Going to the Next Level

A new NIB training program equips people who are blind or visually impaired with advanced technical skills to expand employment opportunities.

By Jennifer Click

In today’s fast-paced business world, employees are inundated with information and required to find, analyze, compile and distill large amounts of data quickly and efficiently. Employers expect applicants to possess a basic set of core competencies, and candidates lacking those skills rarely make it past an initial interview.

In working to develop higher level, career-oriented service opportunities for people who are blind, NIB found many assistive technology (AT) users receive only a basic level of computer training – adequate for performing essential job and life tasks, but insufficient for many modern offices.

“We know all too well that employees with vision loss need more technology skills than their sighted counterparts because they can’t just point and click,” explains Dina Rosenbaum, chief program officer at The Carroll Center for the Blind, an NIB associated nonprofit agency in Newton, Massachusetts.

To address this need, NIB worked with TCS Associates, consultants specializing in accessible electronic and information technology, and The Carroll Center to create Professional Mastery of Office Technology for Employment (ProMOTE), a unique four-week program that provides advanced training to AT users who are blind or have low vision. A pilot completed in January is getting rave reviews.

David Kingsbury, of the Carroll Center; Thomas Stivers from the Travis Association for the Blind; and Nadine Walker-Mooney, a client with the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind develop new skills in the ProMOTE program. Also pictured are James Kirwin, of Beyond Vision; Aaron Simoneau, of NIB; and TCS Associates trainer Harris Rosensweig.

Different by Design

“The ProMOTE training program is unlike any other currently offered,” explains NIB Employment Support Services Program Director, Billy Parker. “We take students through all of the most common computer-related office tasks, from start to finish, so we can close any learning gaps they might have.”

“We start with the basics, understanding the computer as a system and how the various hardware and software components interact, so students can troubleshoot common issues,” Parker says. From there, ProMOTE students learn key processes in using the Microsoft Office suite and how to manipulate AT to most effectively interact with the programs.

ProMOTE uses an immersive training model to emulate the pace of today’s offices, mixing formal classroom instruction with time-sensitive project-based work to simulate the rigor and collaboration of modern workplaces. ProMOTE students learn to create, format and edit Microsoft Word documents; navigate and manipulate Excel spreadsheets; and create and deliver PowerPoint presentations, as well as search and download files from the Internet, and produce accessible documents.

“ProMOTE begins where other AT classes end,” says program graduate Thomas Stivers, who traveled from Travis Association for the Blind in Austin, Texas, to participate in the pilot. “I’ll use the tools I learned here on my first day back in the office.”

“ProMOTE begins where other AT classes end.” I’ll use the tools I learned here on my first day back in the office.”

Thomas Stivers, Travis Association for the Blind

Only the Beginning

Speaking to the ProMOTE graduates, NIB President and CEO Kevin Lynch thanked them for participating in the pilot program. “We knew we had a great concept for this program, but we needed to see if providing intensive training in a limited time frame was feasible, and you’ve shown that it is. It’s been an intense few weeks, but your hard work and dedication will make a difference not just in your own lives, but in the lives of other people who are blind who’ll benefit from the ProMOTE program.”

NIB is now at work on ways to make the ProMOTE program available to more people who are blind, with an agency train-the-trainer session in the works for later this year. In February, Parker and Doug Goist, NIB program manager for IT service projects, participated in a panel discussion about ProMOTE and expansion of the program at the Assistive Technology Industry Association’s 2016 Conference.

Jennifer Click is communications project manager at National Industries for the Blind and editor-in-chief of Opportunity magazine.