[bct] Re: Frustrations with how AT is taught

  • From: "Jake Joehl" <jajoehl@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <blindcooltech@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 24 Mar 2006 19:02:32 -0600

One thing I've also noticed as a totally blind person, is that many AT instructors seem to forego the on-screen activity, hence the blind user is not aware of this. I for one have never learned what the screen actually looks like in JAWS to the sighted user. My roommate has some remaining vision and uses JAWS, and he has often attempted to ask me what the screen should look like in various situations. I can't tell him simply because I have never learned that.
----- Original Message ----- From: "Stephen Clower" <steve@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
To: "BlindTech of BlindTechs.Net" <blindcooltech@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Friday, 24 March, 2006 6:42 PM
Subject: [bct] Re: Frustrations with how AT is taught

I am a very adept computer user, and there are certainly many cases
where one can easily translate the click-and-drag terminology to the
keyboard, depending on the application in use. I have used DOS,
Windows, and LINUX for many years, and I have absolutely no qualms
with using the mouse if need be; it's a simple fact of graphical life
that one must know how to use it. I used ICQ, Java IRC chat programs,
and some very unusual messaging and mail clients back in the mid 90's
with Window-Eyes 2.1 in Windows 95, and I found them all usable since
WE gave me full control over the mouse cursor. The problem is not in
using the mouse, it's in purposeful omission of information to appease
the nontechnical people out there who think that anything beyond a
click of the mouse should be left to people with IT degrees.

Here is an example from the Access book I discussed in my last
message. One feature that the text describes is how to create a
relationship between two Access tables. The *only* method it described involved dragging one
field over to another to link the two. Through much searching of the
relationships portion of Access, I found that one could accomplish the
same task in the "Edit Relationships" dialog. What is frustrating is
that this much more efficient means of managing relationships amongst
various database tables was never mentioned in the text. It is not
found in the appendicies, the index, or in any footnotes. Prior to this
term, I have never used Access, so I am quite frustrated that such
useful tools are not mentioned simply because one cannot click and drag
to use them. On top of keeping up with my sighted peers, I must spend
hours researching alternative means of accomplishing some tasks simply
because the authors of the book, which I paid over $200 for, decided to
leave such information out.

On Friday, March 24, 2006, 6:27:23 PM, you stood on a roof and loudly proclaimed:

this is why I dislike the assistive technology of windows, view of
how to teach the blind on using a computer system.

the blind are taught so much to rely on keyboard based tasks, and not
teaching them the "CONCEPT" of mouse equivalents to where a blind
person does feel lost and frustrated when told to click, this or
click, that.

in the mac world, where I primaryly do my work at home and for my
business, I and other blind mac users know exactly what clicking is,
and dragging is, because these are the concepts used off the bat and
how we can mostly easily communicate with our sighted counter parts
with so much ease.

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On Mar 24, 2006, at 4:09 PM, Stephen Clower wrote:

Hello Debee,

            I thought this post gave a very unique perspective of
            learning assistive technology from an instructional point
            of view. On a similar thread, I am curious to know how
            mainstream software is taught where you work? I
            myself am in my third year at the University of North
            Texas, and I am constantly frustrated with how
            applications are taught here. If you don't mind, I'd
like to
            give a few examples of what I've previously dealt with.

            About two years ago when I was pursuing a degree in
            computer science, I took an introduction to digital logic
            systems as part of the core requirements for the program.
            The textbook, understandably, relied heavily on figures
            and diagrams to explain concepts such as the seven
types of
            gates, Karnaugh mapping techniques, synchronous versus
            asynchronous counting systems, and so on. From the outset,
            I expected this course to be challenging given the visual
            nature of the material. However, when I entered the
            laboratory, I discovered to my great dismay that the lab
            assignments gave instructions such as, "copy the figure on
            page 57 into the Altera graphical tool, and run a
            simulation with the following parameters." Not only was
            this software barely usable by a blind student, but I had
            to learn a variant of VHDL, a circuit programming
            language, to attempt to match the verbal description given
            to me by the lab instructor with the figures displayed in
            the book. Near the end of the term, I went about three
            days with no sleep trying to complete assignments which
            took my peers a few hours at most to finish.

Because I knew that even more inaccessible applications were used by
the next courses, I opted to switch my major to business information
systems in hopes that I would be more likely to find employment, and I
would save my sanity and a good deal of time in one fell swoop.
Luckily, I had only been in the CS department for a few semesters, so
I didn't lose too much ground when I switched to the business

Unfortunately, I was just as dismayed when I began classes with the
new degree plan last Spring. Although the applications being used at
the time (Excel and Powerpoint specifically) are usable by a blind
person, the methods taught by the textbook never described how to
accomplish tasks through the keyboard. In a class I am taking
presently, we are using Access 2003 which I hope to God I never have
to see again. As I am sure some of you know, Access is quite
accessible in some areas like the table design and datasheet views,
but utter rubbish in the form and report views. Although I didn't find
it terribly difficult, I was also forced to research SQL to type up
queries for some assignments, because the textbook always showed the
click-and-drag method. We are about to start using Project, though I
have no idea if this is yet usable with assistive technology. I
suppose I'll find out soon enough.

On top of the software issues just discussed, it has been my
experience that scanning these types of textbooks yields very iffy
results. Those which deal mostly in text usually scan well, but others
like the Access and Powerpoint books, along with others including a
management accounting book, came out so garbled that I believe i would
have been better off leaving them alone. Add to the resulting text the
confusing "click this to do that" kind of instruction, and I think
you'll understand my frustrations. Because I've been fending for
myself during my years at the university, I'm honestly surprised a
blind student was able to sue a university for not providing
accessible materials and winning. Maybe I've just been brought up to
not ask for help unless I really need it, but I really think that if
you're a blind student, you should just get a scanner and read your
books yourself instead of constantly relying on others to do it for
you. As required by law, we do have an
office for disability accomodations, but due to the financial aid
constraints, I am unable to purchase my books until classes start to
have the office scan and proof them in time for me to use them.

I apologize if this message sounds bitter, but I have become
increasingly frustrated with what almost seems a blatent disregard for
those who rely on AT to get work done. Though your community college
sounds like it could stand some improvements, I am glad to know that
somewhere, somebody is at least making an effort to bridge the gap
between the full and partially sighted alike. Also, is there any
special method you use to scan textbooks? Currently, I scan the book
one page at a time with Kurzweil, and after about twenty hours the
book is finished, and I have very stiff joints in my right hand for
the next week or so. I look forward to your response.

On Friday, March 24, 2006, 4:07:48 PM, you stood on a roof and loudly proclaimed:

I just had a very frustrating experience I thought I'd share. I'm
what you others think.

I work at a community college where I'm in charge of alternate
media. Our
Access technology specialist, (I'll call it AT for short) is a
sighted guy
and he's part-time. He is a speech pathologist with a ton of
teaching dragon. He really doesn't know JAWS all that well, but he
is smart,
concerned about making the campus accessible and seeing that
courses are
truly inclusive. I hesitate to criticize such a caring guy, but he
teach JAWS with a keystroke cheat sheet at his side. And I'm sure he
couldn't use the computer with his screen turned off.

I think this guy's one downfall is that he is typical faculty; he
teaches a
few classes and just isn't here full-time.

We are always trying to encourage our print-impaired students to
use the
computer more, and we try to wean them away from depending on
their mom
reading aloud, or using large print or whatever. We want them to be
conversant with Microsoft Word for preparing their papers, and
with Kurzweil
or similarly appropriate AT for reading their books.

We have a new blind student, I'll call him John Doe,  who recently
taking tests on the computer using JAWS and word. John has been
out his tests and I've been transcribing them in to print. But we
all want
to see John become more independent.

Today, our AT guy got  John all set up, but   he couldn't stay
because he
only gets paid for an hour or two on Fridays.

John spent four hours taking his test and then he printed it.
Unfortunately, he printed 200 pages of gibberish. There was nobody
to help him. I work several buildings away from the computer lab, I'm
encouraged to focus on my learning disabled students, and the guy
who is
supposedly in charge of the lab is never there because he isn't
paid to be

So John is a beginner. He's been taught how to type in Word, how
to use a
few simple JAWS commands and how to print. He hasn't been taught
how to
save. He doesn't know what saving is. So he simply waits until his
period is over,  gets escorted back to the disability services
office and
tells his story there. John also has a physical disability so he
needs help
getting from one building to another. But in no way is he mentally
he's just very new to computers.

At this point I am called. Even though they don't want me doing
job, they want me to fix computer issues when everyone is in a
panic and
nobody  knows what to do. I get there, and John has very carefully
out of Word the way he was taught and his four hours of work are
lost. They
were never saved.

This happens all the time because our AT guy teaches keystrokes
and not
concepts. He shows people how to read the previous word, but not
how to
cope when things go wrong.

I've noticed in general that AT people tend to get hung up
teaching what to
me seems very silly; students will learn how to bold and center,
but they
won't know what to do when they need to copy a file off a CD on to
a flash
drive. Even when people are taught how to save, they frequently
have no
concept of file management. I'm forever bailing out people who
saved a file
in the wrong folder and now they cannot locate it.  Just a few
days ago, my
boss, an able-bodied social worker type was in a huge panic
because she
thought she'd lost her power-point presentation for some important
I have JAWS on her computer because I'm always rescuing her, and
this time
she'd put it in "My Pictures" instead of on her desktop. Someone else
recommended she save to her desktop so she could find things. I'd
like to
sit her down and teach her how and where to properly save, but she
sit still long enough.
She knows all sorts of fancy tricks in Power Point, but she panics
so much
that even the simplest file management tasks seem to thoroughly
flummox her.

But even more than able-bodied, the print impaired, in my opinion,
need a
firm foundation in how to think. Multiple-choice tests and
memorizing steps
to perform a procedure do them no favors.  In our AT lab, the
command to
read the title bar in JAWS is not taught , because it isn't
necessary to
complete the assignments. But that means when the focus goes
south, the JAWS
users have no skills for coping.

My biggest beef with AT, which is a micro-example of how all computer
courses are taught here is that people are taught rote methods for
accomplishing tasks.   They can create a formula in Excel but they
troubleshoot a printing problem.  They can use JAWS to spell the
word, but they can't restart it when it crashes. They are taught
programs are located on computers in our lab but not how to poke
around an
unfamiliar computer to find stuff. They know how to change fonts
but not
how to insert a paragraph from a document in a different directory.

It seems a crime to me to teach computer stuff using a paint-by-
Sometimes I work with a new blind student, especially when I have
to rescue
him from something that happened while I was off doing my real
job, and I'm
always amazed at just how much hand-holding these people need. Are my
standards too high, or are we just doing a really lousy job of
teaching AT
these days?


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