Blind students learn computer skills

Recognizing a need to train blind workers for the new economy, the Columbia

Lighthouse for the Blind in Virginia is running a free Blind Computer Camp,

allowing blind students to learn about technologies that can help them.

"If we can give them more training and access to these technologies than

they'd typically get, then they'll have an edge," said Dale Otto, the president

and chief executive officer of Columbia Lighthouse, a nonprofit organization.

This is the first year of the computer camp, and five students are getting

access to screen readers and magnifiers, Braille displays and printers,

and speech recognition software. The four-week camp ends August 10.

By learning to use the devices, basic computer programs and how to access

the Internet and e-mail, the camp hopes to show the students that blindness

or visual impairment does not prevent someone from working with computers.

In fact, one trainer at the camp is blind.

Partnering with the nonprofit organization on the camp are the Fairfax County

government and Unisys Corp. The government helped identify students for

the program and provided classroom space. Unisys provided the equipment.

The high school students and recent graduates recently toured Unisys' Assistive

Devices Lab to learn how the devices can be used. Joy Relton, a blind Unisys

engineer, showed the students the devices she uses to perform her everyday

tasks.

Relton said disabled individuals have difficulty with aspects of programs

that no one thinks of. "It's little things. Like learning that, 'Yes, I

can format and get a document out without having someone proofread it,'

" she said. "There are small idiosyncrasies with screen readers, like, 'How

do I know where I am on the screen?'"

But Otto said the greatest problem blind students face has nothing to do

with the technology.

"One of the greatest challenges the student faces is acquiring confidence

and believing in themselves," he said. "It really allows them to network

and share in experiences and challenges they face."

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