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Blind Ambition

Getting an MCSE on Windows 2000 is hard enough when all your senses are working fine. But when one of them isn’t—especially sight—the task is doubly or triply hard.

That’s the challenge facing many students at iTec, a Little Rock, Arkansas-based company that started a program doing just that last year.

The catalyst for the program, according to Shannon Goins, director of training for iTec, was when “some people came in off the street and wanted training and were totally blind. Their complaint was ‘no one wants to accommodate us, no one knows how to accommodate us.’”

Neither did iTec. After some research, they partnered with Lions World Services for the Blind, also a Little Rock company, to offer MCSE training. The first class of three students graduated in November 2001, the second one started in August, and the third class is scheduled to get under way in February. The classes are nine to 10 months long.

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It takes about four times as long to train their blind or severely visually impaired students as it does students with normal vision. The reason, said Goins, is that “It’s not so much they’re having difficulty understanding, but learning how to navigate. They have to know how many times to tab to go to a certain thing…so that if I say everybody set up a (DHCP) scope, they need to learn how to do this efficiently.”

Blind students use a program called JAWS that reads the screen information to the user. Goins said to get an idea of what it would be like to train for your MCSE and be blind, “turn off your monitor and throw away your mouse.”

Taking the certification tests also presents unique challenges. One blind student who just barely failed 70-222, Migrating from NT to 2000, had a lot of trouble with the large number of drag-and-drop questions and diagrams on the test. Relying on his special reader doesn’t help much on those types of questions.

All three students (one is blind and two are severely visually impaired) from the first graduating class are still working toward their MCSEs, and are hopeful of obtaining them soon. In the meantime, they have all reached their most important goal: employment. All three have secured networking jobs with the Internal Revenue Service.

When it comes to finding IT work for blind students, Goins said it’s been a “mixed bag” so far. “When we first call and talk to them, some places have said ‘no way can we do this.’ We’re also trying to find employers that have positions where the students can fit in and not cause massive changes for employer,” which can be difficult, Goins explained. But she is starting to see some changes. “Initially there’s a lot of resistance (by employers), but once they have initial exposure to what they’ll need, it’s not a problem.”

As for the students themselves, it’s opening up a whole new world. Often, the blind work at lower-level jobs, which some employers think is all they’re useful for. Having an MCP or better, Goins said, can obliterate that perception. “Students tell us they’re so excited to see something at such a high professional level being offered to them. It’s a lot harder, but they can do it.”

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.

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Reader Comments:

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Mon, Apr 29, 2002 Perry Turnbull Little Rock, AR

Hello, I am the school director of ITEC. We have been working on this project for over two years and with considerable success. I have been in vocational education for nearly 40 years and am 68 years old. What I can tell you is that with the adaptive equipment available, the united efforts of LWSB and ITEC we have accomplished an miracle. These dedicated students are really passing the MCSE exams, and becoming employed as system administrators. It is the most rewarding experience of my life.

Thu, Feb 28, 2002 Joan Tyler, TX

NO, THIS IS NOT A FRAUD! LIONS WORLD SERVICE FOR THE BLIND HAVE BEEN WORKING WITH OTHERS IN DIFFERENT FIELDS OF BUSINESS. I HAVE BEEN INVOLVED WITH LWSB FOR 12 YEARS AND HAVE BEEN SURPRISED AT THE THINGS VIVUALLY IMPAIRED PEOPLE CAN DO. CERTAINLY THOSE WHO ARE COMPUTER LITERATE ARE MUCH MORE SO THEN i. AND i CAN SEE!

THESE PEOPLE BECOME WAGE EARNING CITIZENS, SO WHY NOT GIVE THEM A "FAIR" CHANCE?

Wed, Feb 27, 2002 Chris Austin Texas

I work for the Commission for The Blind, and I applaud these individuals for striving to reach their goals. I am impressed and awed daily by what individuals who are blind or visually impaired can do. The only thing we have found so far that we can't train any of our consumers for are pilots and bus drivers. Again, Congratulations!

Sun, Feb 10, 2002 Michael Little Rock, Arkansas

First off, if you've ever worked side by side with a Blind person, you would know that they are not only as fast, but actually allot faster at navigating computers than "sighted" people are. Been there done that, it's amazing. Secondly, these are MCSE's coming out of this. They are not your average PC Technician. If you’re an MCSE and your going out repairing computers, I'm sorry for you. These people administer servers. I'm starting my own Company at the moment, and believe me, Blind people are going to have a very fair shot at becoming employed as Technician and Telephone support with me.

Tue, Jan 15, 2002 Mike Indianapolis

Looks great on paper,

But practical application...

Tue, Jan 15, 2002 Draken Indianapolis

The question begs itself, why? While a noble effort, I certainly would not want someone, however competently trained, to work on my computer if they could not see the screens. Also, in the real world, you can't send an MCSE out to a client site easily, and you certainly can't use them as consultants, since it requires special setup for a blind person to work on the machines, and a sighted person could do the same work in half the time, just because he can see. Why would a customer pay twice the hourly to accomodate a blind tech. It's a noble stunt, and I applaud the people who worked their asses off to do it, but it seems pretty pointless.

Thu, Jan 10, 2002 NYSfromNYS Wilmington Carolina

Hold up. Yes these blind guys deserve all the credit. But is it fraud? is this some kind of hype to tell the world that it can be done even you are blind. i know folks literraly with good sight, but keep failingthese exams. How in the world would a blind guy take the exam once and pass. Second- why are they being offred secured employment while they clearly know they won't be effective. If this is some kind of charity- be open and let us know

Wed, Jan 2, 2002 eric paris

hi all ,
just to make something clear , english is my second language and i REALLY dont mean to be insulting to theses folks , but here it goes , this proves that certification is an attainable goal to everyone , just a question to be putting the efforts and time , no matter the disability .
my regards to theses people for not giving up and making it happen

Tue, Jan 1, 2002 Christopher Ohio

I really think that MS should make better accomodation for these students. I am glad that someone has taken what is available and turned it into sucess for many disabled students.

Tue, Jan 1, 2002 meghna india

hi!,i've worked for the blind kids for about a year & half .can't tell u how happy i'm to read this artical.i think this story will help many of my blind kids in boosting their confidance.

Mon, Dec 31, 2001 J NC

An all-too-often forgotten segment of the population of MCSEs. Great article, glad to hear these folks are successful.

Sat, Dec 29, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

Give a sincere salute to the blind student!!!

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