From Geek to Tutor

head and shoulders image of Cliff Docherty

UCanDoIT tutor Cliff Docherty

I have been a UCanDoIT tutor more or less since the project began.  A self confessed geek of tragic proportions, it also appealed to me due to my own personal experience with disability as I’m severely deaf with a couple of hearing aids to get me through the day, and other people through to me. 

I started fiddling around with computer settings back in the days of Windows 3.1 because one of the things that used to cause consternation among my colleagues was my habit of having my desk look like a bomb hit it, or probably more accurate to say my bomb looked like a desk hit.  I’d usually end up hunting for some missing piece of paper in some untidy pile and they would be rested in front of me while a chucked paper around trying to find it.  Unfortunately that meant I had the stuff piled over the keyboard, pressing on multiple keys, with the effect of making the computer beep angrily and repeatedly till someone would walk over and snatch my things away, with steam coming out of their ears.  As for my ears, I was of course oblivious to the warning sounds and to the effect they had on other people’s concentration.  

Early, admittedly clunky, telephone software in the late 90’s allowed the computer to receive calls and faxes, and take messages.  Because the calls were coming through the PC it allowed me to attach big speakers or a pair of headphones which helped enormously in hearing the call and giving it that all important clarity needed by hearing aid users.  When I joined UCanDoIT’s tutor team I was able to expand my understanding of assistive hardware and software which, as an utter tech-head, gave me a lot of pleasure.  The type of students I was teaching expanded as my knowledge increased until, eventually, I began teaching students with visual impairments.  In some ways ironic, for a hearing impaired tutor to teach a visually impaired student that’s using speaking screen reader software but of course you can see what’s happening on the screen and it helps you.  I do remember being completely flustered one time when I arrived at a student’s home and found there was no monitor.  It wasn’t needed, logically enough, and then I really learned to appreciate the achievements that our students, well, achieve. 

There’s a phenomenal number of keystrokes available in JAWS to allow navigation without sight and without the use of a mouse and, curiously, after so many years of working with JAWS I find I use the mouse less and less in my own personal use of computers.  Many of the keystrokes which replace mouse and menu navigation are built into Windows itself and I find it quicker and easier to use now than constantly reaching for the mouse.  The control (ctrl) key and C for copying and again but with a V for pasting has made my life complete.  I’ve found my enthusiasm for the keyboard (and how geeky and sad is that sentence?) has spread into my teaching of other students without either visual impairment or mouse handling difficulties.  You can come unstuck though.  Needing to print something I remember saying to one elderly lady with a number of disabilities;

“Can you press control and P?”

To which she replied

“At my age I’ve got no control and too much P”

Cue fits of hysterical laughter and after that it became a running joke every lesson. 

“Would you like me to P?”

Invariably I had tears rolling down my face during the lessons, this lady had an earthy sense of humour indeed.  And in the end that’s what these courses are about.  Practical skills, yes.  Information, yes.  Shopping, yes indeed.  But above all fun and the key to constant new and stimulating things to do.



About ucandoitsblog

UCanDoIT is a charity that teaches IT skills to people with disabilities on a one to one basis in their own homes.
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