Getting the Most Out of Training Provided by Agencies and Employers
There are several different ways that people who are blind or have low vision receive training. They may find a teacher or organization that offers training and pay for their lessons out of pocket, they may receive funded training from a state or private organization or from an individual who is being paid by a state agency, or their employers may contract privately or with an agency for training. The relationship between trainers and trainees may dramatically affect their roles, expectations, and the actions they can take.
The July 2001 issue of AccessWorld addressed concerns that consumers may have when they arrange for their own training. This month's Trainers' Corner addresses issues related to recipients of agency-provided and employer-provided training.
When a person contracts privately with a trainer or private organization, both the trainer and the trainee need to act like anyone else in a consumer-provider role. To some of us this may seem obvious. However, even as a service provider, I know that I fell into the common trap of thinking that services related to blindness are somehow intrinsically different from services provided by an accountant, plumber, or insurance agent. But we all have the same issues: Is the student obliged to pay for the trainer's lost time if training is impossible because there is a problem with the equipment? Is the trainer obliged to provide services that are different from what she or he came to do?
Issues with Agency-Provided Training
In many cases, getting an agency to provide training takes a lot of the pressure out of this situation. Usually, if the trainer ends up fixing your computer, the amount of allocated time can be extended. However, since training can be hard to come by, anything you can do to minimize lost time is certainly worthwhile.
If the agency also purchased the equipment you are using, you may need to be particularly assertive about getting information about the system and what is in it. In my experience, these systems are less likely to have registered hardware and software. Make sure registration is done, or it may hurt you in the long run.
A trend I have seen in several states where I have worked is for agencies to authorize small chunks of training at a time (12-18 hours). This will not be enough time if you are new to computers and using speech output. Don't worry about it. It seems to be just as easy to authorize another chunk of training, over and over, but hard to get it all allocated at once.
I've also noticed that depending on how an agency-provided computer is obtained, you may need to wait a lot longer to get a problem fixed than if you were paying for it yourself. If you have a trainer who knows what is needed, it may be worthwhile to let him or her go ahead and fix it than to wait for someone else to come.
Issues with Employer-Provided Training
Receiving training from an employer can be tricky, especially if you are in a new job. You may feel like you are in a precarious situation—needing to prove yourself as an employee yet needing services that are much costlier than those provided to any of your coworkers. I know that some of the times I was hired directly by someone's employer, training time was lost because I had to deal with a system that wasn't properly set up.
Again, who sets up the system in the first place can be critical. However, you may have little control over who does, since the systems department at your company may be responsible for installing your assistive technology. If you have any say in the matter, request that the company use someone who knows the access products, especially if they are to be set up on a network computer. If the company agrees to letting you help find the person for the job, make sure the person has real networking experience and comes highly recommended.
You will also do well to negotiate access to the system before you begin training. Your system will most likely have procedures built into it that are unique to your company and that the trainer has never seen before. If you can find a coworker or technical support person at the company who knows how to use keystroke commands, you will do well to learn as much as you can from him or her before the trainer arrives.
Another thing I have found to be the rule when an employer buys your access technology is that a system administrator has probably locked up all your audio and braille documentation in a secure cabinet that nobody else can get into. I think the administrator does this because most sighted people don't look at the manuals that come with their software. However, the tapes and braille reference sheets are invaluable tools for you, and you need to find out what materials you have and hold on to them. Spend as much time with these materials as you can before your training.
You will want to talk with whomever is involved in setting up your training. Try to get a clear understanding that 40 hours of training (or whatever the company agrees to) is actually 40 training hours. Clarify what the expectations are if there is a technical problem. Assume that something will go wrong and try to get a plan in place ahead of time.
Ideally, as soon as a problem is detected in one piece of software, you move on to something else immediately while your company's technical support staff figure out what to do. It's OK to be assertive with a trainer. I know that if I start to work on solving a problem and I think I can do it, it's hard to back away. It's OK to nudge a trainer and say, "Can we work on something else and let someone else solve this problem?" In these situations, having a contingency plan is helpful, especially if the problem seems complicated and the trainer was hard to schedule or came in from out of town. Your concern is getting your allocated number of training hours.
Using Trainers for Training
When valuable training time is lost while technical problems are resolved, everyone loses. There is no simple solution to this problem, but there are steps all of us can take that will help increase the number of problems that can be headed off before training begins, making it possible for us to use training time for real learning.
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