Fast Forward and Accessiblity

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Fast Forward
City & State:
South Carolina
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

To provide technology education and access to those who have been underserved through traditional programs.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

Fast Forward is a community technology center located in Columbia, South Carolina. Begun as a grant funded program in 1999, Fast Forward has been able to continually serve the community for 10 years through a broad base of volunteers, corporate sponsorships, government and foundation grants, and individual donations. From one borrowed room in a school, to a 3,000 square foot, two-lab center, we have continuously fulfilled the needs of our community through technology. Fast Forward offers open access to technology for adults, on-line and instructor led classes, a preschool program, an after-school program, summer camps for children, technology classes for nonprofits, and a veterans program helping homeless and recently returning veterans reenter the workforce. We have served over 7,500 people. The people who currently come to Fast Forward represent a complete cross-section of our community: they are old; they are young; they are students; they are employed and unemployed; they are of every ethnic background; they are educated and uneducated; they are the people who we set out to serve in 1999; they are those who have been underserved by traditional programs.

We have been awarded and managed over 30 grants. Fast Forward has received numerous awards including two Pillar Awards from the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, an SBC award, an ACPLUG award, the Robinson Innovation Award and many local awards. Fast Forward has been a national case study by the U. S. Department of Education and SRI International. Our programs have been featured at four national conferences. Fast Forward’s veterans’ program was nominated for a Department of Labor Tapping the Talents of Special Populations Recognition of Excellence Award 2008 by the South Carolina Department of Commerce.

First and foremost, we use Microsoft products to communicate. Any document we write is invariably in Word, every email goes through Outlook, and every presentation is done in PowerPoint. We are a non-profit and our ability to stay open is almost totally reliant on grants, all of which are written and transmitted as Word documents. Last, we use Access and Excel to maintain and update important client information in our various programs.

Through our use of Microsoft Windows Vista, we have been able to extend our reach into the special-needs population as well. When we began using Microsoft Windows Vista in March 2008, we were thrilled to see the Ease of Accessibility option. As many of our clients are disabled veterans, we were able to use these new, more easily navigated features to adjust setting for optimal use. We also formed a partnership with the South Carolina Assistive Technology Association and began to hold classes to explore these options more fully. These classes have always had full attendance as many people are unaware of how adaptable Microsoft operating systems can be. Whether it is changing the visual settings on a desktop for the visually impaired to accessing a screen reader, we have had great success getting people on computers. When someone is functionally blind, it is hard to convince them to get technology training, but with our newfound accessibility, we were able to serve even the most severe cases.We also expanded our outreach to special-needs adults in summer 2008 by inviting the Babcock Center to our center twice a week. Babcock Center, Inc. is a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1970, serving men and women with mental retardation, autism, head and spinal cord injury and related lifelong disabilities. With these clients, we used Microsoft games to promote hand-eye coordination and used the screen reader to read directions and websites for those who cannot read. We have seen such a change in these students as the months have gone by. The first month, many of them held the mouse in the air rather than on the desk. Now, they know to roll it on a surface. While this may seem like an insignificant change, for this population, it is huge. We would not be able to serve this group without Microsoft programs and accessibility options. Another crucial population we serve is pre-school children. Every week, five pre-school classes come to our center to work on hand-eye coordination, color recognition, and reading skills. These groups range from private daycares to Head Start programs for at-risk families. These students work on games like Reader Rabbit and Toddler Learning Center, all of which running on Microsoft operating systems. As our society becomes more and more technology-based, it is imperative to teach children the basic functions of a computer early, and these games help immensely. Lastly, we have a large group of dislocated workers, veterans, and college students who come to Fast Forward to learn computer basics. Gone are the days when looking for a job meant typing a resume and looking in the local newspaper. Today, you have to do electronic job searches, have several electronic resumes responding to different keywords in job advertisements. Often you have to complete an on-line job application that may time out if you do not have access to an adequate internet provider. Almost every job, including entry-level positions, requires basic technology skills including keyboarding. Using Microsoft Windows Vista, we are able to hold classes that teach different Office applications such as PowerPoint, Word, Publisher, Excel, and Access, as well as basic keyboarding, and introduction courses on the internet and the computer itself. Our open-access lab, open thirty hours a week, serves as a place where people can perform job searches, get help with computer problems, and learn new technology skills.Lastly, we are indebted to Microsoft as we use Microsoft Expression Web to create and publish two websites, and The first is our general website, with links on upcoming classes, summer camps, and office hours. The second, launched in August 2008 has a focus on employment and training for veterans. It includes three blogs and one wiki where veterans share information with one another, find local job fairs, and browse important information about available jobs. There are also articles that address veterans' issues. The site also provides an extensive assortment of podcasts from completing federal job applications to entrepreneurial assistance.Without Tech Soup and Microsoft, we would be unable to serve any of these people, leaving thousands without a place to go to find a job, learn how to use a computer, or simply check their email. There is no way to fully express how integral Microsoft has been to our operation; we would literally not exist if we did not have access to their programs.

Submission Category
Transformations to Maximize Impact
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Supporting Work Files
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