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Certification and Training Opportunities for Access Technologists in Higher Education: A Survey of Resources

ATHEN E-Journal Issue #4 (2009)

Darren Gabbert, B.S. Computer Science
Grants & Contracts Administrator
Adaptive Computing Technology Center
Division of Information Technology
University of Missouri-Columbia

Abstract

This article surveys available certification and training opportunities for access technologists in higher education. In addition to a sampling of academic programs, continuing education opportunities from AHEAD, AHG, ATI, CSUN, EASI, RESNA and WebAIM are listed and discussed in terms of their relevance to processes and methodologies unique to our profession. Training resources for three computing products that have dominated our field for the past two decades are also surveyed.

It is concluded that academic programs offering assistive technology degrees, certificates or concentration do not focus on the AT practitioner in higher education, leaving many skills unique to our field completely untouched. It is also recognized that only a limited number of continuing education resources surveyed actually carry an emphasis on technology in higher education; many are presented within the context of other disciplines

Introduction

“When I grow up I want to be an access technologist!” Sound kind of unusual? You might be hearing it more often. The field of assistive technology (AT) is not so new anymore and our profession within the higher education environment is becoming more established as an instrumental part of success for students with disabilities. When my children were very young they would ask, “Daddy, what do you do at your job?” It was very enjoyable and satisfying to take them to the lab and show them how a computer can speak to people who are blind, and how a single switch could be used to type letters on the screen. My children grew up wondering why everyone didn’t use speech recognition, though. It was not so long ago, however, my now young adult son asked me, “how did you learn to do what you do?” “College?” he added. “No, not exactly” I mused. The only accurate answer I could give was, “On the fly, son. On the fly!”

I imagine most of my readers gained the lion’s share of their knowledge and technology skills on the job and on the fly. Some have had disability related academic backgrounds which have given them a good understanding of the conditions and issues faced by persons with disabilities. Some come from the Computer Science and Engineering side of Academic Avenue which gives them understanding and a considerable comfort level with the technology. There are many, though, that come from varied academic and employment backgrounds bringing experience and personal insights that offer unique advantages. I have worked in this profession for nearly 20 years and I still find my knowledge and skills to be somewhat like Swiss cheese, solid in some areas and gaping holes in others. This article offers a survey of training resources and certification opportunities for us, as access technologists working in higher education. We work in a demanding and ever changing field which often asks us to stretch beyond our comfort levels. “On the fly” is often effective, but rarely efficient. Identifying and participating in proactive training is an investment that needs to be made and made wisely.

Who Are We?

Who is an access technologist in higher education? This question must be answered to some degree to properly assess the value that certain training opportunities will have for us. We come from diverse academic backgrounds and no two jobs among us are exactly alike. However, the commonality of our positions is significant and adds unique requirements to our training needs. First, we have a “collaborative” relationship with persons with disabilities. We are not teachers. We are not academic advisers. We are not therapists. We are not vendors. We are problem solvers and coaches who work jointly with the user to maximize their technology access and productivity.

What kinds of solutions are being sought? Technology related solutions are the specialty of our profession. Technology is increasingly viewed as a means to improve both access and productivity of persons with disabilities (Parette & Peterson-Karlan, 2007). A good working definition of assistive technology for educational professionals refers to AT as “a tool that allows a person to do a task they could not do without the tool at the expected performance level” (Parette, Peterson-Karlan, Wojcik, & Bardi, 2007). Our jobs focus on putting all technology to work in exactly this sense, focusing on the areas of information technology (IT) access, adaptive computing accommodations, web accessibility, multimedia accessibility, alternate format production, etc. Another point of commonality is that these technology-related solutions take place within a postsecondary environment. Unlike the K-12 system, higher education offers more freedoms, and places more responsibility on the student seeking services. Additionally, the resources available and clear legal mandates to provide holistic access are uniquely different from secondary education, as well as employment environments. Thus, to choose wisely, we must consider what training opportunities exist that will behoove our efforts to collaboratively support persons with disabilities in finding technology solutions to succeed in the higher education environment.

Who we are is also a factor of where we are in the stages of our career. For example, Nancy Newbie, a disability services coordinator who just got word that her responsibilities will now include assistive technology, will be seeking different training opportunities than Guru Sue, a longtime access technologist who is looking to improve her ability to solve the unsolvable problems. Nancy needs to become familiar with the scope of the AT industry and to understand what "access" means in terms of information technology and the WWW. Guru Sue, on the other hand, is quite familiar with AT service delivery and is experienced in making complex technology accommodations work. She is looking for in-depth training on specific topics and/or technologies. And, we must not forget about IT McGee. McGee is our typical IT professional who recently has had accessibility tacked onto his job description. He needs to become familiar with the basics, as well as have training on making AT work within a campus network infrastructure. Nancy, Sue and McGee will all see certification programs and training opportunities differently. Each will get the most benefit from the programs that offer them the knowledge and skills they need at the current stage of their careers. To choose wisely, we must know who we are and where we are as access technologists.

What Do We Do?

Choosing the most beneficial training opportunity is pragmatically a function of what we do as an access technologist. Guru Sue (mentioned above) is quite comfortable sitting among disability service providers because she is familiar with many aspects of their job. Promoting awareness, providing advocacy, influencing legislation and institutional policy are all a part of Sue’s responsibilities as each relates to information technology. She can likewise interact freely within IT McGee’s world because she is accustomed to troubleshooting technology problems and researching compatibility issues. Sue and McGee both must ensure electronic information access related to computers, kiosks, phones, and digitized library resources. Over her years of experience, Guru Sue has made many friends (and a few enemies) among web designers as she has promoted website accessibility. Sue has learned to smile around faculty as she knows that classroom accommodations must be negotiated before implementation. In addition to any or all of these duties, the access technologist is responsible for conducting functional needs assessments with students with disabilities, recommending adaptive technology acquisition, providing individualized support and training, managing the alternate format production of textbooks and other print materials, addressing multimedia accessibility, etc.

In addition to targeting the processes and methodologies of what we do, there are also technology-specific training opportunities we can benefit from. Finding advanced training on technologies such as speech recognition can significantly support someone like Nancy Newbie who is developing her career in the direction of Guru Sue. IT McGee and/or graduate student employees providing technical support can significantly accelerate the learning curve on technologies such as screen readers by having structured training opportunities on advanced features such as scripting. There are numerous technologies unique to our field and many resources available for self-directed learning, but structured, just-in-time training can significantly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of what we do as access technologists.

Training Opportunities

The field of assistive technology affords substantial pre- and post-service training opportunities in a general sense. A sampling of these opportunities is surveyed in the following pages and has been divided into four categories: 1) Academic Programs; 2) Continuing Education; 3) Technology Specific; and 4) Unique Training Resources. This paper does not offer an exhaustive list of programs within each category, but rather a sampling of resources which is hoped to reveal the nature and scope of available certification and training opportunities relevant to access technologists working in the higher education environment. This sampling, with few exceptions, is taken from resources within the United States. There are numerous international assistive technology resources that do exist, but time did not permit a thorough survey of such training opportunities relevant to our field.

Academic Programs

We come from many different academic backgrounds and have learned much of what we do while on the job. However, there are educational programs which offer theory and practice in assistive technology leading to baccalaureate degrees, master’s degrees, and graduate certificates. Would such programs prepare Nancy Newbie to hit the ground running as an access technologist in higher education? Probably not, but a carefully selected program could help her enter the field at a brisk walk.

In 1998, James Lenker conducted an excellent survey listing 20 programs that included courses and/or clinical experiences aimed at preparing service providers for practice in the areas of assistive technology and rehabilitation engineering. Programs were included that contained three or more courses in these content areas or at least two courses plus fieldwork (Lenker, 1998). Ninety percent of the programs were at the Master’s or graduate certificate levels, making them valuable opportunities for both Nancy Newbie and Guru Sue to advance undergraduate studies. Ten of the 20 programs remain active today and still meet Lenker’s criteria for inclusion. These and four programs developed since Lenker’s study are listed in Table 1 below.

Table 1: List of institutions offering academic programs in assistive technology and/or rehabilitation engineering. Host department, degree outcome, and online availability of distance learning is noted for each program. Degree outcomes are hyperlinked to program websites.

Program

Host Department

Degree Outcome

Online

CSU Dominguez Hills

Education

Graduate Certificate in AT

Yes

San Diego State University

Rehabilitation Counseling

Graduate Certificate in Rehabilitation Technology

 

Catholic University of America

Biomedical Engineering

Master’s / Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Engineering

 

Illinois Institute of Technology

Psychology

Graduate Certificate in AT

Yes

Johns Hopkins

Education

Graduate Certificate in AT

 

Louisiana Tech University

Biomedical Engineering

Graduate Certificate in AT

Yes

University at Buffalo

Rehabilitation Science

Graduate Certificate in Assistive and Rehabilitation Technology

 

University of Illinois, Chicago IDHD

Disability and Human Development

Graduate Certificate in AT

 

University of Kentucky

Special Ed. & Rehab. Counseling

Master’s / Ph.D. with Assistive Technology focus

 

University of Pittsburgh

Rehabilitation Sciences & Technology

MS in Health & Rehab. Sciences with concentration in Rehab. Science & Tech.

 

George Mason University

Education

M.Ed. Curriculum & Instruction with concentration in AT

 

East Carolina University

Curriculum & Instruction and Occupational Therapy

Graduate Certificate in AT

Partial

Northern Arizona University

Institute for Human Development

Graduate Certificate in AT

 

New Jersey City University

Educational Technology

Graduate Certificate in AT

 

King's College London

Biomedical & Health Sciences

PgC, PgD & MSc in Assistive Technology

 

The aspiring access technologist working in the higher education environment is not going to be a perfect fit within any of these programs. Special Education, Occupational Therapy, and Biomedical Engineering dominate the field of choices of assistive technology related degrees. But, any of these programs could give someone a solid springboard to pursue our profession, but a few are significantly better fits and offer more freedom to tailor the program.

Continuing Education

Professional education offers many benefits for establishing and solidifying a foundation of knowledge, but continuing education and training opportunities must be sought out to keep current with the rapidly changing nature of technology. There are many areas of training that we are looking for that are left completely untouched by these generalist programs. Many of the topics mentioned in the What Do We Do section above can only be met by workshops and short courses offered through national assistive technology organizations and conferences. Some of these training opportunities are specifically designed around our profession and conducted by members of the Access Technologists in Higher Education Network (ATHEN). Training opportunities listed below are discussed in terms of their relevance to the processes and methodologies unique to our profession. This is not an exhaustive list, but it offers a substantial sampling of resources which include at least some aspects of assistive technology within postsecondary education.

AHEAD

The Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) is a professional membership organization for persons providing disability services in higher education. AHEAD endeavors to provide quality training opportunities to higher education personnel through its own conferences and workshops. Technology has increasingly become a prominent training topic within this profession. A clear response to the need can be seen in the AHEAD conference offerings which included a two-day institutes on e-text production plus sessions on topics ranging from authoring accessible PDF documents to comparing software applications that support persons with learning disabilities. AHEAD’s institute on e-text production focuses on best practices in creating electronic text from print materials. Content is drawn from production models of various programs throughout the country. In addition to its modest but solid technology strand, the AHEAD conference offers an opportunity to better understand the general disability services community.

AHG

The Accessing Higher Ground (AHG) conference sponsored by the Disability Services office at the University of Colorado at Boulder is the official conference of ATHEN. This conference focuses on web, media, and information technology access in the academic and business environments. Sessions and pre-conference workshops offer a large selection of learning opportunities with content directly related to our profession. The 11th annual AHG conference, held November 11-14, 2008, features tracks and special sessions by EASI on accessible course content and e-learning, a two-day institute by AHEAD on best practices in creating electronic text and working with publishers of academic materials, and preconference workshops, labs and lectures on web accessibility by WebAIM. Past conferences have hosted California State University-Northridge's FastTrax AT Applications Certificate Program (see the section on CSUN below), as well as special sessions by the National Braille Association on topics related to the Braille conversion of math and science materials. Each conference sees a strong ATHEN presentation track addressing topics on the most current issues facing our profession. While there are only a few exhibitors drawn to this conference, the relevant workshops, lectures, and networking opportunities make it a valuable professional development opportunity for Guru Sue, Nancy Newbie and IT McGee alike.

ATIA

The Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) is a non-profit organization of manufacturers, sellers and providers of assistive technology. ATIA aims to serve as the collective voice of assistive technology industry promoting the best products and services for persons with disabilities. ATIA plans to hold their 10th annual conference in January, 2009 offering more than 275 educational sessions with free CEUs, and over 125 assistive technology vendors participating. While the conference has a strong emphasis on the K-12 population, there are a significant number of sessions addressing higher education. The enormous representation of conference sessions and exhibits by assistive technology vendors makes this a prime learning opportunity for anyone in our field.

CSUN

For 23 years, California State University-Northridge (CSUN) has hosted the International Conference on Assistive Technology and Persons with Disabilities (CSUN Conference), and has provided a forum for showcasing technology and best practices in the assistive technology field. In 2008, the conference drew more than 4,500 people and offered more than 300 speaker sessions and 135 exhibits. Preconference workshops are offered on many relevant topics such as Overview of Assistive Technology, the Assistive Technology Assessment Process, Building Accessible Web Applications, Accessibility of Windows Vista for People Who Are Blind or Low Vision, and many more. The CSUN Conference attempts to address the breadth of the assistive technology field, offering workshops and sessions relevant to special education teachers, occupational and physical therapists, speech and language clinicians, and rehabilitation engineers, as well as access technologists in higher education. This is a valuable training opportunity which offers something for everyone. For Nancy Newbie to get the most training value out of attending the CSUN Conference, though, she would do well to follow Guru Sue’s advice on selecting sessions.

In 1996, CSUN developed the Assistive Technology Applications Certificate Program (ATACP) which focuses learning on the assessment process, funding and policy, assistive technology applications, and development of professional skills. This program offers a structured training experience that will give someone a solid understanding of various forms of assistive technology and the issues surrounding their application, but it will not provide focused learning on the core issues we face in higher education. The cost, time commitment, and educational return should be weighed carefully. The ATACP involves on-site and online training. The standard four-day training session offers 2.3 CEUs upon successful completion. A one or two-day Fastrax training requires additional online training hours and offers 1.5 CEUs upon successful completion. Cost associated with the ATACP is $1,775 for either the Standard or FastTrax training.

EASI

Equal Access to Software and Information (EASI) is a longstanding provider of online training on accessible information technology aimed specifically at higher education. Training opportunities are available as podcasts, webinars and online courses. Some webinars are offered at no cost and provide general information about current technology trends and accessibility issues. Others are fee-based costing $195 for a set of webinars which focus on building skills within a specific technology topic. EASI online courses contain more detail than webinars and are instructor led. Syllabi are available online which outline the specific topics and objectives making up the course. Most courses cost $350 with a 20% discount going to students, overseas participants and EASI annual webinar members (an annual membership fee offering access to all webinars). Online course topics include Barrier-Free Information Technology, Barrier-Free Web Design, Accessible Multimedia, Barrier-Free E-learning, Train the Trainer, as well as special topic courses which can be designed between the student and EASI staff. The Barrier-Free Information Technology course offers an excellent opportunity for Nancy Newbie and IT McGee to gain an overview of the accessibility obstacles that face institutions with regard to copiers, fax machines, computers, kiosks and phones which are used to access electronic information. Those who complete this course, Barrier- Free Web Design, and three elective courses can earn a “Certificate in Accessible Information Technology” provided jointly by EASI and the University of Southern Maine. This certificate includes 15 Continuing Education Units (CEUs). According to Chief Executive Officer Norman Coombs (personal communication, August 25, 2008), EASI maintains a distribution list of 2,952 persons who have registered for one or more courses. EASI webinars are likewise valued with their most well attended webinar being on Web 2.0 with 245 in attendance. EASI clearly fills a training niche in our field, and has demonstrated a solid capability to deliver distance education. Their greatest challenge moving forward will be to keep current with the changing technology and ever expanding issues that surround access technologists in higher education.

RESNA

The Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) is a professional organization which works to support persons with disabilities through the use of technology by promoting research, development, education and advocacy. RESNA was formed in 1979 and was informally structured around a network of federally funded Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERC’s) located at universities throughout the country. RESNA has a strong emphasis on technology research and development from a medical/rehabilitation perspective. While this does not directly relate to the more pragmatic parts of our profession, the RERC’s continue to provide excellent research and field initiated projects relevant to all areas of assistive technology. RESNA’s annual conference is highlighted by its RERC exhibits. Workshops and speaker sessions are offered within the following categories: Job and Environmental Accommodations, Computer Applications and Communication, Wheelchair Seating & Mobility, Outcomes & Quantitative Measurement, Public Policy & Education, and Technology for Cognitive and Sensory Impairments. The access technologist with research interest will find merit in the opportunities offered at this conference, but if Nancy or Sue are looking to gain knowledge and skills for alternate media production or to provide captioning for streaming video, RESNA is not the source. Separate from the conference, but often offered concurrently, is RESNA’s Fundamentals Course in Assistive Technology. This is a two-day course providing an overview of assistive technology from a rehabilitation perspective.

For the past 13 years, RESNA has offered assistive technology related certifications which recognize professionals who have met accepted standards of knowledge and who adhere to standards of practice administered by RESNA’s Professional Standards Board. RESNA announced in August that they would be consolidating their two certifications, one aimed at service providers and the other aimed at product suppliers, into a single AT certification designated as Assistive Technology Professional (ATP). According to Director of Certification, Anjali Weber (personal communication, September 16, 2008), RESNA’s new certification will cover the same content areas as before, but updates will be made based on recent job analysis to better reflect current practice (e.g. better representation of increased incidence of cognitive disabilities). The ATP exam is not meant to differentiate specialty knowledge in any area of AT practice, but rather to measure competency in general AT knowledge. RESNA also offers a Rehabilitation Engineering Technologist (RET) certification for AT service providers who apply engineering principles to research and/or development of assistive technologies.

In addition to the merits of postsecondary degrees and certificates, there is a growing expectation to have credentials certifying minimum levels of competency for practitioners of assistive technology. RESNA’s ATP certification has the industry recognition that many assistive technology professionals, including access technologists in higher education, have found to be a beneficial mark of professional development and expertise. While the credential does signify a base knowledge of the psychology, physiology and biomechanics of disability accommodations, only 25% of the exam is directly focused on product knowledge and AT integration. RESNA’s Professional Standards Board plans to make a specialty certification for wheelchair seating and mobility by July, 2009. This and future specialty certifications would carry significantly more value in terms of measuring knowledge and skills within specific fields of practice. ATP certification must be renewed annually by submitting documentation showing continued employment providing direct AT services and earning at least one CEU in the area of assistive technology. Cost associated with ATP certification includes $500 to take a one-time exam and $75 fee to process annual recertification.

WebAIM

Web Accessibility In Mind (WebAIM) is a non-profit organization within the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University. Since 1999, WebAIM has provided web accessibility solutions by creating instructional materials, developing software tools, and providing training to businesses, government, and K-12 and higher education. Among their instructional resources is a CD-ROM based collection of guidelines, examples, simulations, and videos covering the gamut of web accessibility issues. WebAIM also offers instructor led courses which are available on-site and at various national conferences. A two-day, hands-on web accessibility training recently offered at their facility in Logan, Utah taught everything from basic web accessibility principles to advanced accessibility techniques. For the Guru Sue or IT McGee charged with the responsibility of developing and promoting campus web accessibility, the $850 registration cost would likely be a worthy investment.

Technology Specific

The knowledge and skills gained from workshops and short courses mentioned above are only part of the educational value of attending national conferences. We are all quite familiar with the benefits of the interpersonal networking opportunities, as well as the exposure to new technologies at the numerous vendor exhibits. Time spent in the exhibit hall frequently offers larger returns than attending workshops, especially for Guru Sue who must carefully choose workshops that will offer her new information in light of her tenured experience. But where do we find technology specific training to delve deeper into the features and applications of products relevant to our field? Many computer technologies offer elaborate interactive tutorials, but these typically offer only an introduction to the capabilities of the products. Many vendor websites also make documentation available for download, and numerous third-party resources exist on the Internet and in print to support independent learning of advanced product features. While such materials are sufficient to advance skills and knowledge for many individuals, this survey will focus on structured training opportunities that can help someone like Nancy Newbie develop technology specific skills comparable to Guru Sue.

Below is a list of technology specific training opportunities associated with three computing products that have dominated our field for the past two decades. In addition to their pervasiveness, these technologies are highly customizable to both computing environments and user preferences. Making use of the full capacity of these technologies to maximize access and productivity requires an in-depth understanding of their functionality. Similar resources exist for other products through their manufacturers and/or regional dealers.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking

Dragon NaturallySpeaking, owned by Nuance and now releasing its latest version 10, is the industry leader in speech recognition. Speech recognition technology is instrumental in giving persons with severe mobility limitations access to computing technology. However, hands-free computing for such persons does not happen out-of-the-box. Customizing and configuring NaturallySpeaking in such a way to provide hands-free productivity of specific software applications within various working environments requires an extensive understanding of the product. Furthermore, speech recognition can be a substantial productivity enhancer for persons with learning disabilities. This again presents a need for understanding how to customize and utilize NaturallySpeaking in a different manner (i.e. combined keyboard and speech input).

While Nuance does offer extensive speech technology training for software developers, it offers no centralized training opportunities for users of Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Instead, Nuance conducts a Dragon NaturallySpeaking Solutions Provider Partner program that provides training, support and certification to third-party providers to fully service the product. The certified partner program is heavily dependent upon sales quotas, which makes the program somewhat prohibitive to us as professionals who mostly work for non-profit organizations. However, training providers can be located throughout the country by accessing their Partner Locator.

Access Technologies, Inc. (ATI) is an Oregon based, Dragon NaturallySpeaking certified partner which has implemented a pilot program offering online training. AT Specialist, Scott Lowden (personal communication, September 19, 2008), explains that ATI's e-training requires high speed Internet connection and a phone line. Instruction is offered at beginner and advanced levels, and is conducted live with the capability to demonstrate features remotely on the user’s desktop. ATI’s NaturallySpeaking training via desktop streaming cost $75 per training hour with a $150 setup charge.

JAWS

Freedom Scientific provides a line of prominent technologies designed to accommodate persons with visual impairments. Among these products is JAWS which has a longstanding dominance in the industry for providing text-to-speech computing. While using JAWS is quite intuitive in many ways and largely involves learning key combinations associated with JAWS commands, this computer application is robustly customizable to provide access and productivity to most any computer application. MAGic, a software application providing screen magnification to persons with limited vision, is often a predecessor accommodation that subsequently is used in conjunction with JAWS. A thorough understanding of each of these products and how they interact together is crucial to maximizing user productivity. An assertive effort must be made to acquire the skills necessary to support power computer users with visual impairments.

Freedom Scientific has excellent training documentation available in numerous formats for self guided learning which can be found on their Training Headquarters Web page. Instructor-led workshops are available for topics such as “What’s New in JAWS,” “Office 2007 with JAWS and MAGic,” “Basics of Scripting,” “Supporting and Teaching Windows with JAWS and MAGic,” and “Script Development with JAWS and MAGic.” These workshops are conducted at Freedom Scientific’s headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida and range in length from 2 to 5 days with tuition costs ranging from $499 to $1,249. According to Technical Trainer, David Anspach (personal communication, September 18, 2008), Freedom Scientific has had several requests for web-based training workshops and are investigating the possibility, but no decisions have been made at this time.

Kurzweil 3000

Kurzweil 3000, developed by Kurzweil Educational Systems and acquired by Cambium Learning in 2005, is a technology system that provides optical character recognition, text-to-speech reading, and document manipulation/annotation to support persons with visual, learning and/or reading disabilities. Product features are extensive, giving numerous options for zoned scanning, web page text-to-speech, highlighted text extraction, pronunciation and word prediction dictionaries, etc. The Kurzweil 3000 Taskbar feature gives students access to Kurzweil 3000 reading, word lookup, and spell-check tools when working in other applications. Rightly matching these numerous tools to the user’s specific needs and learning styles requires a comprehensive understanding of both the Kurzweil system and the user. Are there training opportunities to accelerate a learning curve which typically requires years of experience to achieve? Cambium Learning offers one-day, instructor-led workshops throughout the country and a variety of free webinars, but these only touch basic features of the Kurzweil software. Their professional development consultants can deliver online workshops with customized content on advanced topics. These begin at a cost of $1,000 for a half day session, making them somewhat prohibitive for individualized training but a potential opportunity for groups. Kurzweil 3000 comes as a stand-alone application or in a network edition which makes the product and user’s personal settings available from any networked computer running Kurzweil 3000. Implementing the network edition and managing the Kurzweil Server Administrator software to control selected Kurzweil features poses additional training interests for Nancy Newbie, Guru Sue and IT McGee alike. Much can be gained through Kurzweil’s extensive free materials such as built-in Camtasia tutorials and network installation guides. According to Director of Implementation Services, Jennifer Edge-Savage (personal communication, September 26, 2008), Kurzweil is currently working on advanced training booklets that focus on specific strategies for using Kurzweil 3000 (e.g. SQ3R, PQRST, writing, document preparation, file management, etc). These are tentatively planned to be released by the end of the year.

Unique Training Resources

There are also training resources of significant value which do not necessarily fall into the categories of academic programs, continuing education workshops, and technology specific training. The following three resources offer a sampling of unique training experiences that can fill in the gaps that other resources left behind.

HTCTU

The High Tech Center Training Unit (HTCTU) located in Cupertino, California provides training and support in Assistive Computer Technology, Alternate Media, and Web Accessibility to one-hundred and fourteen community colleges and satellite centers. Training at HTCTU is available at no cost to anyone, even those traveling from out-of-state. These hands-on, instructor-led training sessions range from one to three days in length. The training schedule is updated every 4-6 weeks, seating is limited, and registration is available online. According to Training Specialist, Sean Keegan (personal communication, September 22, 2008), HTCTU does not currently offer any formal online training, but is beginning to explore this area. The HTCTU training program offers an especially valuable opportunity for IT McGee to get targeted training from experts in the field for only the cost of travel.

Nanopac

Nanopac is a Tulsa, Oklahoma, based company providing computer related services and products for persons with disabilities in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and New Mexico. In addition to developing assistive technology products, they are a distributor of numerous assistive technology product lines and provide personalized support and training to their customers. Nanopac has also offered a unique training resource to other professionals in the field of assistive technology. Serving many colleges and universities within their catch area, Nanopac possesses the knowledge and expertise relevant to access technologists in higher education.

As noted in the Academic Programs section, no program exists that is going to prepare Nancy Newbie to hit the ground running. But what happens when that is exactly the expectation placed on Ms. Newbie? In a similar anecdotal situation, Nanopac offered an intense, comprehensive training experience that significantly accelerated employee productivity. According to Nanopac’s Vincent Cianfrone (personal communication, September 26, 2008), a typical scenario would include12 training hours at $125 per hour. Topics would include speech recognition, screen reading, screen magnification, scan and read, notetaker/PDA, and electronic magnifiers. Such training would be geared toward someone who has good computer skills, but little experience with assistive technology products. Training focuses on both product usage, as well as considerations for training AT users. Specific products and training objectives are arranged on an individual basis. While this type of professional development training is not lucrative to small companies like Nanopac, they commonly see it as “good business,” especially for institutional customers who are providing front-line support for the products they sell.

Atomic Learning

Atomic Learning, Inc. is an innovative company based in Little Falls, Minnesota that offers anytime/anywhere software training via web-based tutorial movies. Atomic Learning currently offers a general library of more than 30,000 tutorial movies covering more than 110 common software applications, with closed captions available on many. The company adds over 500 new tutorials every 45 days. They have recently launched an Assistive Technology Collection which offers their movie tutorial approach to assistive technology applications such as Read & Write Gold, SpeakQ, WordQ, Inspiration, Kurzweil 3000, and more. According to Atomic Learning’s Director of Marketing, Kathy Schroeder (personal communication, August 25, 2008), they are actively working on additions to this collection. Zoomtext and Dragon NaturallySpeaking are in the plans for inclusion, with a possible release of NaturallySpeaking during first quarter 2009. Online tutorials are also available covering the accessibility features of Mac OX X 10.4 Tiger, Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Office 2003, Office 2007, and Adobe Acrobat 8. While this is not instructor-led training on advanced topics, it does offer a unique training resource that could be used effectively for professional development, product demonstrations, or user training. Atomic Learning was very responsive to inquiries and expressed interest in includingcontent developers from higher education environments. Other resources that have offered similar online materials have typically been grant funded projects which quickly fade away into obscurity. Atomic Learning seems to be an ambitious, innovative company that has found a niche that may benefit many, including some access technologists in higher education.

Conclusions

After completing this survey of certification and training opportunities for access technologists in higher education, several conclusions can be loosely drawn. First, academic programs offering assistive technology degrees, certificates or concentration do not focus on the AT practitioner in higher education. Special Education, Occupational Therapy, and Biomedical Engineering dominate the scope of academic program choices. While some have more focus on adult learners and offer more latitude to tailor the program, the access technologist will at some stage have to translate the knowledge gained into the world of technology in higher education. Furthermore, many skills unique to our field are left completely untouched by these academic programs. It must also be recognized that only a limited number of continuing education resources surveyed actually carry an emphasis on technology in higher education, among these being AHG, EASI and HTCTU. Other resources contain a range from limited to substantial training opportunities relevant to higher education, but are presented within the context of other disciplines (e.g. Special Education, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, and Rehabilitation Engineering).

A candidate’s application for a position as an access technologist in higher education would clearly be strengthened by a Graduate Certificate in Assistive Technology, or RESNA’s certification as an Assistive Technology Professional, or completion of CSUN’s Assistive Technology Applications Certificate Program. However, as previously noted, all these combined would not prepare Nancy Newbie to hit the ground running. Would a second candidate with no certifications but only years of relevant work experience surpass the first? The answer is clearly yes. From a certification standpoint, we are a people without a country. This becomes abundantly evident when the position being filled had been vacated by Guru Sue. Replacing any professional guru is difficult, but in our profession there is no training or credentialing program that is going to make her easier to find. Experience in the field gave her the name, and for now, experience is the best mark of an access technologist in higher education.

References

  1. Lenker, J. A. (1998). Professional education programs in rehabilitation engineering and assistive technology. Technology and Disability, 9(1998), 37-48.
  2. Parette, H. P., Peterson-Karlan, G. R. (2007). Facilitating student achievement with assistive technology. Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, 42(4), 387-397.
  3. Parette, H. P., Peterson-Karlan, G. R., Wojcik, B. W., & Bardi, N. (2007). Monitor that progress! Interpreting data trends for AT decision-making. Teaching Exceptional Children, 39(7), 22-29.

 

Accessing Higher Ground Conference 2014!

Accessing Higher Ground is the conference for accessible media, assistive technology, and universal design in government, business, and higher education. Featuring recognized speakers in web accessibility and legal and policy issues, Accessing Higher Ground is an opportunity to engage with experts and colleagues.