Blind World Magazine

Getting Your Amateur Radio License.
A Guide For Assisting Visually Challenged Candidates.

December 16, 2005.
By John B. Buhrlage, N8XR.

I have been visually challenged since Birth. As a Volunteer Examiner I am occasionally asked to assist those who are visually challenged in obtaining study materials for taking an Amateur Radio exam. Over the years, I have come up with a number of sources that are helpful. I hope that both the visually challenged, and the VE team who assist them, find these sources to be as valuable to them as they have been to me.

Using Your Computer

If you have a computer, internet access, and a magnifying program or screen reader studying for an Amateur Radio exam is not all that difficult. There are a number of web sites where you can obtain the question pools for the all three of the written exams. There are also a number of programs and websites for learning the code and passing the Element 1, five words per minute Morse code test.

Obtaining Question Pools

Amateur Exam Question Pools for elements 2, 3 and 4 are available on line from ARRL VEC.

The questions are available in both plain text and PDF formats. An acrobat Reader is needed to view and print PDF files. Also, if you are taking the Technician or Extra class exams make sure that you study the graphics available in PDF format on this page. They are part of the exam and you will be tested on them.

So, You Don't Think You Can Go It Alone?

Both The American Radio Relay League and Courage Handi-Hams offer Online Amateur Radio classes.

The ARRL course prepares you to pass the exam for the Technician Class license. Classes start every month and you can register online or by mail.

John Buhrlage, N8XR, in his shack.

Basic computer, internet, and e-mail navigational skills are required. Each student is assigned an online mentor and the course uses the ARRL publication Now you're Talking!

Students will also have access to an online support group who can assist them during the course. The fee is $99.00 for ARRL members and $139.00 for non-members. You can join ARRL on line or telephone Toll-Free 1-800-32-NEW HAM (800-326-3942).

Courage Handi-Hams in Golden Valley Minnesota offers a free online course to their members. To become a member you can call toll free 1-866-HANDIHAM or you can download and print an application.

On the application members will be asked if they wish to take an online Amateur Radio course. Simply fill out the application and mail it, along with your $10.00 membership fee to Courage Handiham System 3915 Golden Valley Road Golden Valley, MN 55422.

Courses from Handi-Hams are audio lecture with email support and are offered for the Technician, General and Extra class licenses. All of these amateur radio courses can be taken at your own pace.

Audio is streamed from the Courage Handi-Hams web site on demand as you decide to listen. Students are asked to correspond with their instructor via email. Depending on which amateur radio course you're taking additional study materials will be needed and are available from Courage Handiham for an additional charge.

Take Practice Exams

It is always a good idea to test your knowledge while studying for an Amateur Radio license.

Practice exams for all levels of Amateur radio licenses can be found on the internet. A quick search on Google or other search engines will return many good sites.

Some good sites are:

Questions are chosen at random from the current VEC question pools and are selected in accordance with the official guidelines for each element and sub-element. If you can pass 7 out of 10 of these tests consistently you should be able to pass your VEC administered exam with flying colors.

Studying For Your 5WPM Morse Code Exam

When learning the code, both your sending speed and your character speed should be higher then that required to pass your code test. Why? If you learn the code at a slightly higher speed then that needed for the test it will be much easier to pass the exam. FCC generated Morse code test are sent at five words per minute and use a character speed of fifteen words per minute based on the Farnsworth Method. For that reason be sure that the study materials you use have a minimum sending speed of seven words per minute and a character speed of at least eighteen words per minute.

You can also study for your 5 WPM Morse code Exam at the AA9PW web site. There you will find 6 levels of study. Levels 1, 2 and 3 allow you to learn the letters, numbers, and Punctuation necessary to pass your test. Levels 4, 5, and 6 are for those getting ready to take their test. These levels allow you to copy practice exams and answer questions just as you would in an actual exam sitting.

Super Morse

Super Morse is a free DOS based shareware program that will run under Windows. You can download the latest version here. The latest version of the program is 4.16. This version will support a sound blaster card. However, Super Morse is unable to use the Sound Blaster when running in Windows if the Sound Blaster is set up as the Windows sound output device. The manual for Super Morse is distributed in QUICK.DOC and ADVANCE.DOC which are ASCII files with page numbers and table of contents that can be easily printed on your printer. There is no shareware fee for using the program but the author accepts contributions.

Internet Alternatives

So far we have discussed ways of obtaining study materials via the Internet. But what if you don't have a computer? There are a number of sources available for purchase on tape and on audio CD.

Courage Handi-Hams in Golden Valley, Minnesota has a large selection of tapes available for their Members. To join call 1-866-HANDIHAM. The cost is $10.00 and that allows you to receive audio books and other recorded materials free or at minimal costs.

The W5YI group has audio courses available for purchase on CD and audiocassette. These courses are designed to help you pass your Technician, General and Extra class exams. There are also five word per minute Morse code courses available. These courses are taught by Gordon West WB6NOA and are an excellent source of study for the visually challenged. Prices range from $14.95 to $39.95 depending on which course you desire.

The question pools for Technician, General and Extra as well as tapes for learning the code are available to members of handihams. Members must pay an additional fee to use them. The cost depends on the format you wish to use? All of these materials are available on 2 and 4 track tapes. 4 track tapes require a Talking Book Machine available from your State Library for the Blind. The question pools are also available on CD-ROM.

Locating A VE Test Session

Thus far we have discussed how to obtain study materials in order to prepare for your Exam. But what do you do when you are ready to take the Exam? And more importantly what can you expect?

If you know a local ham he or she can be an excellent source for obtaining information about the nearest test session in your area. If not you're local library is a good place to start. Libraries usually have computers that you can use at little or no costs. Check the ARRL/VEC or W5YI/VEC to obtain information about a test session in your area. Both ARRL and W5YI offer test sessions nationwide.

If your library does not have a computer, ask the librarian to assist you in finding information about Amateur Radio Clubs in your area. ARRL can assist you in finding clubs in your area by calling 860-594-0230.

If all else fails you can usually find hams at local events such as festivals, triathlons and bike races.

Taking Your Written Exam

All Volunteer Examiner Coordinators are required to reasonably accommodate any candidate with special needs when taking an amateur radio Exam. For visually impaired candidates this is usually accomplished by reading the test questions and the four multiple-choice answers to the candidate. A member of the VE team then records the candidate's answers on the answer sheet.

If necessary the questions and answers can be read a number of times to give the candidate time to narrow down the possibilities. Questions can even be skipped and returned to later. Once a candidate has answered all the exam questions the test is graded. A candidate must have a grade of 75% or higher to pass the Exam.

Morse Code Testing

The testing of visually challenged Candidates for proficiency in Morse code is time consuming but not impossible. This is generally accomplished by playing the code test in 15 to 30 second intervals. The candidate can then recite letter by letter or word for word the copied material. If a candidate chooses to type their copy using a computer or Brailling device the candidate must read the copy to the VE team. The VE team then transcribes the copied material word for word on a sheet of paper. The VE Team retains both the transcribed copy and the Braille sheet. The candidate can pass the test in one of two ways, either solid copy or by correctly answering 7 out of 10 fill in the blank questions.

In Summary

Amateur radio has brought me endless hours of fun and enjoyment. So much so that it is well worth the effort to get a license. If you don't believe me find a Ham in your area and let him show you his equipment. Better yet ask if he will let you talk on the air. Most hams are more then willing to share with you and teach you about the hobby. There is nothing like the thrill of talking to someone halfway around the world or the good feeling you get when helping someone in an Emergency. It takes time to get your Amateur license but once you do you will find, as have many other hams, it is time well spent. See you in the file ups.

John B. Buhrlage N8XR, 5784 Bethany Road Mason, Ohio 45040. First licensed in 1996 the author is a member of the Warren County Races/Ares. He also is a Volunteer Examiner and acts as Net Control Station for several active nets in his area.

ARRL, The National Association for Amateur Radio
225 Main St.
Newington, CT 06111

Courage HANDI-HAM System
3915 Golden Valley Road
Minneapolis, MN 55422
(763) 520-0512.
Fax (763) 520-0577

The W5YI Group
P. O. Box 565101
Dallas, Texas 75356

Copyright 2005, American Radio Relay League, Inc.

End of article.

Any further reproduction or distribution of this article in a format other than a specialized format, may be an infringement of copyright.

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