by B.T. Kimbrough

Back in the 1980s, when I was writing about technology for "Dialogue" magazine, I regularly asked my readers to let me know what, if anything, they found useful in my columns. During one memorable month, I received half a dozen responses which formed a definite pattern. "Keep it practical," said one. "Tell us about the inexpensive stuff," advised another. "Show us how a blind person can adapt off-the-shelf devices instead of relying on expensive special ones," wrote someone else.

I was certainly pleased to receive that kind of attention, but I began to wonder if these people had organized some kind of a propaganda campaign among themselves. Eventually, I met most of those valued readers and found out that although they didn't even know each other, they did have something significant in common: they were all rehabilitation teachers.

Now, I have been asked to help with the planning of a national conference on technology specifically for rehabilitation teachers. "What Works in the Real World?" will take place at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas July 5-7, 2005.

Since these dates fall within the 2005 ACB national convention, hotel arrangements are subject to the same rates and restrictions which apply to the convention itself. The registration fee for "What Works?" is $150.

The conference agenda has nearly three full days in which to unfold, so we will be able to examine many of the challenging technology categories, some of them both complex and competitive. I can guarantee you that the pragmatic, down-to-earth side of the subject will have an honored place right in the center of the program.

The conference budget consists of a small federally funded administrative component plus contributions from exhibitor sponsors and the registration fee mentioned above. All the funds will be expended directly on conference items, such as rented computers for learning and exploring, some social events for networking purposes, and meeting space in the hotel. We also expect to pay travel expenses for a couple of speakers, though many of our instructors will offer their time without cost in a spirit of generosity without which the event could not take place at all.

For me, one of the most attractive aspects of this event is its cooperative nature. Planning and organizational elements are a product of the collective efforts of the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University (of which I am the training director), the American Council of the Blind and its affiliate, the National Association of Blind Teachers.

We will offer a variety of significant topics with a minimum of tech talk and jargon. Our opening session addresses the age-old challenge of getting textbooks and materials needed by students and working professionals before the semester or the job ends. Other topics on the definite list include: technology 101/102; getting the most from low vision with technology; braille on demand simple but not automatic; notetaker or PDA which does my client need?; optical character scanning, a vital but limited technology; technology and the older client; technology training before college; and, of course, an honored place for simple and effective low-tech, as well as off-the-shelf products that require no adaptation.

If, at the end of the conference, our participants want to explore ways of establishing an ongoing dialogue on some of these topics, I believe that we will all feel that the effort has been worthwhile.

Although rehabilitation teachers are the primary audience for this conference, all interested applicants are welcome. For more information, contact B.T. Kimbrough, Director of Training, RRTC on Blindness and Low Vision, PO Box 6189, Mississippi State, MS 39762; phone (662) 325-2001; or e-mail [email protected].

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