November 2016 Issue  Volume 17  Number 11

Access to Education

Cisco Academy for the Vision Impaired: More Than an Education

Cisco Systems Inc., a major manufacturer of network hardware, has been working to address the problem of access to education in developing countries. Networking Academy, or NetAcad, provides education opportunities to individuals in developing countries who might not otherwise be able to afford training.

In 2002, Iain Murray, who is on staff at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, began to wonder if people with visual impairments might be able to benefit from education assistance similar to Cisco's NetAcad program, and Cisco was willing to consider the idea of setting up a philanthropic outreach for vision impaired people similar to that which had been established for the NetAcad program. Murray reached out to Kerry Hoath, at the time a computer consultant, and they both began to explore the possibilities of providing computer training for individuals with vision impairment. By 2007, Murray had established the Curtin Center for Assistive Technology (CUCAT), CUCAT received funding from Australia's Department of Workplace and Training, and the Cisco Academy for the Vision Impaired (CAVI) was established as a part of CUCAT. Upon its launch, Hoath was employed as a full-time instructor for The Cisco Academy for the Vision Impaired (CAVI).

In the early days of its existence, all CAVI classes were offered free of charge. Murray and Hoath had no idea whether their efforts would yield any fruit, but as it turned out, students began completing courses with scores that rivaled those of any of their sighted counterparts. Cisco encouraged CAVI to continue its work.

Today, CAVI charges a nominal fee for its courses, both to help pay costs and to legitimize the work they are doing in the eyes of the public. Hoath points out that not charging or under-charging for classes that normally cost $3,000 to $5,000 causes people to not take CAVI's work seriously. He also points out that scholarships are available to students who need them.

CAVI Courses

If we take a look at the list of courses offered by CAVI for the fall 2016 semester, we can begin to understand just how diverse the academy is.

CAVI offers two types of courses--full-length courses, and short courses. A full-length course might run 12 weeks or more, and a short course might only last for two or three weeks. Among the list of full-length courses is a totally redesigned Audio Ins and Outs course consisting of three separate modules that can be taken individually, or together. In 2012, CAVI introduced an Audio Fundamentals course that covered everything from the basics of microphones, cables, and audio interfaces to discussions of single-track editing with GoldWave and multitrack editing with Reaper. The course cost $150. In 2016, the Audio Fundamentals course has been transformed into three separate modules. Audio Essentials ($50) covers the basics of audio theory and hardware. A second module ($100) covers single-track editing with GoldWave. A third module ($150) covers multi-track editing with Reaper. It is possible to take all three modules for $150. The Audio Ins and Outs course is set up so that it is possible to take all three modules in the same semester. Lectures are conducted using TeamTalk, and class archives are made available to students. Also, class notes and resources are available via an online Wiki. CAVI courses other than Audio Ins and Outs make use of Ventrillo for online lectures, rather than TeamTalk. In all courses, homework is assigned, and a final project is required to complete the course. Most full length courses cost $150, and a payment plan is available.

Continuing down the list of full-length courses, we find a 22-week Intro to HTML and CSS course that will get the student up and running with designing a website for personal or business use.

ITE Essentials is a Cisco Accredited course that provides an in-depth study of computer software and hardware essentials. As stated on the CAVI website, "Upon completion, students will be prepared for the Comp TIA A+ certification exam, if they choose to take it." Quoting from the Website of the Indiana University, "A+ (A Plus) is an entry-level computer certification for PC computer service technicians. The exam is designed to certify the competency of entry-level PC computer service professionals in installing, maintaining, customizing, and operating personal computers."

Computers 101 is a course designed to teach students the basics of using a computer with a screen reader in either the Windows or Mac environment. Topics include file management skills and the safe use of the Internet.

Setting up Linux on a Raspberry Pi, CCNA Networking, and An Introduction to PHP are also included in the list of full-length courses offered by CAVI.

In addition to the courses listed above, CAVI also offers a variety of short courses. These include learning to use Microsoft's suite of Office programs, Skype, NVDA, WordPress and CMS Fundamentals, basic computer file management, and even baking. Hoath points out that the Office coursework is tested for all versions of the program, something that not all courses can say.

If you are thinking about learning to use a Mac, the CAVI OSX course might be just what you are looking for.

The courses mentioned above are only a sampling of what CAVI has to offer, so be sure to check the list of CAVI's current course offerings for the latest additions. From time to time, CAVI offers presentations that are free, and are available as downloadable MP3 files, or "Cavicasts." Topics are too numerous to mention here, but include effective notetaking with iOS, and the NVDA Remote Control.

When asked about the instructors who teach CAVI courses, Hoath says that there is no secret formula for selecting great teachers. Many talented people have come forward and have been willing to put a lot of time and effort into their work as teachers. In some instances, former students have gone on to teach classes, and in others, instructors have been willing to create a course from the ground up. CAVI is able to pay instructors for their work.

CAVI Transcends the Classroom

Knowledge is a wonderful thing, but the sense of empowerment one gets from being able to apply that knowledge is something else entirely. Hoath says that many CAVI students gain self-confidence as a result of the skills they learn through the classes they complete. In one case, a gentleman who had suffered a stroke was able to use the CAVI class he was taking to improve his cognitive skills.

Those successes are what motivate Hoath to continue putting in many long hours for CAVI.

Another benefit of taking CAVI classes is the social interaction that comes with the experience. It is possible to interact with people from all over the world in a CAVI class. New friendships are made in class, and networking opportunities abound.

The Bottom Line

It's no secret that the unemployment rate among the blind community is quite high. Travel is often not as convenient for blind people as it is for their sighted counterparts, and the cost of a good education is often prohibitive for many, whether they have a visual impairment or not. The Cisco Academy for the Vision Impaired brings together talented instructors and willing pupils at a cost that is affordable for anyone who is serious about their studies. CAVI's standards are high, and there are many people, students and instructors alike, who are more than willing to lend a hand to anyone who wishes to learn. When thinking about furthering your education, consider giving CAVI a try.

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