Assistive Technology Specialists
A critical shortage of professionals who are qualified to provide specialized computer skills training to blind and visually impaired people significantly effects their viability in today's society. Hardly a business or work environment exists in this country that does not utilize the enormous power of microcomputer technology. Since most jobs held by people with visual impairments today require them to use computer-based tools, inadequate and untimely training on both computers and assistive technology (AT), contribute to the persistence of social and employment inequities. These inequities, so serious in scope that visually impaired people face an unemployment rate 15 times higher than the general population, are exacerbated by long waiting lists for technology training, truncated training regimens, and continued dependence on an already strained service delivery system.
In 1999 and 2000, the American Foundation for the Blind conducted a nationwide survey of State and private agencies and held several focus groups with consumers and professionals to better understand the nature of the reported shortage of assistive technology specialists. A number of professional conferences were also held. The results of these efforts are summarized in a technical brief, "Wired to Work," available on the AFB web site at http://www.afb.org/Section.asp?SectionID=44&TopicID=213
At the 2001 Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute (JLTLI), the Employment Work Group developed an action plan to increase the number of qualified assistive technology (AT) specialists in the United States. The Work Group determined that an effective action plan to alleviate the shortage should include developing consensus about consumer training curriculum elements, AT trainer competencies, train-the-trainer curricula, and methodologies for evaluating AT trainer competencies. It recommended the formation of a national task force to continue the work.
Consisting of vision rehabilitation and education professionals, as well as consumers, the task force assembled in March, 2001. The Task Force completed its work in 2002. Because the field appeared to have made great strides in developing consumer curricula, the Task Force chose to focus its attention on AT competencies.