Determining Current and Future Assistive Technology Needs Audio
Transcript of Determining Current and Future AT Needs
Ike Presley: Good afternoon and welcome to AFB's webinar for CareerConnect. Some of you joined us yesterday and we hope that you've been able to come back and join us again today. We would, first off, like to thank our sponsors for this: the AT&T Company has graciously donated the funding to allow us to provide this webinar for folks today.
Today our topic is going to be Determining Current and Future Assistive Technology Needs for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. We will credit the people who need it, either ACVREP credit or CRC credit.* And in order to receive that credit, you are going to need to complete the evaluation form which can be found online at www.afb.org/cc, for CareerConnect. This is where you registered for the conference, so I think you'll be able to find the link to the evaluation form and request it. If instead of the certified credit, if you just need a certificate of completion, you can contact us and we can prepare one of those for you as well.
Today's topic is going to be handled a little bit different than yesterday. We will have a 45-minute presentation and then we will bring up another individual for an interview. And then we'll give you a break of about three minutes while we do a set change, and then bring up the other guests we are going to be interviewing today. If you happen to have some questions, you can text those to us, and if I don't have a chance to get to those questions today, we will post those on the web site with the archived copies of the webinar. We are also planning to do a couple of these webinars next year, so stay tuned and watch for the announcements on CareerConnect, and we hope that you will enjoy it.
Alright, I'm ready to get started today. Our topic today is called "Determining Current and Future Assistive Technology Needs."
[Brief pause as he begins the slideshow]
And the first thing we want to look at: what are our objectives for this training today? They will be to identify three major activities in which technology assists people who are blind or visually impaired; identify tools that allow people to access information visually, tactilely, or auditorily; and we want to outline the presentation into four big areas. The first one being AT tools for people who are blind or visually impaired; then second, we'll look at determining which tools are the right tools for the job; the third area is training, training, training; and finally we'll talk about filling the tool box.
I did forget earlier to welcome our audience. We do have some folks here in our live audience here with us in Atlanta. And we want to welcome them and hope that they will benefit from this as much as all you folks out there in cyberspace. OK, moving along.
Assistive technology provides us with tools for accessing printed information, tools for accessing electronic information, and tools for written communication. And these are tasks that all of us do everyday, on our jobs, or even in our personal life or in our educational programs, or whatever it might be. And technology has done a good job of providing us with tools to help us accomplish those tasks, and that's what we are kind of looking at. One of the first things we need to think about, though, is that it's going to take a toolbox full of tools like this for us to be successful. There's not one miracle tool, there's not a Swiss army knife for people who are blind or visually impaired that lets you do everything. Too bad there isn't, it would be really nice if we had one of those, it would save us a lot of carrying around of things. But we don't, so we are going to have a tool box full of tools and we have to pick and choose the right tool for the right job as we're moving along.
These tools can be divided up into some groups based on some of the things that they let us do. First we looked at the tools, there are some tools for accessing printed information, there are other tools for accessing electronic information, and then the tools for writing. And then within those categories, we have tools that allow people to do those tasks either visually, tactilely, or auditorily. Now I know a lot of them kind of cross over and it doesn't always work out perfectly into this little outline that I've tried to create for us, but at least it gives us a handle and a structure to work from, even though we know not everything is going to fit perfectly.
One of the first things that I like to do when I talk to people about trying to determine what their AT needs are, is to make sure that people have a good overview of what tools are available and what are, what things we can use out there. So, if people would like to access printed information visually, one of the first tools we might look at are non-optical tools or devices. And this falls in the area of lighting, which is very important whether it be your overhead lighting or the natural lighting controlled by blinds or shades or whatever coming in through the windows, desk lamps, floor lamps—task lighting as we call it—that's very important. Then reading or bookstands, they help you hold up the material. If you happen to be an individual with low vision and you need to be working with materials, sometimes it is easier to have it on a bookstand then to have to hold it up yourself the whole time. And then we have large print materials. Large print books are things that we can produce in large print ourselves. Technology provides us with a lot of tools for producing our own materials in these alternate formats, such as large print, braille, or auditory.
The next tools that we might look at for people who would like to access printed information visually are optical devices. And, you know, everything from your eyeglass spectacles to contact lenses, and then we would look at the more specialized things, the magnifiers, the hand-held magnifiers, stand magnifiers. We also have telescopes that allow us to access printed information that's at a distance. And then we have electronic devices, and these are things that I refer to as video magnifiers, we used to always call them closed-circuit TVs, but I kept getting too much mail from the security people wanting to sell me security cameras, and I said, "No, that's not what we're talking about, we're talking about something that magnifies print, displays it on a monitor for people to look at, and read."
The other type of electronic device might be a specialized scanning system. Some of you may be familiar with a couple products by the name of Kurzweil and Open Book that let you scan information into the computer. And a lot of times we listen to that information, but you can just view it. And the person viewing it has total control of how that's going to appear on the screen. They can adjust the size of the point size, they can adjust whatever font they prefer, whatever color text they want, whatever color background they want. So again, that's another tool that allows us to access printed information. That's one, the scanning systems get a little tricky because what they are doing is taking that printed information and turning it into electronic information for us that we then are going to access. But anyway, I threw it in with the print group because originally you started out with print.
Alright, now what if you want to access printed information, but your preferred mode is tactile? Well, here we have the good old braille code created by Louis Braille (we happen to be celebrating his 200th anniversary year this year). Braille is still an ideal tool for working with printed information, and in many cases, it is the most perfect tool because it gives you all of the information—it gives you the spelling, it gives you the punctuation, it gives you the formatting of the information—and some of our other tools don't always give us that information.
Another tool for tactile learners is tactile graphics. And that is displaying graphical information in a tactile format. The thing that we have to remember about tactile graphics is that the graphic is not a reproduction of that original information, but a representation. When we try to do a solid reproduction of it, many times there ends up being too much information, it becomes cluttered and it's not easily accessed, it's hard to read, it's hard to get the idea of what the original intent was. So a representation at times will be a better tool so that everything may not be exactly one-to-one corresponding perfect, but it does give you that representation of the information that you'll need. And in both higher education and in the work world today, you are dealing with more and more graphical information, so we do want to know about tools that can help us get access to that type of graphical information, in a tactile format.
The next area for accessing printed information are for individuals who need to access that information or choose to access that information auditorily. In other words, you might be using a live reader, you know, someone to read information to you. I think we all use that from time to time and probably from birth to the grave, we'll use that for some items because it's just the easiest thing and the most convenient and readily available tool for us, is a live reader. Other times we use audio recordings, and these may be tape recordings, analog tape recordings, or they may be the new digital CD recordings, or even digital recordings that are just saved as an electronic file. Then we have talking books that are analog and are digital, where somebody has sat down and recorded books and information for us. And then we have another tool in this category called talking dictionaries. Many of you have struggled through using either braille or large print dictionaries in your life, and boy these talking ones can be so much quicker. Now, they may not give you quite as much information as the braille or large print ones, but in many cases, with what you are trying to do is just get a basic definition or check on the spelling of a word, an electronic talking dictionary can be a great tool for you.
So, we looked at accessing printed information in either a visual, tactile, or auditory format. Now let's look at some of the tools we might have available to us to access electronic information visually. The first one would be hardware tools. And these are things that are actually...you can put your hand on, as opposed to software programs that might run on a computer system. Hardware tools would be larger monitors, you know, sometimes that's helpful. You know, if you've been working with a 17-inch monitor and you can get access to a 24-inch or a 25-inch monitor, you might find that it will allow you to increase your viewing distance from say 6 inches to 8 inches. Now, those are not accurate numbers, but just as an example of how it might help somebody. Larger monitors are not always the answer because as you get bigger and bigger and bigger, you might say, Heck, let's get a 60-inch monitor, right? Well, you get a 60-inch monitor, now yes, you've got bigger letters and word and graphics on there, but you've increased the distance between your eye and the corners of that set so that the things out on the edges, you know, you may have lost any effect of the enlargement by having them further away from you. So, it's not always the ideal answer, but for some people it is, and particularly if we take that larger monitor and we put it on what I call a monitor stand, or a flexible monitor arm, that say, clamps on to your table or your desk and then you can grab that monitor, you can pull it up to whatever is the perfect height and then you can pull it towards you to the perfect viewing distance. And that allows you to then still sit in an ergonomically correct position, you know like your typing teachers always told you, with your feet flat and your back straight and all that kind of stuff, and you can type and work on your computer and not have to bend over to try to get closer to the print that you are trying to see on the computer. So sometimes a larger monitor or one of these monitor arms can be very helpful for some people. For others, it's not gonna to be enough.
So then we might look at software. And the first part of the software you might want to look at is what's available in your word processing program and your internet browser. You know, in other words, most of you that have ever dealt with word processing, you know you can tell it to display the text, usually it's 12-pt, but you can have it in 14 or 18 or 30 or 72. Hey, the computer doesn't care, you know, it's all the same to them. So, you can tell it whatever you want it to be, the problem is you don't always get your menus and everything enlarged. Just like we have a similar thing in our internet browsers, we can choose different sized text of the actual text part of it, not all the interface part. If we need that interface part to be larger, or enlarged or magnified for us, we can look at some of the operating system's accessibility features. Both in the Macintosh platform and in the Windows platform, there are built-in features that will allow you to increase the size of all the various screen elements. I tell people, though, these are really good tools to try out and see if you think that's going to be something that will be helpful to you. But you have to remember, it came free with your software, so it's sort of like that old adage of, you know, you get what you pay for. So it's not a real robust program and it doesn't have all the features that some people need and we will find that some, it either doesn't go large enough or they don't have the extra features that they need to be very efficient at working with their computer. So they need to go to a full-fledged screen magnification software program that are available commercially and that you buy. And these programs allow you to do many, many more things as far as making it easier to see the information on your computer and work with it. Finally, again, we have the specialized scanning systems that—before I talked about it like the Kurzweil and Notebook that you might use to scan in printed information—but those systems can also take document files, either from e-mail or from the Internet or a word processing document, you can open them into the specialized scanning system, and then again you have total options of the size of the point that you are looking at, the font style that you are looking at, and the color combinations of both the text and the background color. And if you choose to, you can also add in the synthesized speech to have it read to you. One of my favorite parts of that is that if I use that speech and when I have it reading to me, it highlights each word as it reads it to me so that I can follow along visually and listen. For many people who have to read a large quantity of information, this is a very, very good reading tool because what happens a lot of times to us folks with low vision, we don't always trust our vision, so we read a couple of words and go, wait a minute, was that, did I really see that right? Was that an "L" or an "I" or what was that? So we will back up and re-read it and we are wasting time, we're not being very efficient. But, if I have the auditory part going also, and I'm listening to it and looking at it, I never have to look back because I hear it, and so it confirms what I thought I saw or what I thought I didn't see or whichever, you know, but it lets me know more accurately what that information is. So I can move through that information much quicker and much faster.
You'll hear me talk today over and over about things being faster and more efficient. Because when we think about competing in either educational programs, training programs, or in the world of work, one of the biggest issues for people who happen to be blind or visually impaired is being efficient and competitive as far as time-wise is concerned. Getting work done accurately, quickly. Many times, having low vision or no vision kind of slows you down a bit. So we want to use all the tools that we can find that can help us increase the rate at which we can work, and work competently. Not just faster, but faster and better. So that's what a lot of these tools do and that audio-assisted reading is one of the ones. You know, when your boss tells you, I want you to read this report, and they send it to you as a word processing document and you take a look at it and there's 12 pages, and you are going, Oh man, getting through 12 pages is going to take me a while. Well, if I can find tools or use some of these technology tools to help make me get through this information quicker, then I'm going to be able to be more competitive with my fellow co-workers and the boss is going to keep me around a bit longer, hopefully. So anyway, that's why I kind of harp on that fact about efficiency and how we want to use technology to help us accomplish that.
If we choose to access electronic information tactilely, we have a couple of tools available to us. The first one would be a dedicated refreshable braille display. And this is the device that you can connect to your computer and you run it with a screen reading software program that we'll talk about in a minute. And it takes all of the text that would normally go to the computer monitor and be displayed that way, and sends it to this braille display which happens to have these little plastic pins that can be raised and lowered to represent the different braille characters. And you read all the characters and you hit the advance button and they go down and new characters come up and you continue to read along through the information that way. So that's one tool you might use. Another one is an accessible PDA (personal digital assistant) which has a braille display on it. Many of those do nowadays. And so you not only maybe have a portable device, but you can connect this either with the appropriate cable—or some of them now are bluetooth or who knows, wi-fi—and can connect to your computer and then whatever would show up on your computer screen can show up on the braille display of your accessible PDA. Again, this is great tool to allow you to read that kind of information.
If you're choosing to access electronic information auditorily, we mainly go with software programs running on the computer. The first one and most widely used one is called screen reading software. And many of you may have heard of two of the most popular or widely used programs that are called "Window-Eyes" and "Jaws." And these are programs that take the text that's normally displayed on the computer screen and then sends them to the sound card of your computer and it speaks it to you. So you can hear it and follow along and you can read, you know, by paragraphs, sentences, words, characters, even spell out words, even have it do the military code for alpha, bravo, charlie stuff, in case you run into letters that sound a lot alike, like d, e, p, t, v, those kinds of things. A step beyond that, again, are the specialized scanning systems. So again, I can pull in electronic information to my computer and I can open it with the specialized scanning system and have its screen reading feature read that to me, ok? Now if you've got access to a good screen reader, you may not use a specialized scanning system, but some people like it for some reasons and other reasons and things like that. They do generally have a built-in dictionary so that if you are reading a document and you run into a word you don't know, you can just pop into the dictionary immediately and get to hear a definition of that word. So sometimes that's a big advantage to people. Again, it's efficiency, I don't have to stop what I'm doing, go find a dictionary, look up the word in the dictionary, you know, think about it, then go back to what I'm reading. You know, it's all right there for me.
Another tool that we use a lot for accessing electronic information auditorily are e-text readers. And man, there are a ton of these out there today. Everything from devices that can read all types of e-files, can read mp3, can read Daisy files. This electronic text has been put into a lot of different file formats these days. And we have readers that can read many of them and some of them may be a little specialized and only read one or two types, but most of the newer ones are able to let you access a large number of various file types of e-text material. And basically this is print information that's been turned into electronic information. So that, you know, it was a book but somebody scanned it in, or somebody typed it in, or whatever, or they got the original file that happened to have it all in there.
Another tool we might use to access electronic information auditorily are the accessible PDAs. A minute ago we talked about accessible PDA with a braille display, but all the accessible PDAs, even the ones with braille display, also have auditory output. They have a speech synthesizer in them so that they can speak the text that would normally be in braille, or be displayed visually, or however that might be. So again, I can put all types of electronic information into my accessible PDA and then access it that way through the speech output of the PDA.
The last group in this electronic category are talking calculators and talking dictionaries. And I never, this is the one you guys, I never know where these go. Do they go with print? Do they go with electronic? What's the deal? Well, you know, they're used by people who might want to, who need to, work with a calculator and even, say, the large print one they have or the one that has a larger display isn't large enough, so they might be more efficient with one that talks to them. I almost would go out on a limb and guarantee you that most people are going to be more efficient with a talking dictionary than they are with a large print dictionary, and probably even than they would be with a braille dictionary. So, these are really good tools to know about and to have available to you if those are the kinds of tasks that are involved in the job or the activity that you're trying to complete.
Ok, so we've already looked at two big categories: the categories of accessing printed information either visually, tactilely, or auditorily; and the area of accessing electronic information either visually, tactilely, or auditorily. Now our third big area that technology provides us with tools for is the area of written communication. In other words, we've got to write with all these sighted people who only read print. Now they're handicapped that way, they can only read print stuff, they can't read braille, they can't listen to things very well, you know, they're hung up on this print stuff. So we have to come up with a way we can talk to them in the language they understand. So again, technology comes along with some tools that can help us do that. And again, they divide up into visual, tactile, and auditory. So for people who like writing tools and are visual learners, we have things like bold and raised-lined paper, well now I'll back off, maybe that's a little better for us as the writer, but what it really does is it allows us to produce a written—a hand-written—document or information that's gonna probably be easier for someone with good vision to read. You know, I've been accused many times of my writing is not too easy for sighted people to read. Well, that's probably true and so sometimes if I do it on the bold and raised-lined paper with a bold marker, it can come out a little clearer for a sighted person to read, and also sometimes a little clearer for me to read, to be honest with you, in the long run. But, the best tool for us folks with low vision as far as producing written communication, would be an accessible computer system with word processing software. Because man, I can go in there, once I've learned keyboarding skills, ok, I can go in there and I can type things, I've got all the editing features of the word processor, you know, I can insert new stuff, I can delete old stuff, I can move things around, I can cut and paste, I can re-format, I've got a spell checker, I've got a grammar checker, I can have an online dictionary going, it's just a wonderful writing tool, and particularly for longer writing tasks. Now, if I just need to write down the three things I need to pick up at the grocery store today, I'm probably not going to whip out my computer and my word processor and type all that up, but I'm gonna grab my bold marker and a piece of paper and write it down and take it with me. But, for those longer activities which are probably more common in the educational and training and work world, than they are in the personal world, then that's where you need this tool and we can get a great benefit from a tool such as an accessible computer system with word processing software.
Writing tools for tactile learners. Ok, the first one on here is the slate and stylus. You know and I hear, Oh, slate and stylus, oh, that's old technology and I don't want to do that, it's too hard, it's confusing. Wrong! Ok, you've got to have a tool that will not break. All these other tools we're gonna talk about, they are, most of them are electronic. And you may pull them out of your backpack or your purse and boom, the batteries are dead. You need some type of tool that you can do personal written communication with. A slate and stylus, there are a lot of things that you can do with. One of the interesting ones that I have heard recently, and I think people have been doing it for quite a while is, you know it's very typical in the work world to be presented with information that is not accessible. In other words, it's basically just that black stuff on some paper. And it doesn't mean anything to you because you can't see it. Well, if you happen to have your slate and stylus, you can at least pop it into the slate, and you could write on it with your stylus what that document is, so when you go back to your office to scan it or ask a reader to read it to you or however you might access it, you will at least know what that document is in this pile of paper that you have that basically is meaningless anyway since it's just a bunch of pieces of paper. So there's always a need for the slate and stylus. And if we had more time, I could go into some of the good stories I used to use with my high school students to get them convinced to learn the slate and stylus so they could, you know if they were on the train, they could take down a girl's phone number for a dinner date or something like that. So there's lots of uses for it over time.
Another tool, one of our standard ones that we've had for the last 50 years, is the good old Perkins braille writer, and we do have some other braille writers out there, but the Perkins has been the mainstay one and it's been a great rugged war horse for us for many years, and hopefully will still be around for many years, and will continue to get developed into new and better things. We do have electronic versions of braille writers that are a little easier to work and require less finger strain, and then we do have some electric braille writers such as the Mountbatten, and some people do find those to be very useful for them in their particular work situations.
Another tool that can be used for producing written communication are backdoor accessible PDAs. You know, how many times have I said accessible PDAs already guys, right? So you get the point that this is not our Swiss Army knife, but it is one of our multi-function tools that we're gonna have access to that will allow us to do several things. And we can use it as a writing tool because it's got either, they come with either a braille keyboard or a QWERTY, typical typewriter or computer type keyboard. So you can type information into it and have that information saved. You can then share that information with other people, either by printing it out, you know in hard copy print, or you can emboss it in braille, or you can just send it to the other person as a file that they can open up in whatever-type of electronic device they happen to be working with. So, again, that's another good writing tool. I will caution you, particularly those of you who may be in high school or college and you've been relying very heavily on your PDA as your main writing tool. Yes, it's a good personal writing tool, but you need to also learn how to efficiently and effectively use a word processor with an accessible computer that has a word processing program. Because most of the accessible PDAs are somewhat limited in the way that you can format that final print document. And you will find in the work world that these people who are dependent on, like I said, that little black and white stuff, they are very hung up on how it's formatted, how it looks on the paper: are things indented, are things brought out to the side, are they lined up, are there columns. That all helps convey that information to that sighted reader more effectively. Just like we like our braille or our large print formatted properly to help it convey the information to us more accurately, the sighted folks need their print formatted properly. So, the easier tool for doing that is an accessible computer with a word processing program. That's why you don't want to get too hung up on always letting your accessible PDA be your writing tool. Again, like I said in the beginning, we need a toolbox full of tools because the tools do different jobs and different tasks for us.
The last one on this list, accessible computers with word processing software, so I just segued right into that. Again, if you happen to be a person who accesses information tactilely, probably the tool that you're gonna use the most for your heavy duty and large quantity of writing information is an accessible computer with word processing software. Ok?
What about tools for written communication for people who are auditory learners? Unfortunately you guys, the computers are not good enough as on Star Trek. You know, I can't say, "Computer: Earl Grey tea, 30 degrees Celsius," and have it always understand what I want to. Will we eventually get to that point? Sure, and I hope so, and I hope sooner than later, but we aren't to that point yet, so that I don't think you can rely upon that as your main writing tool. Now if you happen to have an additional disability, particularly a physical disability that limits your ability to work with a computer keyboard or some other input device, then you may find what we call voice recognition software, or voice input software, or speech input software—it goes by different names—you may find that to be a very useful tool for you. But in general, if you have the motor ability to work a keyboard, you're probably going to find that to be a more efficient tool in the long run. So, for these people who are auditory learners, they can also use the accessible PDAs. Remember I said they have speech output, so again, you can type on them and you'll hear every letter you type or everything you braille into it, and so that you can produce written communication. But again, we don't want to get totally tied into those because of the whole issue of knowing how to format a document. So we want to also learn how to use an accessible computer system with word processing software. And you know, by accessible computer system, here I certainly mean one that has that screen reading software that we spoke about earlier, that allows you to access electronic information auditorily, ok? So if you've got a good screen reader on your computer, you've got a good word processing program, you have access to a printer, you can produce written communication and you can do it in large quantities and in a timely and efficient manner.
Alright, moving along. So we've looked at the tools that are available to us. And again, those were tools for accessing print, accessing electronic information, and producing written communication, and they fell into the groups of tools for people who are visual learners, tactile learners, and auditory learners. So we've looked at all these tools. Well, how the heck do you know which is the right tool for the job, which is the right tool for you, and for what thing you're gonna try to do? So the first thing you want to determine is what are the tasks that need to be completed? Do I need to write real long documents, or is most of the writing on my job gonna just be short things, a sentence or two? Do I have to do a lot of reading on my job? Do I do that reading often? Or is it just seldom that I have a long reading assignment? Or is most of your job things that you are doing with your hands and you don't access printed or electronic information a whole lot. Or is your job one where you do have to access a lot of information, electronic information and it may not be over the Internet, but it might be some part of a computer system that is part and parcel to your actual job. You know, you might be in a cloth factory, but yet there is a computer that tells you how many yards of white cloth to make and then how many yards of blue cloth to make and you have to you know push buttons on there to switch it from the white to the blue, and I'm totally making that up so that you people who actually really know may say he's off his rocker. But you get the idea of the point I'm trying to make about how you would be having to access electronic information on some kind of screen and then interact with it in order to accomplish the task of your job.
The second thing that you want to know is where do these tasks need to be completed. In other words, what's the environment we're going to be working in? Is it in an office, is it in a warehouse, is it out in the community, is it on the street while you're walking down the street? Is it in a restaurant? wherever it might be, because those environments are going to affect which tools might be better. A great example of this would be for people with low vision who may be working in a warehouse environment, but the problem there is that the lighting is not adequate for them to see some of their printed or electronic information that they need to see. So therefore, we want to look at some of the tools that are available to us that would allow a person to adjust the amount of lighting available in that. So the environment or where you need to complete the task is another major thing to ask. Then you want to think about, alright, what access method will be used? In other words, is the individual that's working here, are they going to be trying to access the information visually, tactilely, auditorily, or a combination? We haven't talked about that combination much. Many people use some, use a variety of tools, and some of those tools allow them to access the information visually, some of them allow them to access them auditorily, and like I said, the audio assisted reader where I'm accessing it both auditorily and visually at the same time. And you might still might have that same kind of deal with tactile. There might be some things that I would read visually, but other things I would rather read in braille because it's just going to be a more efficient system for me. Whereas other activities and other tasks might be more efficient for me to complete if I was accessing that information auditorily, ok? Sometimes I may have one or two or three of those going at the same time. So you want to try to make a determination as to which one of these methods you are going to be using for the different tasks in the different environments because that kind of gives you a bit of a guide into what types of tools to look at when your trying to decide what is the right tool for this job and how am I going to fill my toolbox.
Next, how will the individual access printed information? That's one of the questions you're going to ask. Are they going to be working with regular print? Or will they be working with large print? Will they be using one of the non-optical or optical devices? And they might use those devices either with regular print or large print. There's no law that says you can't use all of those together. Then we might look at ok, if none of those are adequate, then might braille or tactile tools for accessing that printed information be the more appropriate tool for the person to look at and investigate. Try some of those tools out and see if they might work for you. And then last in this group would be, will the individual access this printed information auditorily? In other words, are we gonna want to get the information recorded or have it on to a computer so that we can access it either through synthesized speech or thtough a recording or, again, might we be using a live reader? And like I said, a lot of times for very small amounts of information, the live reader still might be the best way to go. I mean, I use a lot of different tools in my job to access printed information, but then there are times when I get a handwritten note from somebody and I immediately just walk over to my assistant and say, Shirley, will you please read this to me. And it's only a sentence or two and it takes less then a minute and it works out much better for everybody instead of me wasting time trying to figure out how to read that person's handwriting. So, sometimes auditory can be a good tool. Now again, I want you to keep in mind that none of these tools are the ideal perfect tool. That just because you use auditory doesn't mean you might not use braille or that you might not use an optical device with regular print or large print. Or that just because you use braille doesn't mean you might not ever use auditory. We want to use a combination of tools so that we always have the right tool for the job and we have that toolbox with the tools that we need in order to help us accomplish the things that we need to.
Next, let's try to answer the question, how will this individual, whether it be you or someone else that you are working with, how will the individual access electronic information? Will they use some type of screen enlarging hardware such as the larger monitor and the monitor arm that I spoke about earlier? Or will they use screen magnification software that enlarges the letters on the screen as big as you need them to be, lets you color them, have different colors for the mouse pointer, and whatever you might need. If that's still not adequate, then maybe the individual would want to access that information through a refreshable braille display, access it tactilely, ok? Or they might want to access it auditorily with a screen reading software, ok? And again, we could have individuals using a combination of these devices. In fact, a couple of the major commercial screen magnification software programs now also add a screen reading feature to their programs, so that you can do what I was talking about earlier with the audio assisted reading concept of being able to both listen to the information and visually read it at the same time. And you could do that with braille, too. If you have a refreshable braille display, you could have the screen reading program reading aloud to you while you are reading along in the braille. So there is certainly nothing that prevents us from doing that if we have the correct technology for that type of activity.
One of the other things you want to look at in this whole idea of how the individual accesses electronic information is what type of input device are they going to be using. Can they use a regular keyboard? Some people have motor issues and a regular keyboard doesn't work for them. They may need what we call an expanded keyboard that has bigger keys and bigger targets. Or they may have an issue where their motor impairment is one of range of motion, they can't move their arms in big wide arcs, like I'm doing, but they can take their one index finger and they can move it all around. And for those people, we have a thing called a mini keyboard, where it's maybe the size of a paperback book and all the letters are real close together, but you can sit there with one finger and type the letters that you need to type in order to input into your computer. Other types of input devices are the mouse or track ball that people use as a pointing device. In general, I am not a big fan of pointing devices. Most people who have low vision, and dare I say almost all of the people who have no useable vision, find that a mouse is not very useful because you can't figure out where the pointer is, you can't always get it to the place where you want it to be, and if you can do that, it may take you a good bit of time and it may not be an efficient tool. So by the time I can move my hand off the keyboard, get it on the mouse, move that mouse pointer up to the save option, on my screen somewhere, I could have already pressed control+s, a keyboard command, and already be saving my document and on to the next thing. So I'd like to strongly encourage people to, if you aren't already using keyboard demands, give it a lot of serious consideration, that is a more efficient tool. And by the way, for all you folks who are mouse dependent, you know, you too, even though you may not have a vision problem can learn to be more efficient by using keyboard commands. Think of all the times your hand goes off the keyboard and over to the mouse, back to the keyboard, finding the keys, over to the mouse, moving all around, that somewhat is wasted time. You go, it's only you know a second or two here and there. Well, over the course of the day, over the course of a week, over the course of the month, over the course of the year, you know, you're wasting some time. So, if you have a boss that's really into productivity, you might make yourself a more outstanding employee by learning the keyboard commands and the shortcuts that can be more efficient for us.
Ok next, how will the individual communicate through writing? Will they use standard handwriting tools like pen and paper, pencils, and things along that line? or will they use some adaptive handwriting tools such as the bold line paper and the big felt tip markers and things like that? or will they want to use braille writing tools as their personal written communication form? And then we have the electronic writing tools such as the PDAs and things like that.
Now, the final steps of this process is training, training, training. Once we've been able to determine what are the tools that are going to allow you to accomplish the task you need to accomplish in an efficient manner, then you've got to have the opportunity to learn how to use those tools efficiently and effectively. Just because you've got access to this computer with speech and braille and it prints out everything, and it does everything except cook your coffee in the morning, it doesn't mean you're going to be an efficient employee. And too many times, and being a former educator I have to slap my own wrist, too many times I think we have spent so much of our time, energy, and effort on getting people access to the tools and forgetting that we needed to put as much emphasis, time, energy, effort, and bottom line, dollars, money, funding to ensure that people are provided with the opportunities to get the necessary training in order to use those tools efficiently and effectively in either their educational program, their college program, their technical training, or in their work environments. So it's the training issue that we've got to work with. When we talk with administrative type people or the powers that be or the voc rehab system people who are providing the services, we have to ensure either from the consumer's standpoint or from the service provider's standpoint, that we include plenty of support to get the person the training that they're going to need. This is a difficult problem, I admit it, tt's not easy. Why? Because there's not an assistive technology training center for people who are blind or visually impaired on every other street corner. There's not any on any of the street corners, most likely. You have to sometimes search long and hard to find that training. But it is such a key element to the whole process that just because it's hard to find it doesn't mean we can slough over it. We may want to look into some of the, there are web-based training programs, there are correspondence training programs, there are auditory, tape or CD-based training opportunities. There are some actual facilities in the country. One I can mention is the Carroll Center in Boston that does offer face-to-face training. So we may have to arrange for people to go and participate in that training. There are also a lot of opportunities where vocational rehab counselors and systems can bring in people who are qualified trainers to provide training to the end users, sometimes that's done in a group format, sometimes that's done on an individual basis. So you have to look around long and hard sometimes to find that training opportunity, but probably I'm beating this horse to death, right, that training is such an essential skill. But I will say to you that if we don't get that in, we are going to greatly decrease our chances of success in the long run. I can tell you from personal experience of having worked in the vocational rehab system at times as a technology instructor, that there were times when I was working with a client and for whatever reason they were not able to complete their training satisfactorily and they ended up going into a work situation, and within six months, they were no longer employed in that work situation because they had not mastered that the training they needed. Therefore, we don't want to that happen cause that kind of puts a sour taste in everybody's mouth. We don't want to run into those problems where we get somebody on a good job but they can't keep it because they don't have all the technology training they need.
Ok moving along, like I said, I probably beat that one to death, right? For some of the information, I want to refer you to the resource. I've got it here in the slides, it's a book entitled "Assistive Technology for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: A Guide to Assessment." This book is available from AFB Press at www.afb.org/store. Again, it's on the slide. Now this book, a lot of you say, It says students, and I'm working with adults. Well, yes, that's true. It's mainly oriented for people who are working with students, but hey, come on you guys, you're smart people. You can make some transfers from what things we talk about in this book, about ways to determine needs of students who are blind or visually impaired, in ways that you could still address the needs of individuals who are adults. And again, it's going to be looking at those three big areas that we talked about: the area of tools for accessing printed information, tools for accessing electronic information, and tools for producing written communication. And those are certainly needs that adults have, just like students in the public education system have. So you may find references to things in this book that obviously you're going, Oh, wwll that's something they do in school, but I don't do that on my job. But you may think, I don't do that exactly on my job, I don't do worksheets on my job, but hey, there are times when I get a paper form on my job, I have to fill out this paper form. Well, maybe the same tool that a student in school would use to complete a worksheet in a third grade math class might be a similar or the same tool you could use on your job to complete some written form document that your boss or the human resources department sends out to everybody that has to be completed and turned in triplicate or whatever. So that's one of the resources that I want you to be aware of.
If you also go to the www.afb.org site, you'll find other resources about technologies, particularly about assistive technology, we have a lot of good resources there. We even have one of my favorites, which is assistive technology demonstration videos. So if you're talking with a potential employer, or with a client or with a friend or whoever, and you bring up the concept of screen reader and they're going, What, what's a screen reader? Well, there is a video there and you can direct them to that video, and it's a three- to five-minute video they can watch and it'll go through and explain to them here's what a screen reader does, and here's how it sounds, and here's some of the things it can do, and here's how people use it. So we have a lot of resources and tools that you can use to help you in various activities, not only in maybe picking out the right tool, but also in making other people aware of why this tool would be a better than another one or why we're asking for the financial support to provide this type technology over some other type, ok?
Alright, agin, like I said, if you have questions, please submit them and we'll try to get to answering them or we will have the answers available on the web site at a later date.
I feel like I'm running a bit ahead of time here, so I'm going to say that my biggest point is that it takes this toolbox full of tools to be successful. And I've got my little buddy here, I don't know, I'm going to call him Guido or whatever, and he's carrying his toolboxes around with his work overalls on and he's got saws hanging out, and he's got carpenter's squares and hammers and screwdrivers and everything, and he's got his good ol' pencil over his ear, and that's the thing he needs to...those are the tools he needs in order to do his job.
Alright, now I'm going to take just a minute and talk to you for just a minute while one of my co-workers brings up a friend of mine, a young lady named Tara Annis, who works in our AFB office in Huntington, West Virginia. Ok, good, and so...Tara and I are going to talk a little about some of the technologies she's used during her life in both education and employment.
And I want to take this moment to go back and remind you folks who are looking for credit that you have to have the special secret code in order to get your credit when you go online and fill out your evaluation form. There will be one now and then there will be one at the end of the session today. The one that you need to begin with is the word "career." So you gotta have the "career" pass code and we'll come up with another one at the end of the session.
And I want to let you know that Tara is a very interesting young lady who happens to be a participant in some things called extreme sports, and I'm not sure if it's as wild as some of the ones we see on TV, but she did tell us yesterday that she likes to do skydiving, rock climbing, downhill skiing, and a lot of other things like that. But we won't get to talk about a ton today because what we want to talk about, Tara and I want to talk to you about some of the technologies that she used in both high school, college, and employment, and how she came about them and some of the experiences that she had with them.
So Tara, welcome to the program today and thanks for coming.
Tara Annis: Thanks for having me.
Ike: Ok first, I'd like to ask you, what kinds of technology did you use in high school? What did you have available to you?
Tara: Ok, first of all, when I was in high school, I could see better than what I can now. So I was just starting to make the transition to using braille and tactile and auditory means of accessing information since my visual acuity was probably like between 20/200 and 20/1200 at the time I was at the school for the blind. So I was still using magnification, I was using a CCTV (closed-circuit television), and like I said, I was starting to learn braille in my sophomore through senior year, so I was starting to use the Perkins braille writer to just type out simple sentences in braille and practice. And also a PDA, an older-style one, it was called a Braille Lite. And I also was starting to use auditory means of getting information, so I was using a screen reader—JAWS for windows—at that time.
Ike: Probably some books on tape...
Tara: Just starting to use books on tape, mainly to listen to novels and stuff like that.
Ike: So at that time, you were one of these combinations users I talked about, that used some of everything.
Tara: Definitely. It was about, I'd say like, maybe 70% large print and 30% tactile, auditory back then.
Ike: Great, great. Alright now, what kinds of technology do you wish you had had access to in high school that you didn't have?
Tara: I would say a PDA with a braille display. At that time, the PDAs had just come out and the school I went to had the ones that had a braille keyboard, but there wasn't a braille display, it was just speech, so when you typed on the braille keyboard, you had to listen to what you were typing, there wasn't a way to feel the braille as it was speaking. And if I would have had braille, I think it would have helped me learn quicker, the technology, since the speech is hard to understand when you first start using it. And sometimes I was like, Did that say the letter, B, C, D, E? They sound so much alike, I would have liked to have been able to feel tactilely the letters as it was speaking and I think that would have helped me learn braille faster and even learn the speech quicker, if I would have had auditory and tactile means.
Ike: Definitely, as a former braille teacher, I would say, yes, if you had braille and auditory together, you would have learned your braille quicker probably, getting that dual feedback. What kind of things do you wish you had done differently when it comes to getting the needed technology in high school?
Tara: I wish I had talked to my parents and we had gone to school officials and talked more about my needs, my technology needs, talked more about what kinds of technology I would need in college, and making sure that I had access to that so that way when I got to college it wasn't new to me, that I would have been able to practice in high school. I also wish that we had talked about getting technology in the dorms and in the classrooms. I went to a school for the blind so I lived on campus, so at that time, it's different now, but at the time I was there, they were just starting to put computers in the dorms and in the classrooms. So I wish I had had more access to it instead of just the adaptive technology lab. Also, I wish I had had more teacher-guided instruction in the use of the technology. I just had a class my senior year, of actually learning JAWS for Windows, learning the screen reader, and learning to use the PDA, so I was mainly in that class just going through the training manual, I wasn't using it for real-life situations like typing homework assignments or using it to put down appointments in the calendar. I was just going through the manual that tells you how to use the start menu and just basic functions. I wish I would have been able to just practice it using everyday, common sense, real-life tasks.
Ike: So maybe I should change my training, training, training to appropriate training, good training, interesting training.
Tara: Yeah, definitely interesting and more in-depth. Yes, that would have helped.
Ike: Which additional technologies did you get to use and get involved in when you went to college?
Tara: I was still using the screen reader JAWS for Windows, but the Braille Lite I was using in high school, it broke. So you talked about, earlier today, about having a slate and stylus and I totally agree with you on that since, like I said, mine did break down. My freshmen and sophomore year in college I had to use the slate and stylus to take notes, so definitely want to let the viewers know it is important for visually impaired people to know the slate and stylus and have that, since it's equivalent to having a paper and pencil to sighted people. And it's low cost and the technology does break down, so it's good to have a backup.
Ike: What kinds of equipment do you wish you had had in college that weren't available to you then, that you know about now?
Tara: I wish I'd had a laptop computer. Even though I had...towards the end of college, I did get another PDA, the PAC Mate, with a braille display. So I used the slate and stylus the first half of college and then was able to get a PAC Mate, but I did not have a laptop. I think it would have helped since we do live in a visual world and my professors didn't understand the adaptive technology. They'd be like, "Why doesn't it have a screen? Are you really typing? Are you really doing stuff independently?" With a laptop, I could have taken it to class and the teachers could have seen me typing out the text and known that I was doing it independently. And if I had a question, they could look at the computer screen and we could both talk about a document, for example, and I could explain and they could look at the screen and see what I was typing and reading and that would have helped, I think, just bridge the gap, that we both would have been on the same page and they would understand.
Ike: Oh, sure, sure. So many people that are sighted, they find it difficult to just talk about something and sort of visualize it in their heads. They need to actually see it. Whereas you and I, we're used to talking about it, the words are enough.
Tara: Right, that was a problem, definitely. Cause I would be talking and I need something visually to follow along with, so I would have liked to have a laptop.
Ike: So a notebook could have helped with that.
Tara: Yes, and also the laptop, as you mentioned in your speech earlier, it's sometimes easier to work with different file types, such as the PDF files, in my opinion, like the Internet and things like that, and for formatting, it's easier, in my opinion, to do those things on a laptop. And since there's a lot of writing papers in college and formatting, I would have liked to have had the laptop. I think it would have been quicker, doing that in class and having access.
Ike: Good point, very good point. How did you get the funding to purchase this technology?
Tara: Different sources. I used personal, public, and private sources. I want to definitely emphasize that to our viewers. Make sure that your clients or students know about the different sources of funding. Sometimes blind kids might expect everything to be paid for, sit back and everything's paid for and they don't have to put out any money of their own. In my opinion, it should be a combination. I used voc rehab bought my Pack Mate, but I bought my screen reader and I also used the private—there's a non-profit organization in my community that helped me get just a regular computer to put the screen reader on, just a desktop computer. So definitely I would like to tell our viewers to use a variety of sources.
Ike: So things...when you say that, I'm assuming you mean things like maybe a Lions Club or the Kiwanis Club. Or even your church or something.
Tara: Yes, definitely check in, even if it's not advertised, you can call up the Lions Club like you said, and churches and community groups and just write up proposals why you want a piece of equipment. Just look into a variety of sources.
Ike: Yeah, I've known people that do that and one of the things I always love to hear about it is that afterwards, they get it, they go to one of the club meetings or whatever, and they sort of do a show and tell. Most people are pretty wowed by the technology that we use. "Whoa, that computer can talk. Oh look, it can make braille!" That's really kind of cool. So it just gives them a very positive feedback and a good pat on the back for helping someone out and then they know, too, that you're using it and that you're progressing with it and that their money is going for a good cause, so to speak.
Tara: Yes and that's something I like to stress throughout my whole speech is communication, communication, communication. It involves a lot of people and getting together and communicating your needs and discussing and things like that.
Ike: What would you say are some of the things you might like like to do differently about your college experience?
Tara: I wish I had talked to voc rehab and the disable student service office more about my technology needs. Advocating, getting together as a group, because sometimes it was difficult for me to know whose responsibility it was to get the technology. My personal experience, I never met as a group. It was always meeting with voc rehab, the next day, meeting with DSS. I wish I had organized a meeting with all of us together and that would have eliminated some of the communication problems and whose responsibility it was. I think it would have cleared up a lot of confusion and went more smoothly.
Ike: Right, now you mentioned DSS, that's disability student services, and most universities and colleges have that now. And in fact, one of the things that I want most of the folks out there, particularly in the service industry to realize is, there is a listserv, an e-mail listserv discussion group called Disabled Student Services in Higher Education, they refer to it as DSSHE, but it's a great listserv, I've been on it for a couple of years now. And a lot of good topics are discussed such as funding, what are reasonable accommodations, what are the laws regarding providing accessibility in the university and college program, and at the end of Tara's and my discussion, I'll put up a slide that gives you some more information about that and will give you the URL. So when Tara Annis and I finish, be on the lookout for that.
[Ed note: The purpose of the Disabled Student Services in Higher Education list is to facilitate the sharing of information among providers of services for students with disabilities in higher education. Issues discussed include: legal issues pertaining to the American's with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, assistive technology, career issues for students with disabilities, grants and other funding sources, testing and other academic accommodations, disability awareness programming, available resources, student development theory, and other issues that relate to students with disabilities and to higher education service providers.
Tara: Right. And also, this sometimes can be a problem, disabled student service office usually serve students with a variety of disabilities, so they could have just a general idea. So one good thing about the listserv, you could ask more in-depth questions. They could possibly learn more about blindness and what types of technology are specific to people with vision loss.
Ike: Oh yeah, I see that all the time. Somebody will ask, they'll say, "This is the first blind student we've had. What do we do about getting this braille stuff?"
Tara: Right, cause it's a small population, so the disabled student service office may not have had that many students that are visually impaired.
Ike: Alright, well, let's move on to your work situation, we only have a few minutes left. Tell me about some of the technology you use in work. I know you've been in two different situations. Now you're in an office that is very technology oriented and provides you with a lot, but what was your first job experience like?
Tara: Yes, I have worked several jobs. I used to work more in like the sighted world, as you call it, where I was the only blind person at my workplace when I worked at the genetics lab and the chemistry department and the computing lab. So the previous workplaces, I was using a variety of technology and I had to explain to my co-workers what each piece of technology did and get the communication across. I was still using the PDA and the screen reader and a wide variety of technology, and using visual, auditory, and tactile, and using as many pieces of technology as I could.
Ike: Good, good. What were the similarities and differences between high school, college, and the work world that you noticed?
Tara: As I mentioned earlier, I went to a school for the blind, so when I was in high school, I did not have to worry about explaining what each piece of technology did, since all the staff was familiar with adaptive technology. Whereas at my workplace and college, I was the only blind person and I had to explain to professors, co-workers, my supervisors, what that technology did and just explain my visual impairment, why I needed a specific piece of technology, and what all it did and that kind of thing.
Ike: Alright, well, good. Thank you so much, Tara, for sharing all your experiences with us. And now I would like to introduce my colleague, Detra Bannister, from our West Virginia office of the American Foundation for the Blind. And she's with the CareerConnect program and she's going to introduce our next guest and conduct the next part of the program.
Detra Bannister: Yes, thank you, Ike, very much. Yesterday and today we have learned a lot about lifelong learning and career education and how that combined with the right technology makes career success possible. And we've also talked a little bit about AFB CareerConnect, which is the host of this event. Now CareerConnect, as you know, is an online web-based program that teaches career education, job-seeking skills, and a whole lot more. Now one of the best components, one of the most loved components of our program, is our e-mentoring componenet. And that is comprised of a database of mentors, all of them are blind or visually impaired, and they work in over 300 occupational fields. All of these people are available to talk to the users, whether the user is a professional in the blindness field or a student or a client or even an employer who may be contemplating hiring a person who is blind or visually impaired.
So, it gives me great pleasure to introduce four of our very finest mentors. And I will start on my left, and the first person I want to introduce is Rita Harrison. Rita is Program Analyst for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, specializing in accessibility for people with disabilities who work for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And she does a whole lot more, as well, but we'll let her explain that in just a moment.
Our next guest is Empish Thomas, who happens to be Public Education and Referral Specialist for the Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired here in Atlanta. She's also a freelance writer and has had articles published in regional, local, and even national magazines and newspapers. And in her spare time, as she puts it, she actually produces and hosts a program for the Georgia Area Radio Reading Service called "Eye on Blindness."
Now the next two guests, you've already met, and they are my colleagues, Tara Annis, who is Information Specialist for CareerConnect, and Ike Presley, who is National Project Manager.
I have put together a series of questions that I want to ask each of you. And I'm gonna direct the first question to Empish. And what I'd like to know is Empish, when you were in middle school and high school, did you receive career education instruction? And if you did, was it helpful to you? And if you did not, tell me what it is you would have liked to have known by the time you left high school.
Empish Thomas: Yes, I did actually. In high school, my parents enrolled me in a business magnet school where we focused on careers before I graduated from high school. Actually, our extracurricular activities were not your traditional football, basketball, sports, cheerleading, they were actually clubs and organizations that helped us with business skills, public speaking, dress for success, resume writing. And we actually had to complete an internship before we graduated.
Detra: Excellent, excellent. Rita, what about you?
Rita Harrison: Well, actually, I spent a lot of my time in middle and high school trying to stay in school. I went to school at a time where there really wasn't anything set up for me. I didn't go to a blind school, I was kind of the only visually impaired person in the system and they never knew what to do with me. In fourth grade, they had determined that I would succeed in my adult world as a person weaving baskets in a sheltered workshop, and I think that was a turning point for me. So I spent a lot of time trying to stay in school. The counselor in high school had determined that I needed to leave high school and I just had to focus on what I wanted to do in life. And I actually did leave high school for a while, but I went back and graduated and pushed my way into college and was just determined, I had to just be determined.
Detra: Well you've certainly had a very different outcome than what they planned for you.
Rita: Yes, I do not look at baskets. [Everyone laughs]
Detra: Ike and Tara, do you have any input on anything, because I know you sort of discussed this a little bit in your earlier discussion. Anything to add?
Tara: For the employment training, since I did go to the school for the blind, it was blindness-specific, which was good. And towards my junior and senior year, the school did have a 10-week summer program called S.T.E.P.(Student Training Employment Program), where you actually worked and got a paycheck.
Ike: I didn't have any real career education, except that my father said, "Son, you aren't going to be an airplane pilot or brain surgeon or any of those things." And I said, "Oh, ok." But other things were open. It was emphasized to me, I guess as far as careers, was that education was the way to go, that I probably would never do real well in a lot of the trades, but that I needed to get a good education for employment opportunities.
Detra: Very good, thank you. Now the next question, I'm going to start with you, Rita, and this is actually a three-fold question. I'd like to know just a little bit more about your current employment, how you found that employment, and then tell us what was your very first job as a person with vision loss. How did you find that job and how did that job help prepare you for the work you do today?
Rita: Oh, my goodness.
Detra: I warned you. [Laughing]
Rita: Well, I came down here to Atlanta as a program analyst. I was an auditor on an auditing for the agency. And I did a lot of just checking, check and balance-type work and helping people learn how to do their administrative functions the correct way, what they were doing wrong. And as I lost vision, I kind of fell into this whole new arena of accessibility. And now I'm one of the web testers, one of the testers for the web page and the different programs that our agency has, just making sure that people have the right tools, as Ike spoke about, people with disabilities in our agency all have the tools they need in order to do their jobs. I'm the vice chair of the Advisory Committee for Employees with Disabilities for the FDA and our focus is on access and accessibility. My first job, and I don't know how I got here from there, was when I was 15 and my mother actually found a job for me. It was supposed to be a summer job and it turned into a full-time job as a laundry assistant. Yeah, and I think at a nursing home. And I think what it taught me was how to be patient with people, be respectful, how to help. I think maybe this is where my volunteerism came into play. And it just taught me that I had to be patient in order to get what I wanted to get out of life.
Detra: Thank you, that's excellent. Empish, what about you?
Empish: Let's see if I remember the question...
Detra: Okay, let me reiterate. The question is, tell us just a little bit more about your current employment, what your first job was as a person with vision loss, and how did that help prepare you for the work you do today?
Empish: My current position at the Center for the Visually Impaired is two-fold. Part of the day I spend doing public education, which is doing tours of the facility, handling exhibits at community fairs, kind of like manning a booth, an information booth. I also put out every week a community bulletin for the blind on different things that are happening in Atlanta called "Infolink." And that comes out through e-mail, it comes out on the web site, which I actually post to the web site and we also put it on the phone for people who don't have Internet access. So that's a good chunk of my day. The other part of my day I spend doing information and referral calls in our client services department, and basically what I do there is I'm one of the first people that someone talks to when they call to say, "Hey, I'm losing vision, help me." Or a doctor may call or relative or case manager may call saying, "Can you help this person, they're going blind, what should we do?" And usually I kind of walk them through that process and help them get set up for services at the center. The job that I had when I was first losing vision, I worked in human resources. That wasn't anything related to what I'm doing now, but it did help me to get to this place because I was able to work with some really great people who were open-minded about employing people with vision impairments and they were willing to help me get my technology for my job and willing to give me time off to go get rehabilitation training and come back to work. So I was very fortunate that I was working for a corporate company that was willing to keep me working and not let me go because I was losing vision.
Detra: That's good. Tara, what was your first job as a person with vision loss?
Tara: I've been visually impaired my whole life, so the first one was the high school program I talked about earlier, working in the cafeteria, canteen, doing food preparation and cash register, that kind of thing.
Detra: Ike, what about you?
Ike: My brother and I mowed lawns in high school, so it wasn't like a real job because we didn't have a boss, it was just us. But it was money, so we thought it was real.
Detra: Right, right, well talking about real jobs, paid jobs, it's equally important, I think, the volunteering, we've talked about that yesterday and today. And I know, Rita, that you do volunteer work for a breast cancer center organization. Do you want to tell us just a little bit about that?
Rita: Oh, sure. I'm a breast cancer survivor and what I do is, a couple of days a week is I'm assigned as a telephone mentor for people who are either just learning or have just been diagnosed with breast cancer, or somebody going through a different phase in the whole process, or a friend or family member who needs to talk to somebody. Everyone who answers the phone at this organization is a breast cancer survivor, so we make that direct connection.
Detra: I know from talking to you all just this little bit, even if I didn't know you before you came to the table, that all of you are people with strong, positive work habits. And we heard Karen talk about yesterday how important it is to develop strong, positive work habits and how that contributes to good employment. What do you consider are your strongest positive work habits and how did you come about developing those? How did they best serve you? And I'll start with you, Empish.
Empish: I think that the main two that I tried to always focus on throughout my entire career is being cognizant of time, being on time to work and making every effort to be in place where I need to be, whether it's a meeting or just arriving to work on time or coming back from a lunch break, just really being cognizant of that. I think the other thing is not participating in office gossip and politics. I really try to stay out of office politics and a co-worker's gossiping about another co-worker. I don't get involved in those conversations. I'll keep very neutral and very objective if they're asking me for my opinion about something because that can destroy not only someone's emotions and feelings, but also their career. It can be very damaging.
Detra: Thank you for that very good answer. Tara or Rita? Tara, do you want to go first?
Tara: I would say...I'd say I have two. One would be organization. All of the jobs I've had, I've worked on the computer and just being organizing, keeping file folders on the computer for all the e-mail attachments and files and that kind of thing. And then the other trait is a good imagination and an open mind has helped me. My current job at AFB, I speak to a lot of people on the phone and e-mail and get to talk to a wide variety of people with different lifestyles and just being able to relate to people of different backgrounds and that kind of thing.
Detra: Thank you. Rita?
Rita: Yes, all of the above. And then I guess in addition to that, very importantantly, is if you're given something and you really don't understand what it is you need to do, don't ever be afraid to speak up and say, I don't get this, please tell me how to do this. Because so many people will just pretend that they know how to do something and that's how they set themselves up to fail. And just don't be discouraged, don't give up. And just use my fear factor. I developed the fear factor before Fear Factor was on TV. And the "F" is just to stay focused and follow through. The "E" is to educate, educate, educate. The "A" is your attitude, always stay positive. And the "R" is take that risk.
Detra: Good, that's excellent. Thank you for that. Do you have anything to add, Ike?
Ike: No, well...to me, it's that positive attitude. You can get so much done or you can have so many shortcomings overlooked if you have a positive person. But if you're a negative, downer-type person, you can bring down the whole group. Even if everything's not going great in your life, still try to find the good things that are happening on the job and tune into those and don't let all the other things get you down and get you upset.
Detra: Thank you. Now, the next question is in relation to technology and since you, Ike, and Tara just got through talking about technology, I'm going to direct this question only to Empish and Rita, unless you have something burning that you really want to add that you think is important. And the question is, What technology do you use today, both on and off the job, that allows you to function independently? And specifically what kind of tasks does it enable you to complete that you wouldn't be able to do otherwise?
Rita: Oh, my goodness. My toolbox is overflowing. [Laughter] I have a combination that I use, a wide variety of tools. I use both Jaws and Window-Eyes since I am in the area of testing, so I use speech, total speech recognition, and I also learned how to read braille in 2001. I'm a huge braille reader, and everything that I print out for the sight world I also print out for myself in braille for myself so I can follow along and keep up with the sighted people. And then I also use the more manual things like the handheld labeler, the slate and stylus. And I have a guide dog, that's another tool that helps me stay very independent. Absolutely, we go everywhere together. There's no reason why you can't go anywhere with a cane or a guide dog.
Empish: Ditto, basically. But I think if I had to pick one particular piece of technology, it would be my screen reading program. I'm a big computer person. I was that way before I went blind and I pretty much stayed that way after, so I am constantly on the computer at work and at home. At work it allows me to access the e-mails, to do the Infolink bulletin board that I do, to read Excel spreadsheets, to do my time cards. At home, it allows me to go online and do Internet banking, which I absolutely love. No more paper bills, I do everything online now, and also for the environment, as well, so I do that. I have a scanner, where I can just read/scan my mail, which helps because one of the things that I think is great about access to technology and independence is it helps you to have some privacy. One of the biggest things I noticed when I went blind is I'm having people read very personal and confidential information. And now I don't have to do that anymore, I can go online and look at my bank statements, look how bad my IRA is doing right now, and no one has to have access to that information.
Ike: Detra, we only have a couple of minutes left, so I think I'll bow out and not add anything on this.
Detra: Okay, thank you. Okay then, what I'm going to do is wrap up with one more question, very quickly, if you can give me a real quick answer on that. And that is, what piece of advice would you give to a transition specialist, a vocational rehabilitation counselor, or a teacher that you wish they had known at the time they were helping you through the transition process?
Empish: For me, be open-minded and be willing to allow your clients to spread their wings and take risk.
Rita: I guess for me the most important thing that I would suggest is that you listen, just like Empish was talking about, you listen to that person, you listen to what it is they want to do, you help them try to figure out how to get there, don't discourage them, and just help them to move towards their dream.
Detra: Thank you so much. I want to thank you, Rita, and Empish, and Tara, and Ike so much for being here because I think that you guys are a shining example of what people can do with the right combination of lifelong learning and career education and technology. It makes career success possible and you all have demonstrated that very nicely.
So one thing I do need to do before we wrap up here is to thank AT&T again and to thank Georgia Public Broadcasting and to give today's ending code word, and that would be "connect."
Ike: Thank you very much. We hope that all of you have enjoyed this webinar. And again, go online and fill out the evaluation and if you need the credit, you can get that worked out. Please look for forward for additional segments in this ongoing program that we are excited to be doing. Thank you for coming.
*Ed. note: this opportunity to earn CEUs has since expired.