It has been a long and interesting journey indeed and now, one major milestone has been reached. As of last Wednesday, October 12, 2022, I graduated from the Assistive Technology Instructor Online program at World Services for the Blind. This came after over a year of learning, teaching myself, and teaching others, not to mention the testing. I had to pass seven certification exams, log 350 teaching hours, and since I am not what I like to call a “blind technology nerd”, I spent countless hours of studying over the last thirteen months. But I finally got it done and I am now a Certified Assistive Technology Instructor. I received the certificate in the mail yesterday.
It was July of 2020 when I left my job of sixteen years and began pursuing this new career in access technology, but my journey began so much earlier. As a totally blind person from birth, I have always used some sort of assistive technology either in school or my home life. I operated largely on braille books, audio books, and computerized games that had speech so I would know what’s going on and what to do. At school, especially in the 1990’s when I was in middle school, we were learning how to use screen readers like JAWS, which made the computer more accessible so we could do our work on something other than a Perkins braille writer. Then there were the portable notetakers that had speech and also allowed a blind student to write in braille. So yes, I have to use technology on a daily basis and am familiar with a lot of it. But to say that I could teach others how to use the technology, even two years ago, I would say “Hell no” if you ask me. I just knew what I knew.
Then came March 2020 and the COVID 19 Pandemic. I had been growing tired of my old job anyway, but I needed something else to do before I took the leap and left the workshop. My wife and I talked about it, and we had a friend who was going to school online at World Services for the Blind in Little Rock, Arkansas. Unlike me though, our friend was one of the people in our blind circle that you go to when you have a technology issue or question. She could probably help you fix it and if not, know how to figure it out. So, I could see her being successful in an assistive technology program.
But not me. Me, I would say to go away from me if you have a technology issue because I will probably break whatever you are trying to fix. One time early in our marriage, I became frustrated with my Outlook because surprise surprise, something on the computer would not do what I wanted it to do. I began pounding keys and pressing all sorts of combinations of keystrokes and in the end, I accidentally deleted Outlook off of my system. Because I only knew how to do what I did every day, I had no idea how to rectify that situation and restore my Microsoft Outlook. So, I woke my wife out of her sleep so that she could help me, and she was able to fix it.
So, I was surprised when five years later, she was saying that the same person who deleted Outlook off the computer could be successful in an ATI program and become ATI certified. But, I had left my job and so I figured why not? I did know a little more since that time in 2015, and I had gotten better at learning this stuff. Plus, I could do it online and won’t have to go down there which was great!
It took over a year for me to finally get into the program. During that time though, I learned what I could about assistive technology and since a lot of webinars and information sessions had moved online, I was able to attend a lot of things since I was not working at my old job. I worked with my friend who needed the teaching hours, so she taught me some things in Microsoft Excel and Word, and I passed the JAWS Certification exam in March 2021. I took the test about twelve times, but for someone like myself who was not that technology savvy, this was a huge deal. And, I had done it by studying by myself, not while I was in school. Imagine what I would do once I got there and had a great instructor.
I was supposed to start the Assistive Technology Instructor Online program on September 7, 2021, and I spent that entire day constantly checking if the materials were there so I could get a jump on things. I didn’t get the call from the instructor that I was in and could now go on Canvas and look at the course until September 9. It took about three weeks for me to receive the textbooks that I needed to complete the Microsoft Office quizzes. So, things began kind of shaky. Plus, instead of the 250 teaching hours that other students like my friend had to get, we had to get 350 teaching hours and the instructor, who was a lot of times non-existent, did not seem interested in getting us going on getting those teaching hours. It was also hard to get a hold of the instructor, so I quickly realized that for the most part, I would be teaching myself.
So that’s what I did. I took a JAWS practicum exam on Wednesday November 3 and didn’t pass it and I took my Word Certification practicum on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and didn’t pass it. So, my wife showed me a good way to study, and I began making study guides. I passed the JAWS Practicum on the second Friday in December, and I smashed the Word practicum on the third Friday. Now, I had my Word certification from WSB.
Coming back from the Christmas holiday, I passed the JAWS certification exam after only taking it three times this time. I’d say that was progress from months earlier and now, I was JAWS 2021 and JAWS 2022 certified. I received my Outlook certification in April, from a new instructor who replaced the old instructor and changed a lot of the curriculum. Then I received my NVDA certification in early June, my Microsoft Excel certification in July, and my ZoomText certification on a Saturday morning in August. The last certification was Microsoft PowerPoint, and I received that days after finishing up the 350 ours and the exact day before I graduated.
So, to say that I was mentally exhausted after all of that is an understatement. And this is only the breeze-through version. I’m going to have to take more posts to explain the absolute roller coaster ride it was sometimes. I’m going to have to talk about what it was like to change instructors in the middle of the program and learn a new teaching style, and how sometimes, especially when for a moment you are the only one in the program, you feel like you might not ever finish. But I did finish. I learned a lot of new skills, and like I said, I am now a Certified Assistive Technology Instructor. I would like to take these skills that I have learned and create more opportunities for myself as well as other blind and visually impaired people. Because I believe like everyone else, we too should have many options for work and life in general. And I believe that technology will be a huge reason why this could happen for us.