Wednesday, March 4, 2009

An Open Letter To The Carroll Center For The Blind

ACB Radio this week is airing ACB Reports featuring a panel discussion on Distance Learning. Carrolltech is described, and Brian makes it sound so valuable. I particularly noticed how he wants to reach out to a wider group of blind users.
I've heard so many wonderful things about the instruction and have really wanted to take a class. However, when I go to the website, it looks like nothing has changed in three years. There is no mention for example of Office 2007. I, like many users am eager to take intermediate and advanced training in Word and Excel especially -- something that goes beyond the Basics offered with the JAWS Daisy training for Office.
For example, yesterday, I spent an hour trying to close the styles pane in Word 2007. Finally, I discovered I needed to press F6 to move between panes, then use CTRL-spacebar to call up the system menu for the pane that had focus and choose Close. A solid intermediate training could have saved me hours of exploration. It's fun to fool with new software, but frustrating when you need to get your work done! I'm eager to sign up for courses that make me more efficient!
carroltech's online newsletters stop at August 2005. The calendar of events is empty. The instructor-lead trainings cattegory is empty. The same training on accessing a library database from four years ago is still offered with no change.
Yet the site assures me that "Not a month goes by that a member of the Carroll Center Computer Training Services Department doesn't make a presentation...."
What gives! You are promoting Carroll tech heavily but not advertising anything new! Your main Carroll Center blog is filled with news about other vendors gizmos, devices that are often pricey and only for blind or visually impaired users. I think it's better to promote tools like Office that are used by both blind and sighted people. The more we promote "special" devices, the more we send the message that we have our own "special" tools and therefore don't require mainstreaming. If you really want universities to get serious about making distance learning accessible, avoid sending the message that vendors are fashioning so much special-purpose technology for us that we can cope even if the rest of the world ignores our need for access! If you really wish to reach a larger number of users, don't limit yourself to those who can afford a Braille notetaker that costs twice as much as my property taxes!
I'd like to see a blog entry about new and exciting courses offered at Carrolltech. How about a training with NVDA and FireFox -- both tools are free and closer to the mainstream than using some over-priced mobile manager for the blind! How about a seminar on choosing wisely from the proliferation of cheap netbooks now available. This would have more value than a seminar on using the latest blindness gadget!
How about training on how to evaluate whether call center software is accessible? So many blind people apply to work in telephone customer service, and need to quickly evaluate if they will be able to use the software or what to do if they cannot.
What about a seminar on developing and maintaining web pages using software -- which choices are accessible, and is Word a good solution for web page creation? How about a class on using Excel to maintain personal databases, replacing the old paper roladexes we used to depend on. (Excel training tends to walk through the menus, rather than think about the real-world tasks we users want to accomplish. Web design training for the blind gets bogged down in all the elements of HTML rather than discussing how to select software that will create HTML for you.)
How about some advanced training on efficiently navigating unfamiliar websites with screen access, getting through tons of email quickly or how in general to master a new application with a minimum of wasted time! How about a panel discussion with blind people who got themselves promoted at work and how they conquered challenges and overcame prejudices. How about guidelines for selecting virus and malware removal software -- what works with screen access and what does not? How about a seminar on finding websites that will help consumers solve their own PC problems. How about training on the new VoiceOver, running on the $700 Mac mini? How about Linux -- isn't one of your web developers also an Orca developer? There are ever so many practical mainstream oriented topics you could blog about and/or train us on! So think out of the box, why don't you!
It's tempting to do blogs and seminars repeating the commercial hype, but Freedom Scientific, GWMicro, Dolphin, Humanware, Sendero and Serotekk are already promoting their products fine; do they really need help from your center?
Many of us blind professionals can easily afford $100 for training, so I wish you'd spend more time selling us your own stuff rather than promoting products designed by companies who already have a PR department. As a non-proffit, I'd like to see your mission become more enabling than simply commercializing these over-touted expensive items!