For nearly two years, Kari Butler never saw past the inside of her Tacoma home. She saw very little even there because a stroke at the age of 32 had left the single mother legally blind.

“For two years I refused to leave the house,” Butler recalls. “I wouldn’t use a dog or a cane. I didn’t believe I was blind.”

But she was. And the self-described visual learner was traumatized by having to cope with the loss of her sight.

Fortunately, recent technological advances in computer hardware and software have made it easier for Butler and others with disabilities to take advantage of the marketplace need for computer-savvy employees.

“These people can usually overcome their disability by dedicated, one-on-one instruction,” says Al Yardley, a computer instructor at Tacoma Goodwill, which has provided a training program for people with visual, dexterity and mobility impairments since 1995.

Butler turned to the program, which last year helped more than 50 people brush up on their computer skills, at the recommendation of a counselor at Services for the Blind.

“My computer skills were obsolete,” Butler says. “I was really, really rusty and really frightened. I thought I wouldn’t be able to learn new things.”

Through personalized classes Butler and others with disabilities gain proficiency in word processing, spreadsheets, database management and presentations using Microsoft Word, Excel, Access and Powerpoint.

Goodwill also offers instruction in technology software such as MAGIC and Zoomtext that is designed to fulfill the needs of the disabled—by enlarging text, menus and toolbars of a computer screen to accommodate low vision, for example. Another program, JAWS, reads the computer screen content and menus for people who are completely blind.

As Butler’s computer skills grew, so did her confidence. Her upbeat attitude caught the attention of Lori Kozai, who interviewed and hired her as front office receptionist at the Department of Labor and Industry. Yardley, her instructor, says determination was the key to Butler’s success.

“There was no doubt that Kari was going to succeed,” says Yardley. “She was the most motivated student I’ve worked with.”

Yardley works with students referred to him through private businesses and state and federal agencies. First their skills are assessed and goals are set. Then training is designed to serve their needs and the needs of their future employer.

“Our teaching styles are matched to the individual,” says Florentine Hamm, education and training coordinator at Goodwill. “If someone can’t learn one way, we teach them in another way.”

Classes have a maximum of six students who all get individualized attention.

“If there is a particular spreadsheet someone needs to learn,” says Hamm, “we tailor the training to that.”

Each student learns to do whatever it is they will do in the workplace.

By Kelly O’Neill, communications specialist for Goodwill Industries