[bct] Re: Frustrations with how AT is taught

  • From: Stephen Clower <steve@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Debee Norling <blindcooltech@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 24 Mar 2006 17:09:17 -0600

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 

> I just had a very frustrating experience I thought I'd share. I'm curious
> 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 experience
> 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 does
> 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 started
> taking tests on the computer using JAWS and word. John has been brailling
> 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 available
> 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
> there.

> 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 test
> 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 impaired;
> he's just very new to computers.

> At this point I am called. Even though they don't want me doing faculty's
> 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 closed
> 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 meeting.
> 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 wouldn't
> 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 can't
> troubleshoot a printing problem.  They can use JAWS to spell the current
> word, but they can't restart it when it crashes. They are taught where
> 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-numbers
> method.
> 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?

> --Debee

Stephen Clower
Email/.Net Messenger: steve@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
AIM: AudioRabbit03
Yahoo: sclower2003
Skype: sclower

Check out my little home on the web at http://www.steve-audio.net

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