Avoid the Rabbit Hole! Resources for Quickly Finding Answers to Assistive Technology (AT) Questions
Authors: Donna Clemens, Assistive Technology (AT) Consultant, Outreach Programs, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI)
Keywords: assistive technology, AT, BrailleNote, JAWS, VoiceOver, YouTube, documentation, support, help links
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While working on your BrailleNote, computer with JAWS, or Mac with VoiceOver, have you ever wondered, “There has to be a faster way to do this?” or “How do I get out of here?” If you are like me, those questions are followed by hours of diving into the rabbit hole that is the Google search for accessibility. Eventually, you will find your answer; let’s hope it was on page one or two of your results and takes less than three hours to find. But there is no guarantee.
In the following article, I hope to bring you some resources that will shorten your search time, provide quality resources to learn and review what you want to do with your assistive technology, and possibly provide you with some new information or innovations you haven’t heard of yet.
Many companies have embraced the practice of creating YouTube instructional videos and webinars. If those YouTube videos are constructed with accessibility concerns in mind, then it can be easier to locate the information you need quickly without needing to watch for hours. For those of you using the BrailleNote Touch Plus or any of the other Humanware products, they have produced an excellent library of videos that can be viewed through their YouTube channel, product support pages, or from the Humanware Buddy App.
Teachers, students, and persons with blindness have also made YouTube channels that cover topics from unboxing and setting up devices, comparing devices by need and function, and functional or academic use. These videos can give you and your students new ideas for the use of a device that are not specifically academic but may meet a specific need, such as for in-home use or for transition to work.
Some companies that produce equipment and software provide help links directly from their websites’ documentation and support pages. You can find documentation such as searchable and indexed manuals, keystroke help sheets, and even written or video tutorials. One of the companies with a robust listing of training options is Freedom Scientific, the makers of JAWS—no, not the movie, but Job Access With Speech.
Support Websites That Aren’t Affiliated With the Manufacturer
Like YouTube videos, there are also sites that are not associated with specific companies or manufacturers. The type of sites we are talking about here are the more bespoke or custom on-demand sites. For example, my site, TSBVI Outreach Assistive Technology, is an ever-growing repository of resources for parents, students, and teachers to find lesson plans, help documents, videos, and links to research that has already been completed. Additional information about this new AT website can be found in an announcement in the News & Views Section of this issue of TX SenseAbilities.
Websites like mine attempt to keep up with change and demand as their creators and contributors tend to have their fingers on the pulse of what is being used, taught, and distributed within the field of education. The developers of such websites may also have an understanding of products that are suitable for individuals with visual impairments. The websites can also be linked to repositories of resources as they continually update and change. Information from my site, for example, transfers to a Livebinder after one year of published material.
Pro Tip: Some websites may roll-off or archive their resources. Check with them about older materials that have rolled off. Just because they are a little seasoned and aged, doesn’t mean the materials can’t be handy!
Still can’t find what you are looking for? You can sometimes find information where you least expect it. Most Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments (TSVIs) are familiar with the website for the American Printing House for the Blind, for example, but they may not know about APH Hive which has wonderful courses as well as Tutorials and Professional Communities where curated resources are stored. Many states also have reliable repositories of training and information about assistive technology, such as Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts. The Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired not only has a video library on technology, but there are also videos on a variety of other topics of interest to both families and TSVIs, such as CVI and the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC). The videos are short and to the point, unlike most long webinars. The Michigan Department of Education has one of my favorite sets of AT documents, the Michigan Assistive Technology Guidelines. It is a series of documents for teachers of students who are blind or visually impaired (BVI) in pre-kindergarten through grade 12, based on Michigan’s standards and those of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Assessment information and tools can be located on creator/author sites like SETT and QIAT, from university projects such as this Resource Guide, or in collaborative projects like Hey! Can I Try that? A Student Handbook or the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (WATI).”
Whether you are using manufacturer websites, YouTube videos, or individual sites, be sure to keep your goals and perspectives in mind. Resources made by AT consumers who are daily users may or may not meet your needs. You may need resources from the perspective of a teacher instead. Just know that there are resources available for most of our devices and you are not alone in questioning “what’s next?”.
Editor’s Note on “What’s Next?”
An area of assistive technology that tends to generate the most requests for information and support is AT evaluation and assessment. Determining what is most appropriate for a specific student requires that educational teams work together with a variety of resources to examine the student’s skills and appropriate AT devices. TX SensesAbilities looks forward to including articles on this important topic in the future.