Innovative Training for Career Success

female who is visually impaired at a computer with an instructor helping her.

NIB has always been dedicated to creating innovative career opportunities for people who are blind and developing innovative solutions when we run into stumbling blocks. When we realized we were having trouble recruiting people who are blind into higher-level positions, we had to find the reason and a solution.

Our analysis revealed one big outlier: candidates’ computer skills. Like most computer users, assistive technology (AT) users tend to have sufficient computer training to complete essential tasks, but need more training to meet the demands of higher-level jobs. Unfortunately, for computer users who are blind, there’s no “Help” button they can click on that offers a tutorial on how a popular computer program interacts with assistive technology.

Having identified the barrier, NIB started looking for existing training. When we discovered there was none, we created it ourselves. Working with TCSA, a Maryland-based firm that provides accessibility and AT services, NIB created the Professional Mastery of Office Technology for Employment (ProMOTE) program to provide advanced computer skills training for AT users.

Originally designed as an immersive 40-hour-per-week, four-week program — a mix of formal classroom learning and hands-on, time-sensitive projects reflective of the kind of work participants would encounter in the workplace —ProMOTE is unlike any other training program offered. Since the pilot in 2016, instructors have flexed the curriculum to accommodate part-time and remote instruction.

ProMOTE  training participants master the AT they use — either JAWS, a screen reading program, or ZoomText, a screen magnification program — and learn more than 100 different keystrokes to perform tasks in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook without using a mouse. They also learn to conduct advanced Internet research, navigate Windows, and create well-organized accessible documents. At the end of the training, students showcase their mastery by developing and delivering a final project.

Once pilot programs proved the concept was workable, NIB set out to get the program into as many hands as possible. Today, in addition to NIB, two of our associated agencies — East Texas Lighthouse for the Blind in Tyler, Texas, and Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services (BVRS) of Pittsburgh — have provided multiple sessions of the program.

After hosting their first 40-hour, four-week in-person session, East Texas Lighthouse for the Blind technology services administrator Jan Lynch and her team began experimenting with other ways to deliver the program. First, they adapted ProMOTE to offer two weeks of virtual instruction using Zoom and two weeks of in-person instruction. Students in that program formed the same tight bonds as those who had been together physically for four weeks, and all agreed ProMOTE helped them work more efficiently and effectively. Now, the East Texas team is now preparing to launch an all-online ProMOTE training programs so students can stay safe during the pandemic.

After their first four-week, in-person session proved successful, AT instructors Tracey Morsek and Art Rizzino at Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh also looked for ways to flex the curriculum. In particular, they wanted to allow participants in a session for BVRS employees to be able to continue in their regular jobs during training. The result was a schedule of classes held Monday through Wednesday for six weeks, giving students a chance to work two days a week and apply their in-class learning on the job.

As circumstances change and new technologies evolve, NIB and its associated agencies will continue developing innovative training programs to meet the needs of people who are blind. Click here to learn more about the ProMOTE program in the spring-summer 2020 issue of Opportunity magazine.