Coastal Training Services, which operates vocational schools throughout Virginia and Maryland, has received high marks for an unusual program designed to train deaf people for careers in computers and electronics.
CTS began the first computer electronics program for the deaf and hard of hearing last November at Temple School in Bailey's Crossroads. Before the year is out, CTS hopes to graduate its 17 students into specialized jobs in local high technology firms.
John W. Lasley, vice president of Coastal Training Services, said he got the idea for the program while visiting Gallaudet College in Washington, the nation's only college for the deaf. "I was very impressed by the students' communication and visual perception skills," he said. Lasley said he became convinced that "deaf men and women would make excellent electronic technicians, with the proper training."
CTS received instant approval for the pilot program from the Virginia Office of Rehabilitation Services in Northern Virginia. The Virginia office has agreed to provide financial assistance for some of the students in program. CTS also was able to enlist the support of two local high-tech companies -- Tracor Inc. and Atlantic Research Corp. -- which provided guest lecturers and electronic equipment for course labs.
Limitations in the deaf sign language posed the first major obstacle for the program. The problem, Lasley said, is that few signs exist to explain electronic terms and concepts. At first those terms were spelled by hand. But the class soon developed its own hand signs to communicate these words more quickly.
The 17 students enrolled in the 12-month program turned in good performances in the first quarter. Lasley said one-third of the students maintained A averages, while the others had grades in the B-to-C range.
CTS representative Melinda L. Hughes conceded that the employment prospects for its deaf graduates are not as good as for its other graduates. In general, firms must provide further training for any new employe; a firm hiring a deaf worker might have to find an instructor who knows sign language. Nonetheless, Hughes said, CTS has reason to be optimistic. A number of area firms, including Tracor and Atlantic Research, have expressed interest in taking on graduates. In addition, Hughes said, the school will have an extensive job placement program.
The program has received wide recognition, Lasley said. He has received inquiries from as far away as Alaska and has been invited to speak at the 1985 conference of the American Deafness and Rehabilitation Association later this spring. With the interest sparked by the initial program, CST will launch two additional computer electronics courses this spring -- one at Temple and one at Kee Business College in Newport News.