Braille Monitor                                                 October 2010

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Technology Seminars Begin in Iowa

by Peggy Chong

Curtis and Peggy Chong walk in the 2009 March for Independence.From the Editor: Peggy Chong is an active member of our Iowa affiliate whose enthusiasm for books, the library, and bringing new people to the NFB is captured in the article she has written for Monitor readers. Her article not only tells the story of a successful event, but gives step-by-step actions any chapter or affiliate can use to make this happen in its own community. This is what she says:

In the spring of 2010 the NFB of Iowa began to plan for a seminar on understanding the new National Library Service (NLS) player and the Victor Reader Stream (VRS), currently the two most popular downloading devices in Iowa for books from the National Library Service. We thought that this not only would be a great way to answer many questions that our members regularly get but would also help to build our affiliate.

We set July 24 as the date and the Des Moines Public Library as the place because it was an easy location for everyone to find. The seminar would provide an overview of machine features and an introduction to downloading material from the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) Website. We set a fee of twenty dollars to help defray the cost of a catered lunch and the printing of some of our materials.

In early May the Iowa Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped sent a letter to all of its patrons announcing the seminar. We invited people to suggest topics for upcoming seminars, whether or not they were able to attend this one. In addition we listed broad topics in which our NFBI members had expertise and provided checkboxes for would-be participants to express their interest. We sent a similar mailing to NFB-NEWSLINE subscribers in mid-May. Soon responses were trickling in with additional seminar suggestions.

Over the years NFBI has accumulated contacts and addresses for agencies and organizations that work with seniors and blind people across Iowa. We sent emails to the Iowa Department for the Blind, Area Agencies on Aging, and many other groups. We wrote to all of them announcing our seminar. We used every list we could find to disseminate our information throughout the state. Of course we also advertised it to NFBI members.

We developed handouts including articles on BARD, the VRS, and the NLS digital player. Pam Quinn, a Des Moines Chapter member, wrote an article about why it is important to update one's machine and a step-by-step guide about how to do so. We put together a beginner's dictionary of computer terms and included a list of suppliers where people could purchase cartridges and a cable for their NLS machines. We decided we should also include a catalog for one of the major suppliers of products for the blind. The catalog we chose was from Independent Living Aids, which was happy to provide print copies. We put all handouts on a disk for each attendee as well as preparing print and Braille copies.

Our goal was to register thirty-five people for the seminar. Near the end of June we were close to this goal. When we returned from the national convention, we found a flood of reservations. By July 23 we had seventy registrants. April Enderton, Des Moines Chapter president, called to remind people about the seminar and asked them to bring their digital players.

The day of the seminar people began arriving early. NFBI members greeted attendees and engaged them in conversation. By 10:00 everyone was seated and ready to start the day. The morning began with introductions of both the NLS and VRS machines. Mike Barber and Sandi Ryan explained the basic and advanced options of both machines. Curtis Chong described the Braille and Audio Download (BARD) service, and people were clearly interested as evidenced by their questions. We concluded the morning session with a discussion of additional services and resources available to blind Iowans, particularly those available from the NFB.

At lunch attendees could also look at the NFB of Iowa table and the NFB-NEWSLINE® exhibit. Material in several formats lined the table, including copies of the Braille Monitor, NFB brochures, and President Maurer's speeches. Much of this literature went home with attendees.

In the afternoon we began with an explanation of the BARD main page, including how to sign up for the service and how to log in. Curtis Chong described the links on the page, what they mean, and where they lead. The group asked a number of questions which made it clear that, though they had some computer expertise, mostly they were novices who really needed what we offered to make the most of BARD and their machines.

Tracey Morsek, director of the Iowa Library for the Blind, came to help people sign up as new subscribers for library service and to help them register their machines on the BARD site. As a result our attendees could go home and download from BARD that night. Tracey Morsek reported later that they had seventeen new applications for BARD and that three people added digital service and got their first players the next week. Sixteen people upgraded from the easy to the advanced NLS player, and two asked for and received free digital Bibles from the Library. Later, as a result of the seminar, one new library patron signed up. This event has been the most successful one in Iowa for signing up new BARD users.

Our last program item was a fifteen-minute presentation on how to download music to the NLS player and the VRS. After the meeting adjourned at 3:00 p.m., attendees asked questions of all presenters. Many people took the time to assure us that they had learned a lot at the meeting. It was a great success, and we learned much about setting up future seminars so that we can make them even better. Our next one will be on the Friday afternoon of our convention in late September. We will discuss using the accessible cell phone and will invite service providers and a representative from a big-box store to show their wares.

We have discovered a great tool for using our skills and expertise to help people across the state. At the same time we think these seminars will prove to be a great recruitment tool. Now all we have to do is find the time to organize them.

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