What goes into a technology worksite assessment?
Today, it is hard to find any job that doesn’t involve some use of computer technology. If you walk around in a typical office, you will find a computer sitting on just about every desk. It would seem that everyone in the company--from the maintenance worker to the corporate president--needs to be able to send and receive email and create electronic documents.
So what happens if a person is blind or visually impaired and uses Braille, speech, or screen enlargement technology to operate a computer? How is this access technology integrated into the corporate networks and systems that employers use today? What does the nonvisual access technology team at the Iowa Department for the Blind do to help clients of the agency to make the most effective use of the corporate hardware and software they need to operate on the job?
When one of our clients receives a job offer, the client’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) counselor is usually the first person at the Department to be notified. The counselor then contacts the appropriate member of the nonvisual access technology team. In a typical situation, the team member needs to know the name of the client, the type of access technology that the client uses, the name of the employer, and contact information for a person in the corporate Information Technology department. This last piece of information is critical because, in general, the human resources person or hiring supervisor does not usually know about the specifics of the corporation technology infrastructure. On the other hand, the person from the Information Technology department can tell us everything we need to know about the technologies used by the company, and perhaps more important, can clear the way for us to set up a test system to determine how well nonvisual access technology will work at the company.
Here is an example of some technology-related questions that we might ask:
What operating system is used on corporate desktop computers?
What program does the company use to send and receive email?
What program does everybody use to read and create electronic documents?
What set of programs is our client likely to use most of the time to perform the duties of his/her job?
Finally, would it be possible for someone from the Iowa Department for the Blind to visit the company and conduct a few technological tests to see how well nonvisual access technology would work?
In an ideal world, every program that our client needs to use on the job works perfectly with nonvisual access technology--that is to say, Windows is the corporate operating system being used, all of the programs can be operated with a keyboard instead of a mouse, everything talks when it is supposed to and remains silent when speech is not needed, and information that a user with low vision needs to see can be enlarged or appropriately highlighted.
Unfortunately, in a typical worksite, only some of the programs that our client needs to use work very well with nonvisual access technology. The rest of the programs either don’t work at all or require an extra amount of effort from the client to be used effectively. Sometimes, with a little bit of tweaking, the screen access technology can be customized to work more efficiently and effectively, and in some instances, one of our technology experts needs to do a little bit of script writing so that our client can use the software that he or she needs to run to perform his/her job. In the worst case scenario (which fortunately does not happen too often), no amount of tweaking or programming of the access technology solves the problem; regrettably, we must conclude that a particular job cannot be performed using nonvisual access technology.
So, while technology seems to be integral to just about every job in the labor market, a fair amount of investigation and testing needs to be done for each worksite where one of our clients is going to work before we can be satisfied that all of the technological barriers and problems have been addressed appropriately.
By Linda Slayton
While I was in the Orientation Center we had several conversations about the word “amazing.” I learned that those with vision often see blind people as amazing. They think that if they had little or no sight they would not be able to do the same things. Sometimes it simply seems astonishing to them that blind people can do anything independently. For me, it helped to internalize that, with the right tools and techniques, the things I would learn to do were just basic skills that everyone uses. There was nothing particularly amazing about them or me.
I do pay attention to the word amazing. The reason is simple. I’ve learned to be aware of why I think things are amazing and I want to understand why others do. It is also because I routinely find many things, events and people, amazing. Just because the use of alternative techniques may not be amazing does not mean that there aren’t amazing blind people in this world. Amazing is not a bad word. It is just better when used in the right context.
For me, someone is amazing when they create or do something that is so profoundly spectacular that I literally stop and think about it. Something amazing in my mind is not so much about the outcome, but more about the marriage of concept with reality. It’s that hidden factor that makes what could have been good become great. It's the puzzle piece that merges ordinary into extraordinary.
When we focus on employment, the term amazing can be demonstrated on many levels. Having a job is not necessarily amazing. However, the way one finds a job can be amazing, the job itself can be amazing, or someone can be an amazing employee. The important phrase is “can be.” For any to reach that status requires something beyond the norm. All require an intense investment of self.
Beyond the logistics of obtaining and performing a job as a blind person, being blind has little to do with employment. An employer is not hiring a blind or sighted person; he/she is hiring an employee. Whatever occupation we seek, we must make certain we give the most we have to offer. In the current job market we can’t be just average or even can’t be just average or even above-average, we have to be the best. Whether we like it or not, people see blindness. Our goal is to reduce it to a characteristic status. The best way to do this is to present a candidate who so profoundly outshines the other prospects that employers literally picture us in that job. We have to stand out. Offering the best of ourselves in any situation should always be our goal. When we reach that goal and others notice, that is success. The key to being amazing is not in doing what others think we can’t do, but in doing what only we know we can better than we thought we could. So, go ahead, be amazing--and then some.
Linda Slayton is a freelance writer living in Des Moines. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.