The title access technology specialist has an aura of one who knows everything about every piece of hardware, every screen-reading package, every synthesizer, and every possible combination of them. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Access technology specialists, for the most part, specialize in a particular niche in which they feel adept and well qualified. Some are experts in software, while others are whizzes at hardware and compatibility issues. Therefore, it is important for students to be able to determine the skills of these specialists and choose one who can best help them meet their personal needs for computer training.
Through careful screening and creative problem solving, you can find a qualified instructor with the skills necessary to provide a solid foundation in the use of computer applications and screen-reading software. Although you can easily find credentials for plumbers, contractors, and vacuum repair personnel, it is not easy to verify the qualifications of someone who teaches people who are blind or visually impaired to use computers. There may be no documentation of an instructor's knowledge of a particular software package, but you can determine the exact nature of an instructor's capabilities through some artful interviewing skills.
The Initial Interview
Before you accept an individual as an instructor, it is wise to ask for an interview. Most instructors are more than happy to meet with prospective students because it gives them an opportunity to assess the students' needs and gives the students an opportunity to gauge their skills. It may seem as though the tables are being turned on the instructor—after all, who would "interview" an instructor? If a state rehabilitation agency or employer hires the instructor, surely he or she must be qualified to perform the required training. In reality, an employer or rehabilitation counselor may have less knowledge about computers than you do and is merely choosing from a list of those who have been "certified" by the state or a local agency to teach.
Therefore, it is up to you to assess the instructor by asking probing questions and determining if the answers indicate that he or she has the experience and ability to teach the necessary skills.
There are several things you should consider when assessing the skills of an access technology specialist:
- teaching experience
- demonstrable skills
It is important that your and the instructor's personalities are compatible. If the instructor seems overly somber or too congenial, has an impatient nature, or doesn't appear to be a skilled listener, these characteristics could lead to problems during training. Problems may arise during training that could try the best of relationships. So, it is best to get off to a strong start by carefully assessing the instructor's personality. Most assessments last a couple of hours, so it is relatively easy to determine the instructor's personality, as well as other aspects of his or her qualifications, such as the preparation he or she puts into the classes.
Preparation for training is an integral part of any instructor's daily life. From creating a lesson plan to providing a basic outline of the course, it is important that an instructor be aware of a student's needs and be prepared to show a definitive plan for future lessons. If an instructor is vague about his or her plans for future lessons, this should be a red flag that something is amiss. Although some students may feel comfortable with the "teach as you go" philosophy, it may be important for beginners or those who need to learn a specific application to have some structured training goals. An instructor who is going to be teaching a specific application or group of applications should be able to offer a lesson plan with specific skills to be taught during each lesson.
If the instructor doesn't have a lesson plan, you should ask if he or she plans to create one. If the instructor is going to be providing training in the use of Microsoft's e-mail package Outlook, for example, there are logical steps and basic skills that are integral to any course on this dynamic software. In addition, you may want to learn some aspects of the application but have no need for others, or there is some aspect of the application that is not covered in the lesson plan but would be important for you to learn. The instructor should be flexible enough to adjust the plan to your personal or professional needs. If the instructor seems unwilling to alter the plan or teach the necessary skills, it may mean that he or she is not the right person for the job.
The next thing to ask about is the instructor's experience teaching particular applications. If an employer hires an instructor to teach a complicated bit of software, it can be reassuring to know that the instructor has encountered the software in the past and has successfully trained others in its use. You should not hesitate to inquire about the number of students the instructor has taught and even request contact information for students who have successfully completed the same course of study with the instructor.
Finally, you can ask the instructor to demonstrate his or her teaching style. Pick something simple that will allow you to assess the instructor's skill in conveying information and concepts. For example, the instructor should be willing to teach the use of the desktop or the text navigation keyboarding of Windows and reading commands of a screen reader. Listen carefully and observe the instructor's teaching style. Does the instructor provide spatial references to the elements of the desktop? If the sample lesson is in the use of keyboarding and screen reading, does he or she differentiate between Windows commands and screen-reader commands? Does he or she speak clearly and explain the concepts and keystrokes in a relaxed and comfortable manner? Do the practical skills offered encourage you to explore the skills on your own computer at home?
Pay attention to the instructor's style of teaching. The desktop and navigation of text and screen-reading commands are fundamental skills that should come easily to experienced access technology specialists. If the instructor frequently refers to notes and his or her style seems hesitant, then perhaps an interview with another instructor may be in order.
The Bottom Line
If an instructor meets the criteria—has a relaxed and confident manner when teaching, offers a lesson plan, and is willing to demonstrate his or her skills and provide references—perhaps he or she is one who can guide you toward a solid foundation in the skills necessary to compete effectively in the workplace and beyond. If you have any doubts and an employer or rehabilitation counselor is footing the bill for the training, it is time to have a frank discussion about the instructor's qualifications and problems encountered during the assessment.
Training in access technology comes at a premium price. Some instructors charge $60 to $70 per hour for their services. If you have any doubt about whether the quality of the training offered is worth the price, it is your right and responsibility to look elsewhere for training opportunities. With a computer and modem, the world is at the fingertips of every blind computer user. Perhaps the optimal training opportunity isn't at a rehabilitation facility or through the services of a private instructor. There are a multitude of training opportunities, both free and for a fee, on the Internet. You should pursue every avenue and speak to others who have had successful training experiences to find an instructor who can ensure that you receive a solid foundation in the skills necessary to achieve a successful future in the world of computing.