Winter 1998, Vol. 9 No. 1

by Maryann Browne

Debbie, 30, a single mother of two children, was identified as having a learning disability when she was in the first grade. Due to frequent moves, she attended various elementary schools where she was always placed in a special class for Reading and Math. According to Debbie, neither the elementary schools nor her high school knew exactly what type of learning disability she had, but it kept her in basic skills classes through 12th grade. She explains that her weakest area was language, particularly writing. She frequently had to rewrite assignments which she found to be very frustrating.

Debbie had her first opportunity to learn some computer skills after graduating high school. Although the equipment and software were outdated, she did learn some basic computer literacy skills, and this experience helped her acquire a job at Bally's Grand Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City.

Enrolls in Office Technology Program

After moving to Florida, having two children, then divorcing and returning to New Jersey, Debbie decided that her lack of skills would result in only minimum wage jobs. With two children to support, she realized that the most likely path to success was to return to school. Debbie is currently enrolled in the Office Technology program in a proprietary business school. Initially, she had added medical office training to her basic course, but the demands of medical terminology proved to be too much for her so she dropped the extra courses.

Since beginning her training Debbie has learned a variety of computer applications, such as WordPerfect, DOS and 6.1 versions (Microsoft), Microsoft Excel and Access. Her later courses will include Microsoft Word and PowerPoint.

I had the opportunity to be Debbie's instructor for both Business Communication and Word Processing (including Excel and Access). Although she struggled with weekly spelling tests and applying basic proofreading skills in Business Communication, Debbie did not display the same difficulties when learning various software concepts. She has been a quick learner, asking relevant questions, and showing an ability to problem solve.

Using the word processing programs, particularly the spelling and grammar checking tools, has enabled Debbie to compensate for her learning disability. All students are required to spell check their documents before submitting them to the instructor. These documents are typed from straight copy, although some do contain intentional errors. Debbie goes beyond this and uses the grammar check. She particularly enjoys finding mistakes in textbook assignments.

Debbie's learning disability is very evident in her poor spelling skills, although the transpositions are far less frequent when she is dealing with numbers rather than with words. She has shown herself to be an excellent accounting student, having earned an "A" in the first 12 weeks of the class.

Sample of Debbie's Work

Computer as a Study Tool

I have delighted in watching Debbie use various strategies to cope with her disability. Knowing that weekly spelling tests could be her nemesis, she decided to use the computer as a study tool. Using WordPerfect 6.1, she would type her spelling words, spell check them, print the list, then retype them as needed for extra practice. Not only did this give her more practice using the software, but it also helped her increase her typing speed (which is affected by her learning disability), and improve her weekly spelling tests. This young lady knows what tools best fit the job!

Debbie will continue in her training program until graduation in July. She hopes to secure a secretarial job that will give her the opportunity to use her newly acquired computer and accounting skills. Would her career goal come to fruition without the use of the computer? More than likely not. In pre-computer days, Debbie tried to use the typewriter as a writing tool and to quote her words exactly, "It was a pain." The computer has been a keystone for Debbie. To her, the computer has been and will continue to be an invaluable tool to her success.

Maryann Bowne is a graduate student in the Department of Special Education at The College of New Jersey.

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