Braille Monitor                                                                                                         June 2004

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Training on Blindness from the Blind Themselves

by Mark A. Riccobono

Mark Riccobono
Mark Riccobono

From the Editor: Mark Riccobono is the Jernigan Institute coordinator of educational programs. He has been working hard to plan and launch the online courses that are one of the Institute's inaugural programs. Here is what he reports about this exciting project:

The National Federation of the Blind has been involved in education of one form or another since its beginnings in 1940. Whether it be educating parents, legislators, blind people themselves, or simply the general public, we have used our collective experience to educate. From our strong leaders to our wealth of literature, the NFB is a rich resource for teaching the truth about blindness and the key ingredients of successful education and rehabilitation of the blind.

While our education program has been effective, we all recognize that we have much more to accomplish. With the establishment of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, we are tackling the challenge of innovation and imagination in a way that no one else in the blindness field has done before. In that spirit the Jernigan Institute, as one of its three inaugural projects, has launched a new vehicle. The NFB Jernigan Institute Online Education Program will further enhance the rich information, expertise, and empowering approach to blindness that have made the Federation's outreach successful in the past.

What is the NFB Jernigan Institute Online Education Program? With the support of Learning House Incorporated, the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute has developed an interactive learning portal on the Internet to allow for concentrated delivery of information, resources, and presentations about blindness. The introductory phase of this project will present four courses designed to teach people about critical topics affecting the blind. Building on the extensive literature, expertise, and leadership within the Federation, our Online Education Program will use the power of the World Wide Web to deliver information about blindness from the blind themselves. The first four courses, to be available by the time of the NFB National Convention, are:

* Introduction to the Education of Blind Children in the Regular Classroom --This course provides participants with an understanding of blindness, discusses important issues related to the education of blind children, and provides resources and information about appropriately integrating blind students into the general education classroom.

* Introduction to Braille--This course teaches the uncontracted Braille code and discusses various issues related to the use of Braille, Braille with technology, the history of Braille, and important factors in good Braille reading. The course also offers resources for learning contracted Braille.

* Introduction to Access Technology for the Blind--This course provides a survey of access technology for the blind. The various types of access technology are discussed. Their usefulness to the blind and the current products available on the market are briefly introduced.

* Introduction to Nonvisual Web Accessibility --This course provides an understanding of how the blind access the Internet and guides participants through analyzing the nonvisual accessibility of Web sites. In addition, the process for increasing nonvisual accessibility of Web sites is discussed.

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How do these courses work? The learning portal, found at <http://learning.nfb.org>, presents visitors with the course catalog, an opportunity to take a demo course, and other information about the National Federation of the Blind. No special software or hardware is required to access and navigate the portal.

However, those who wish to take one of these courses should examine the recommended computer resources to get maximum performance out of the portal. Those interested in taking a course will need to register and, if required, pay for the course using the e-commerce system built into the portal. The introductory courses are asynchronous, so you can begin a course whenever you want and can go at whatever pace suits you. All of the content for the course is provided through the portal, and any supplementary material required that is not available online can be purchased online.

Who should take these courses? Each of the NFB courses is targeted at a particular population, but enrollment is open to anyone. For example, the first course available, "Introduction to the Education of Blind Children in the Regular Classroom," is primarily targeted for general classroom educators and paraprofessionals. However, many others (parents, school administrators, and people who lead community after-school programs) will benefit from the knowledge and understanding that come from taking this course.

Similarly, the "Introduction to Access Technology for the Blind" course, will give a general overview of access technologies used by the blind and the products currently available on the market. While this topic is of particular interest to technology specialists wishing to gain a better understanding of technology used by the blind, many others can use this overview of technology in the field to assist in making informed decisions about purchasing these technologies. While the introductory phase of the program does not present courses specifically targeted for a blind audience, they are all fully accessible to the blind.

Additionally professionals and paraprofessionals who are required to obtain continuing education units (CEUs) will be pleased to know that the NFB Jernigan Institute Online Education Program offers CEUs. The Jernigan Institute has partnered with the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) to offer CEUs for courses in the NFB Jernigan Institute Online Education Program. Those taking an NFB course for CEUs will be required to achieve a passing score on all quizzes and exams and complete an evaluation at the end of the course. The opportunity to receive CEUs for participation in the NFB Jernigan Institute Online Education Program means that, not only can educators receive a better understanding of blindness and working with the blind, but their employers will be even more supportive of these courses because they are part of a professional development plan.

How much do the courses cost? Each of the first four courses is available at a cost of $89.95 per course.  There is no additional cost for those taking the course for CEUs. More detailed information can be found on the learning portal or on the NFB Web site under the link for the Jernigan Institute. School districts, agencies, and others who enroll a number of students in NFB courses will receive a discount. For details on discounts and special agreements, please contact the coordinator of educational programs for the Jernigan Institute at (410) 659-9314, extension 2368, or by email at <OnlineEducation@nfb.org>.

What does this program mean to Federationists? The NFB Jernigan Institute Online Education Program is a significant step in reaching the general public with our information about blindness. As future phases of this project evolve, we will develop more content for members to use in reaching people in their communities. For now, the introductory courses provide a good base for outreach to regular educators, those hoping to learn more about Braille or technology, or those needing resources to make their Web sites accessible to the blind. A local chapter may want to pursue a grant to provide local support to individuals taking the "Introduction to Braille" course.

Maybe an appeal can be made to a local school district to encourage general educators to take one of these courses as part of the district's coordinated professional development plan, or community colleges could become partners and include the access technology course as a supplement to a general technology-training program, with local chapter members providing face-to-face discussions about access technology issues. The possibilities are limited only by our ability to dream of creative ways to use this program. It will be important for Federation members to be aware of new NFB online courses as they become available.

How will the program evolve in the future? This is where the unique consumer approach of the Federation and partnerships developed through the Jernigan Institute will come together to find the best ways to meet existing and future needs. The Jernigan Institute has established an advisory committee to assist in developing long-range plans for this program. Additionally, as with any other Federation program, it is critical that the membership provide feedback about existing needs, the way the program is being used to enhance the efforts of local chapters, improvements that can be made, and partnerships that can further expand the impact of the program.

Suggestions are welcome at any time, but those planning to attend the 2004 NFB national convention may want to take note of the Jernigan Institute Education Initiative Forum, which will take place on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 29. This gathering will provide members with an opportunity to hear about current educational projects and to provide suggestions from the grassroots level, which has always been a critical part of making our programs unique and successful.

Is there a need for online courses for the blind? What information should be available in a course for the general public? What audiences do we most need to reach? What content might help drive innovation in rehabilitation and education of the blind? Should there be content for blind youth? If so, what should it be? Are there others we should partner with to develop online content?

We will be dealing with these questions and many others as we dream up the future of the NFB Jernigan Institute Online Education Program. In just the first month of the program, comments from members and others who have learned about it confirm the importance of our expansion into the world of online courses. We can imagine a future full of opportunities for people to learn about blindness in a positive way and a whole new core of people implementing high expectations and positive attitudes in our communities. It is starting now, and the results are sure to create a brighter future for the blind. The Jernigan Institute is wasting no time in changing the possibilities for the blind. Let's get people signed up for an education the Whozit way.

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