My colleague, Adrienne Shoemaker and I completed a presentation at the NEAER Conference in New Hampshire this past November titled Tech Skills for the College Bound Student. Our presentation was inspired by the article A Second Look at What High School Students Who Are Blind Should Know About Technology. Since we both have high school braille students on our caseloads, the article was of particular interest. Our students have goals of going to college after graduating from high school and we wanted to make sure that we as teachers knew the recommended skills our high school students should have. We also wanted to make sure that the students themselves were aware of what skills they needed to work towards obtaining.
In preparation for the presentation, we interviewed high school students, college students, and graduates who are blind. Interviewees answered open ended questions as well as verbally rated a list of essential technology skills and tools that we compiled based on the research article. The following ratings were used for the survey: absolutely necessary, somewhat necessary, or not necessary.
Absolutely Necessary: Adults and Students
The following skills and tools were reported to be absolutely necessary by both adult and students.
- Braille reading
- Cloud based storage
- Dictionary and encyclopedia (online or built into programs)
- Downloading and storing ebooks in multiple formats
- Keyboarding (touch typing 50 wpm)
- Keystroke commands for both desktop and laptop computers, as well as Apple and Windows operating systems
- Maintenance of tech (installing updates, etc.)
- OCR technology and supporting applications
- Internet browser and search engines (skill with multiple essential)
- Screen reading program (skill with multiple programs is necessary)
- Smart phones and built-in accessibility features
Absolutely Necessary: Adults Only
Adult and student answers also differed. Adults only reported the following were absolutely necessary:
- Third party software setup and customization
- Troubleshooting of technology
- Voice-activated personal assistants (Cortana, Siri)
- Voice calling applications (FaceTime, Skype, Zoom)
- Refreshable braille display connected to a computer and monitor, as well as tablet or smartphone
Absolutely Necessary: Students Only
Students only reported the following were absolutely necessary:
- Google based products (Chrome, Chromebooks, Drive, Home)
- Social and professional networking online platforms (FB, Linkedin)
- Microsoft programs (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
After reading this article, I shared it with my high school student. We discussed the article and identified what technology skills she felt would be important for to be successful now, in college and in the future. She then proceeded to draft her technology IEP goals with me. This is a practical example of how research can have a positive impact on a student.
Given a computer, laptop, and/or touch screen device, and a refreshable braille display, Student A will use multiple operating systems and screen reading software to access digital materials and complete grade level assignments with no more than one prompt per assignment 8 out 10 opportunities per semester as measured by observation and data collection by June 2019.
Example Goal 1
The student created objectives that focused on the following:
- Connecting a braille notetaker or refreshable braille display to a computer, laptop or touch screen device across operating systems
- Configuring each technology tool and screen reading program prior to using it
- Using at least three different screen readers to access digital materials
- Accessing the help menu or search/help feature to troubleshoot or identify keyboard shortcuts across multiple programs
- Using multiple types of word processing software, spread sheet programs, presentation software across operating systems.
Her second goal focused on exploring new technology. Below is the goal we wrote:
Example Goal 2
Given a variety of mainstream or assistive technology tools, Student A will explore using each tool and provide feedback about the effectiveness of the tool to complete a specific task or assignment 4 out of 5 opportunities within one semester as measured by teacher data collection by June 2020.
Her objectives including exploring planner or calendar applications, citation and bibliography websites or apps to correctly cite resources, OCR software or apps to make print materials accessible, and software to access digital tables, charts, and graphics using auditory information.
When adults were asked “What advice or support would you share with students with visual impairment who are preparing to pursue a college education?” most responses included the importance of developing self-advocacy skills. Below were the responses:
- Advocate for yourself
- You need good communication skills to educate others. Know what you need and learn how to explain to others why it is important and how they can obtain it for you. Speak the truth.
- Be firm, but diplomatic. You want others to trust and respect you. Be flexible.
- Have a plan and a backup when you experience technical problems. Develop problem solving skills to address these tech problems before consulting with others or tech support.
- It is important to work well with other people because most of things we do in society and at work involve teamwork.
- Make sure your skills are always improving
- Use online resources
- Visit schools and DSO and make sure they have a good disability services office. Reach out to the DSO as early as possible.
- Keep up to date with all technology, especially things that are free.
- Learn to make documents accessible
- Develop competencies in multiple technologies to be as versatile as possible. (i.e. different operating systems or screen readers) because different jobs and schools use different systems.
- In high school, make it your mission to make an app or software accessible that isn’t.
- Ask for help when needed. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance or speak up.
- Get involved on campus
- Connect/Network with other people with who are blind or visually impaired to obtain support and advice
- Learn time management skills. You need to know how long it will take you to complete a task so you can plan accordingly.
Our biggest takeaways from completing this presentation were the importance of connecting with adults who are blind and visually impaired, keeping current with technology skills, and empowering students to explore and learn about new technology.