We are living in exciting times as blind and low vision people with the vast amounts and options of assistive technology we have at our disposal. The proliferation of this technology just within the last ten years alone has simply been amazing. As a technology trainer who has been focusing specifically on the array of devices Apple has to offer, I have had the pleasure and good fortune to introduce and teach these technologies to many people over the previous ten plus years.
Barriers, unfortunately, are not so uncommon for both the trainer and the student in my experience. In many ways, these are two entirely different kinds of barriers, yet they do intercept and effect one another.
For me, the Barriers can be as general as starting with the client referrals I receive and then the instructions or details conveyed in the authorizations as to what I am allowed to teach the client and how much time I have to do so. These referrals can sometimes be limiting as far as what I am authorized to teach in regard to a device’s or software’s capabilities and, thus, effects the overall approach I must take in training an individual. In other words, there are simply features and functions that are sometimes left out or “forbidden” to teach that actually are important and, thus, do not give the client full and complete access to the potential of their device or software.
I will readily admit that I have sometimes found ways to covertly work around these barriers and use “justifications” in my reports to enable me to provide a client with better targeted training. In other instances, I can speak to a counselor and have the authorization either formally or informally altered to include additional material. In yet other cases, my initial conversation with a client and a discussion of the training can lead us to find ways to circumvent specific barriers in the authorization that still maintain the objectives stated in that authorization. Then, it’s up to me to overcome any specific barriers I might encounter in the learning style or attitude of the client as I work with them.
There are also situations in which the limitations of the counselor’s technological knowledge and what the client received from the agency that creates some barrier or limitation to the potential of what the client is given. If a counselor is not staying current with what devices or software are being used effectively and their knowledge goes back to when they were in school ten or even twenty years ago, it reflects on the end result of the assessment and authorization for that client. For instance, this specifically will impact me because there are still some counselors who are not fully aware of the state of accessibility on Macintosh computers and even how far the iDevices have come as far as what kinds of applications and functionality are available to enhance the independence and self-reliance of the client in both the education or vocational environments.
What is the most troubling barrier I face as a trainer can come from agency policies that make little sense and truly hurt the client, and this is not at all the fault of the counselor. I am facing this situation in a few states in the US that are changing their policies for authorization training hours and have strict requirements as to how much time and what constitutes training towards “educational” or “vocational” goals. I have had training cut off to clients without an explanation that truly makes sense and, of course, this hurts the client because the training is not complete. They cannot afford to pay a trainer, yet they are then told by their counselor to “seek other avenues for training”. It is a truly frustrating and maddening set of policies, yet I can do nothing in my position as a trainer to combat those kinds of decisions.
The barriers for a client can come from either their own ignorance and lack of self-advocating or from their counselor (as mentioned above). To me, though, blind people often create their own barriers because they are unwilling to speak up for themselves and ask for specific technology solutions that might contradict what their counselor has recommended. There is, of course, a fine line walked between a counselor and the client, but the client is receiving services from a specific agency and does, thus, possess the right to speak up for themselves. Unfortunately, it seems that many blind and low vision people are almost conditioned to accept and be “thankful” for whatever they get and, therefore, do not find it comfortable to question any aspect of their case.
If a client is unwilling to speak up for themselves, they are only going to receive what is recommended to them. I’ve witnessed this happen in many instances, and since I am the trainer, I have no latitude to intervene on behalf of the client. I will encourage some clients to question or speak up in regard to a specific situation, but that is all I can really do. Some clients will find the courage to stand up for themselves, but, sadly, many still do not take that road. Again, too many clients simply believe that the best thing to do is be grateful for what they receive and make the best of their situation.
In this day and age, there is a lot of information out there readily available through many, many means. It can be as simple as calling your local chapter of a blindness advocacy organization such as the National Federation of the Blind, or the American Council of the Blind. If a client takes the time to arm themselves with information and know what is available to them, they can decide in an educated manner with a partnership with their counselor to receive the best devices and services for them. If they knock down the barriers their lack of awareness have created, they will be able to grow and take advantage of the latest and best technologies on the market. The reality is, however, it is often up to them to take the initiative, and this is still a serious problem in regard to too many blind and low vision people even possessing the courage and fortitude to do so.
Overall, despite the great technology advances we have seen and the ways these advances have enhanced and effected the lives of many blind and low vision people, there are still barriers that we face from both the trainer and client perspectives. These are barriers, though, that can be overcome with effort, education and communication. It will probably continue to be a work in progress, but it is my job as a trainer to stay current and teach these technological advances to my clients, it’s the job of the counselor to be aware of what is available and make recommendations for a client that make sense and benefit that client’s strengths and bolster their weaknesses, and it’s up to the client to advocate for him or herself, know what is out there as well, and communicate his or her concerns or opinions to their counselor.