participants alike enjoyed the opportunity for hands-on assessment of the access technology products demonstrated.
"Optical Character Recognition (OCR)" was presented by Mark Riccobono, the NFB's coordinator of educational programs, along with representatives of two optical character recognition software suppliers: Stephen Baum from Kurzweil Educational Systems, Inc., and Dusty Vorhees from Freedom Scientific.
This lively and engaging hands-on session was designed to highlight the usefulness of optical character recognition technology for the blind as well as to demonstrate the capabilities of the technology in both the workplace and educational environment. The training room was equipped with scanners as well as twelve computers, which had both the OpenBook software and Kurzweil 1000 software installed on them. The structure of the session allowed the trainees an opportunity to evaluate the two OCR applications in a noncompetitive format so that the participants could draw their own conclusions about the products' capabilities, make comparisons, and determine their own preferences. One attendee commented, "Allowing us to access and use the software was helpful. I liked being able to play with the software firsthand. The vendors presented helpful information on commonalities and differences as well as the strengths and weaknesses of their products."
"Screen-Access Technology: A Discussion about Informed Consumer Choice" was presented by Brian Walker and Michael Barber, technology analysts for Project ASSIST, Iowa Department for the Blind. Michael and Brian are top experts on screen-access technology and are well known by professionals in the industry.
In this hands-on session Michael and Brian instructed the trainees how to identify those for whom a screen-access software application should be recommended over other access technology solutions. The trainees evaluated each of the three most widely used screen-access programs, observed the strengths and weaknesses of the products, and discussed when to choose a screen-access program over other access technology solutions and vice versa.
One impressed trainee commented, "The information was very helpful to remind me of the screen-access choices available today." Another participant was pleased that the "subject matter was interesting and worthwhile."
"Tactile Graphics: A Touching Experience" was presented by Robert Jaquiss, NFB access technology specialist and a top expert in the tactile graphics arena, and by representatives of three companies specializing in tactile graphics technology: David Skrivanek of Repro-Tronics, Steven Landau from Touch Graphics, and Robert Sander from ViewPlus Technologies. Together they made this session a success.
This session was designed to give attendees an overview of the need for tactile graphics and the technology available for producing it. The technologies demonstrated were those currently in use and the emerging tactile graphics production technologies that will be available in the near future. One attendee commented, "very impressive training material, very useful in many different areas, and very up-to-date content." Another attendee added, "The presenters seemed very knowledgeable, and their use of multimedia was good."
"Integrating Technology in the Work Place" was presented by Richard Ring, rehabilitation technology specialist with the Iowa Department for the Blind. Richard taught a very effective session that helped participants gain necessary knowledge and insight into conducting a worksite assessment for their clients. He suggested specific technical solutions to specific situations that rehabilitation counselors may face when assisting their clients to gain meaningful employment. A satisfied trainee commented, "Well done and very informative! Mr. Ring's stories are good. It helped to know that even people like Mr. Ring are challenged for proper access."
In summary, the NFB Jernigan Institute's first access technology training conference, cosponsored with Mississippi State University, was a resounding success. Many attendees asked about plans for conducting these conferences in the future. Based on the very favorable participant evaluation feedback, it is clear that this event met the needs of the access technology community and should be continued.
The NFB Jernigan Institute staff are currently working on a long-term strategic plan for NFB-sponsored training activities. This plan will span the range of consumer and professional needs. Follow-up on access technology training will certainly form a central element of that plan for the future. However, the challenge which we are eager to meet is to find creative ways to produce these training events in the most affordable, high-quality, and participant-responsive manner.
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