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Blind consumers learn not only how to use computers but also how to build them

By William Powell, assistive technology manager, Bosma Enterprises™

Most of us have found that understanding how a computer works can sometimes be challenging. For a person with low vision, the challenge can be all the more daunting.

Bosma Enterprises is removing the fear and mystery of using computers for persons served in its Bosma Rehabilitation Center. Four years ago, the organization launched a Build-A-Computer program designed to help persons who are blind or visually impaired become confident in using computers. After extensive training to build students’ skills, the students assemble their own personal desktop computer, which they keep upon graduation from the program.

Hands-on training begins with understanding computers from the inside out
Adam and Josh Inspect Computer Students begin the program by physically exploring the internal parts of a computer, learning their names and functions, and discovering how they work together. Their tasks include:

- Inserting a delicate CPU chip and memory into place on the system’s motherboard.

- Connecting the hard drive and other assembly tasks.

- Installing the Microsoft® Windows® operating system, Microsoft Office, and adaptive software.

Students also learn how to integrate computers with external devices such as scanners, cell phones, digital recorders, and USB memory sticks.

A group training session is dedicated to computer repair. Students are taught how to identify a defective part based on the symptom and then replace the necessary part. Repairs might include the power supply; RAM; CD or hard drives; and expansion components such as video, sound, or wireless cards.

In addition to repair, students receive group and individual training about internet service providers, firewalls, virus checkers, and web safety.

Comprehensive training is tailored to individual needs
The assistive technology (AT) instructors at Bosma can provide additional education to students on hardware for computers and adaptive devices on the Windows, Linux, and Apple® platforms. The instructors continually experiment with virtual accessible platforms and test screen readers. They frequently review developments in Android™ and iPhone® cell phones to share these improvements with students as needed.

Bosma’s AT instructors developed an extensive textbook that is aligned with the curriculum. The textbook includes pre- and post-assessments plus a section for measurable goals. Most students work through the AT curriculum over three or four months.

During their intensive training, each student in the program can use and take home a loaner computer. In addition to the AT textbook, a website, www.brlsts.org, makes many of the classroom handouts accessible to students in their homes.

After graduation, students can continue to access Bosma training materials. Many students return for one-on-one instruction needed to perform a specific job, and many past students volunteer their time to teach and help others at Bosma.

Collaboration with other areas ensures greater success
To reinforce students’ AT skills, Bosma’s AT area is closely integrated with other training areas in the Bosma Rehabilitation Center. Cross-training opportunities for students are available in:

  • Personal management (voice labeling system that allows users to record information onto self-adhesive labels).
  • Orientation and mobility (accessible GPS systems).
  • Communication (digital recorders and access to Braille and Audio Reading Download [BARD] and online banking).

Bosma AT instructors’ knowledge base is enhanced through their collaboration with other professionals throughout the United States, Germany, Austria, Spain, Australia, and the Netherlands. These collaborations have helped Bosma to develop teaching strategies and class materials and to prepare for future trends in technology. The combined Bosma AT staff speaks six different languages, and all are experts in English literacy, math, and the special symbols used in Science Braille.

In addition to providing instruction in the Bosma Rehabilitation Center, Bosma AT staff members teach in other areas of Bosma Enterprises, conduct on-site job assessments, and create computer scripts and programs. All of these activities help to ensure that Bosma Enterprises will remain accessible to all persons in the years to come.

About Bosma Enterprises

Based in Indianapolis, Indiana, Bosma Enterprises, www.bosma.org, is a private, not-for-profit organization dedicated to empowering people who are blind or visually impaired. The organization serves youths to seniors through numerous products and programs, including the Bosma Rehabilitation Center.

Started as a small group in 1915, Bosma Enterprises now has more than 150 staff members who provide job training, employment, community job placement, on-site and in-home rehabilitation, counseling services, and outreach programs. More than 55 percent of the staff is blind or visually impaired, and scores of staff members have worked within and served the blind community for many years.

The parent company, Bosma Industries for the Blind, Inc., has achieved Three-Year Accreditation from CARF for many of its services.

Bosma Enterprises creates opportunities that lead to the achievement of each individual’s employment, economic, social, and self-determination goals. As a result of services provided by Bosma, hundreds of persons have learned that a person with vision loss can enjoy a fulfilling life.

About the author

William PowellAs the director of assistive technology at the Bosma Rehabilitation Center, William (Bill) Powell is first and foremost a teacher. He welcomes any opportunity to share his knowledge with others.

During his 25-year teaching career at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Bill mentored the Collection of Computer Geniuses. This group has made presentations nationwide and created devices to assist people with physical disabilities. Bill was also a Braille instructor for seven years at two universities.

Bill’s credentials support his advocacy for persons with vision loss. His certifications include an Indiana teaching license in the areas of special education for mental retardation K–12, orthopedic and health impairment K–12 and vision impairment K–12, and a literary Braille transcriber’s license from the Library of Congress.

9/12/2012
(Historical Newsletter Articles,Employment and Community Services)


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