In the past I was of the opinion that proprietary solutions in computer systems, with regards to accessibility for partially sighted and blind users, where not the best choice. Meaning that users should learn how to work with the operating system and the programs that they needed, by using they´re magnification or screen reader program of choice. This would include your basic email application, word processing program, web browser, and so forth. By taking the time to learn the basics of the operating system you would thereby be preparing yourself for future work on your computer, of course this is as true today as it was in the past.
But I now feel that there is also value in a different approach.
The majority of people who are partially sighted are not in their twenties or thirties, usually they have to deal with low vision later in life and many have little or no experience with computers. When you start working with a screen reader, you quickly realize that there are a number of things you are almost expected to know already. Like for example what an icon is, menu´s, list items, and so on and so forth. Try to imagine what a daunting task it is to learn how an operating system works when you can´t see the screen! Some people like a simpler approach and don´t really need all the options that come with the large operating systems. Here´s where the proprietary solution comes in: Dolphin Guide.
To summarize, the program includes magnification and screen reading and has many services built in from the get go. For example an email application, an OCR scanning option and a simple web browser to name but a few. The current version does not support Braille, but hopefully that is something which will be available in future versions of the product. Dolphin Guide is not a new solution, it´s been around for some time and is currently at version 7. My goal is not to clarify every aspect of Dolphin Guide, if you want further information on Guide it´s best to check out the manufacturer’s homepage at the following link: http://yourdolphin.co.uk/productdetail.asp?id=30
My experience is that Dolphin Guide can be a very good option for partially sighted or blind people who just want a simple, easy to learn, program that provides them with access to a computer. Have you tried it?
When you begin using a new piece of software, there are a lot of things to learn. Some new concepts perhaps, certainly some new hotkeys and maybe a whole new work method. But when are you ready to start training with a group? I was wondering what other AT trainers think in that regard.
When you use a screen reader you have to pay attention to what it´s saying, of course, but you also have to listen to what the trainer is talking about. For a beginner, this can be a tough task. Now, without going into the training itself, what about group training in that regard. Why? Well, in Scandinavia it is not uncommon that people are placed in group training pretty early. For example, it´s not untypical that you get prescribed your screen reader and synthesizer, the software is installed and you are then booked for group training on how to use your prescribed software.
This order of doing things is what I don´t agree with. I feel that if you have little or no experience with using a screen reader, then you should first receive a few training sessions alone with the trainer, just to get the basics down. What I´m afraid of is that if you go direct into group training you simply will not be able ask the questions you need or get the opportunity to work at the pace that best suits you. It sort of goes without saying that when working with others, you have to accept that the work pace probably will not be at optimal speed for everyone there. Now, if we had unlimited time for everyone this perhaps wouldn´t be such a big problem. You could then decide to partake in the course again, if need be. But sadly this is not the case. Time is limited and most users would gladly like to have more training on their prescribed software. Why then is this accepted as OK? Why is it OK that people are placed in group training to soon, sometimes immediately, to learn how to use their assistive technology?
This brings me to a previous post I wrote about how we can improve AT training
It would be interesting to hear what people think about this.
Trainers are not all alike; they have different approaches to their work, different ideas on how to work with the material and of course different backgrounds. I´m sure that most of them could argue for their approach to the work, there are of course different schools of thought. But no matter where you´re coming from, what you are working on – the following is always a good idea.
Explain the whole process to the user before you start.
The user is there to enhance his skill set, sure, but when the trainer starts talking about hotkeys and so on – it can be quite easy for the user to get a little distracted. Most of the time I use the following approach when planning training sessions and it has served me and the persons I train quite well through the years.
- Start of by going through what you will be working on. For example, let´s say you are working today on how to save a text document in a specific folder.
- Explain what the procedure will be, starting with the programs being used, which folder is being used and so on.
- Next explain if there are any specific functions in the AT that are called upon.
- How many times you will go through the process.
- And finally, that at the end of the session you will discuss how the user can train this on his own afterwards and what training material he can rely upon.
By creating this structure and following it you make sure that you cover everything and the user instantly recognizes that there is indeed a structure to the work you are doing. Of course, depending upon how quickly the user picks up the methods, you might add or remove some issues in the session. For example, the user might need more time on some part of the process, and of course one needs to accommodate for that. How you explain things, whilst in the actual process, is another matter.
Here I´m simply focusing on the structure. No matter what I´m working on with my users, I stick to this simple and easy to follow structure. It may seem to some like a: „Well of course! “type of thing. But to many times I´ve witnessed that AT trainers do not come prepared and thereby the user does not receive the benefit of a well-structured training session.
If you use Assistive Technology (A.T.), it would be interesting to hear how you’re A.T. trainer handled the training you received and what materials were used. The reason being that it is quite varied how users describe their trainers and the level of training they received. I not only mean if the trainer was knowledgeable about the material, although this is not always the case, but how was the training explained with regards to goals and homework, for example.
In the school system we follow a curriculum, i.e. there are specific standards set that the schools, and therefore teachers, have to follow. Students are expected to be taught specific material in accordance with their progression, i.e. how far they have come in their studies.
I´ve been teaching blind and low vision individuals how to use A.T. for a number of years now and I can´t help but think: Why are we, A.T. trainers, not expected to work similarly?
Granted, it wouldn´t be practical to simply copy the curriculum method. People start using A.T. at different times in their life. Though some start using screen readers and magnification software at an early age, others begin to use such solutions later in life. But, I feel that the principal still applies. If we create some guidelines on what to teach, how to teach it and when, we are thereby making sure that the necessary material is covered. And no, I don´t just mean the basics of the A.T. you´re working with, but also the basics of the operating system, file system and computer you´re working with, hence, necessary material. Raise your hand if you´ve ever heard the phrase: “Yes I saved my file, it´s saved in Microsoft Word….. What do you mean: Where? I told you, it´s saved in Microsoft Word.”
Some might argue that there is a specific curriculum that is being followed. It would be excellent if I´m corrected here, nothing would please me more! But this is not done in Scandinavia, as far as I know.
It´s important that we differentiate between the guidelines that the respective workplace set´s and national guidelines. If there are no prerequisites set by the government, then there are no actual standards, at least none that can be quantified on a national level.
Why is this important? It´s because you should be able to receive the same level of training from every government funded training center, no matter where you live and no matter which training center you go to. If this was regulated, on a national level, I feel confident that the level of training would be improved as well as the training material. Scandinavia, roughly speaking, is pretty well of – so this should not pose as a big problem. But for anything to happen, we have to draw attention to the matter. We have to speak out about the training that is being received, what can be improved, what is working, what´s missing. And, as I said, if the Ministry of Education in the respective country set´s the standards – then we have something measurable to work with and the users know exactly what they should expect from their assistive technology trainer.
Granted, in other parts of the world not everyone has the option of going to a government funded training center; therefore it would perhaps be a bit more problematic to apply these rules. Or would it?