1998 Conference Proceedings

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MOBILE COMPUTING SOLUTIONS FOR A DIVERSE POPULATION OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

Patrick Burke
and
Guido Grimaldi

I. Introduction

As early as 1991 the Disabilities and Computing Program (DCP) of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), began moving away from the traditional computer lab model for its services. Experience has shown that a pool of laptop or notebook computers is a more flexible way to address the needs of a diversified user population with a variety of disabilities. Such a system allows clients to become familiar with the adaptive technology in real classroom or other work environments. This in turn helps them move into the mainstream of computer users on campus and, most importantly, enables them to make informed decisions when purchasing their own systems. In the same way that the University seeks to prepare students to be more independent after their academic experience, so the DCP strives to make its clients self-reliant in computing.

A. Why Mobile Computing?

Before detailing the technical and administrative elements of the laptop loaner program, it is worth mentioning some features of computing at UCLA that have helped the program succeed. Rather than being a subset of a disabled student services center, the DCP is a part of the Office of Academic Computing (OAC). This has allowed close cooperation with the University personnel most familiar with new advances in computing, giving us extra lead-time to prepare adaptive strategies. In addition, the charter of the DCP is not restricted to students, but mandates us to serve the entire campus community: Students, Faculty and Staff. Thus we have had to search for solutions that will apply across the board in many academic and employment situations.

UCLA's decentralized computing environment requires a flexible approach to adaptive computing. Academic and administrative departments generally have separate networks, making standardization of adaptive solutions more difficult. However, this also means that support staff in the client's own department can be trained to handle day-to-day service. In many situations we provide setup and training for adaptive software, while the home department manages network connectivity and other issues.

The campus has developed a system of public drop-in computer labs for student use. This includes Ethernet plug-in access for any student with a notebook computer. Where possible we encourage our student clients to utilize these facilities. The UCLA Office for Students with Disabilities also maintains a resource room with several computers used for proctored test taking, scanning of text materials, and various other functions. We advise all these labs on universal design and adaptive requirements, which, however, goes beyond the scope of this paper.

The most recent development that has encouraged remote access and mobile computing is the Bruin OnLine network. This campus-wide network means that we can furnish clients with Internet-ready machines with the right adaptive solutions, and they can then access the World Wide Web and other services from anywhere on or off campus.

B. Practical Advantages

Other, more practical considerations have also led us to adopt the mobile model. Without a specialized adaptive technology lab, the DCP requires less physical space. However, since clients can generally bring equipment back to us when needed, we can maintain a central point of service, minimizing travel to distant work sites. Not being restricted to a single lab space prevents conflicts between clients with differing and sometimes competing adaptive needs (such as Braille printing versus the quiet required for voice recognition). Finally, the ability to standardize some aspects of the setup process makes mobile computing more efficient than a LAN (local area network), since much adaptive software must be installed on local workstations even in a network setting.

C. Philosophy of Independence

The move to mobile computing has also been driven by a philosophy of fostering independence. Our approach places clients in the mainstream campus environment, where their needs mesh with those of the general population, many of whom now also have mobile computers. Making students and other clients independent reduces the workload for in-class notetakers and other support staff. The experience of using the technology in real settings--classroom, office, or field research--gives clients the practical basis for informed purchasing decisions, whether in the marketplace or in consultations with funding agencies.

II. DEVELOPING A MANAGEABLE LOANER POOL

A wide range of hardware and software must be evaluated, installed and supported in order to make mobile computing function well for a diversified user base of persons with a variety of disabilities. In most of the following categories it is realistically impossible to master all system configuration options, including details of version and upgrade status of each supported product. Support must be targeted to what is known to work well.

A. Choosing System Hardware

To begin, dependable brands and models of computers must be identified. We look for a favorable combination of price and features, together with dependable service from local vendors. This gives maximum performance for users and minimizes downtime for the machines.

B. Choosing Standard Software

The next step is to determine the operating systems and mainstream software to be supported. Over time, clients will require a very large number of applications, but the staff can only realistically support programs that will benefit a high percentage of clients. In our case, the existence of the University's Bruin OnLine package simplified the decision. It contains Netscape, Eudora for E- mail, and other Internet utilities. We also support Omnipage for OCR (optical character recognition), Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer. For most other mainstream software training, we provide information on other resources or ask clients to request assistance within their own departments. With few exceptions we encourage our clients to use Windows 95. We focus on commonly used applications rather than specialized word processors and other software written for persons with disabilities. These standard applications will be more likely to aid workplace integration for clients in the future, simplifying communication with colleagues and in-house technical support staff.

C. Choosing Peripherals

Thirdly, a series of peripherals must be evaluated for inclusion in the mobile computing strategy. This category includes standard and adaptive devices: text scanners, printers, Ethernet and modem connectivity hardware, sound cards and microphones for voice recognition, Braille display and speech output hardware and ergonomic keyboards, among other items. Extensive testing is necessary, as some of these products have unusual installation requirements, which will complicate setup on a notebook machine. Be aware of version numbers for the software that controls these devices, and watch Web sites for the most current software drivers. Pricing and dependable vendor service remain important factors.

D. Choosing Adaptive Software

Many of the same criteria apply to the fourth category, the selection of adaptive software. However, the success or failure of the software will have an immediate impact on the success or failure of the client. Thus, in this instance price is less important than performance. In the relatively small and volatile adaptive technology market, the company manufacturing the software must also be taken into consideration. The goal is a long-term relationship with a stable company in each adaptive field. This will help ease the workload of evaluating new products. High-quality, timely technical support direct from the company (not just the local dealer) is essential, as is a reasonable number and quality of upgrades. Another advantage is a well- designed and frequently updated Web presence for the downloading of patches and upgrade files.

A series of usability tests is used to evaluate the performance of adaptive software, focusing on what works for clients in real environments. The adaptive software must allow the user to complete normal tasks roughly as quickly as an average user. The user should be confident that the adaptive technology itself does not lead easily to errors in operation. Lastly, the adaptive software must work well with standard applications as they are normally used, so that adaptive techniques do not become a barrier to communication with non-disabled colleagues.

E. Installation and Maintenance

A set of installation and maintenance routines permits efficient building of systems and rapid troubleshooting. A good knowledge of the accessibility features of Windows 95 is invaluable. Know which features will help your clients and which ones will duplicate features of the adaptive technology. Know which features of mainstream software will cause problems for your clients. Know the special installation and configuration requirements of the adaptive hardware and software.

In practice our troubleshooting methods are combined with the evaluation process described above. The entire process generates a technology trickle-down effect that benefits our clients in many ways. The process begins with a demonstration by a vendor of a new hardware system in our office. The vendor demonstrates the machine's features, and we install our basic peripherals and adaptive software while the vendor is present. During a 30-day evaluation period the staff performs extended testing by using the machine for daily work. If the tests are successful, we purchase one or more of the units. These machines are then passed along to clients, while we begin evaluating the next-generation upgrade or another model. This means that our clients receive loaner equipment comparable or superior to anything available to any user on campus. We can also offer better technical support after having used the equipment on a daily basis.

The speed and large capacity of current mobile computing systems have made possible very efficient procedures for backing up and rebuilding systems. This efficiency has been our long-term goal, but until recently was difficult to achieve in practice. However, the principle of backing up and reinstalling complete system configurations, whether from a network, backup drive, or other storage medium has guided our thinking throughout the changes in the specific technology.

When we receive a machine from a vendor we create two partitions on the hard disk using the Partition Magic program. On the main drive we then install the Bruin OnLine package, Ethernet/modem software, Microsoft Office, and a typical set of adaptive software including JAWS For Windows, Keynote Multimedia speech and DragonDictate. We then use the disk-imaging program Ghost to create an exact image of the entire system. This image is compressed and stored on the secondary partition. (This still leaves about 50% of a 3-gigabyte hard disk free for the client's use.) We use the Windows 95 password facility to create system profiles for all of our long-term clients. Finally we install any other user-specific software that may be needed, such as ZoomText for screen magnification, the IRISPen hand-held scanner, or Ultimate Reader.

With such a backup configuration we can simply delete the entire C-drive and quickly reinstall a clean system. We rebuild all of our machines from the backup partitions as part of a full maintenance check at the end of each ten-week academic Quarter.

The backup partitions are also very useful for troubleshooting. It is often worthwhile to keep a log of problem fixes, preferred settings and known conflicts among applications. However, it can still be more efficient in many cases to start from scratch by reinstalling from the secondary partition. We have found it necessary to avoid playing detective for unusual errors. Our primary role is to provide service, not to debug software, and reinstalling may be the solution that will make time for more clients to be served. We also do not attempt to provide a storage system for user files. We instruct clients to keep all their personal data on floppy disks, and from the beginning of training we stress their responsibility to make backups for critical information.

III. ADMINISTRATIVE CONSIDERATIONS AND RATIONALE

A. General Procedures

The DCP has established administrative procedures to follow the progress of our clients and the status of equipment on loan. A thorough intake interview with each client regulates who will receive DCP services. In addition it should explore the client's goals, determine the nature and extent of disability, and suggest how the adaptive technology will fulfill the client's needs. We set up a regular training schedule, concentrating on the most critical needs first: use of the adaptive technology, knowledge of Windows 95, or building skills in standard applications.

We have instituted a baseline two-week lending period for our equipment. We frequently allow for extensions, as long as the client continues to provide informal status reports and agrees to return the equipment when others need it. This allows us to monitor the progress of clients after the initial interview and training period. Sign-out forms act as a mechanism to track the location and current features of each machine in the loaner pool. The lending policy is also designed to be slightly inconvenient, thus encouraging students to take advantage of the campus drop-in labs for E- mail, printing, and other routine tasks.

B. Damage Policy

The cost and fragility of the loaner pool equipment requires an explicit damage policy. Publicly available documents and sign-out agreements must state the rights and responsibilities of the client and the department related to maintaining the loaner equipment. Limits and terms of liability must be established, taking into account intentional and unintentional damage, as well as repeated incidents involving the same person. Especially when dealing with students we recognize that they will probably be unable to pay large repair costs, yet some accountability must be maintained. In any event, some provision for wear-and-tear on the equipment should be calculated into the department's operational budget along with new acquisitions. Finally, explicit documentation must state that the department is not liable for illegal activity carried out by clients using departmental equipment.

IV. COOPERATIVE RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER ORGANIZATIONS

A. Cooperation On Campus

The ongoing success of the DCP loaner pool program would not be possible without the cooperation of many other entities, both on and off campus. We coordinate our activities with other disability-related University services, including the Office for Students with Disabilities and the Chancellor's ADA and 504 Compliance Office (ADA = Americans with Disabilities Act). We consult with technical experts within the campus computing community (e.g.: Library, Campus Web Publishers, Computer Lab Managers). Discussions with these groups give us advance notice of special projects and trends that will affect our clients, such as the move to Windows NT networks. These exchanges also provide a forum for us to publicize and advocate for universal design and other access issues with computing developers.

B. Vendor Partnerships

We keep in close contact with our network of local vendors of standard and adaptive technology. Such partnerships offer us another channel for learning about new products. Local vendors can also guarantee rapid service for damaged equipment, often involving emergency pickup and delivery to our office. They have also been willing to offer substantial price reductions, viewing our clients as a group eligible for discounts, rather than as isolated purchasers. Especially relevant to adaptive technology, further savings are often available for skilled users who have received training from our staff, since they will require less follow- up training and support from the vendor.

C. Working With Funding Agencies

The DCP also works closely with the UCLA Financial Aid Office, the California State Department of Rehabilitation, and other organizations that can help clients obtain funding to purchase their own computer systems. Through information exchanges these organizations learn about the latest technology from us, and we learn their specific goals for funding applicants. We are then able to write support letters for our clients emphasizing the importance of mobile computing to a successful outcome as defined by the funding organization. We also follow up on successful funding applications to ensure that the client is satisfied with the equipment and is adhering to all terms of the funding agreement.

In the case of Financial Aid, the relevance of mobile computing to academic achievement, participation in University activities, or a specific academic goal should be stressed. State Rehab requires strong evidence that the recommended computer system will help the client obtain skills transferable to the workplace. The case must be made that a University graduate with good computer skills will have better job prospects in his/her chosen field. This justifies the immediate expense for the computer system, as opposed to a less expensive solution, which would result in a low-skill job placement. For the Reasonable Accommodation Program (RAP), which provides matching funds for adaptive technology for University employees (administered by The Chancellor's ADA & 504 Compliance Office), issues of continued or improved job performance may need to be highlighted. In all cases we emphasize the latest technology in Windows 95/NT. This will give greater long- term value for the client, even though older technology may be less expensive in the short term.

V. CONCLUSION

The DCP's goal is that all of our clients should become self- reliant for their computing needs after "graduating" from the laptop loaner program. We offer training and support until they can maintain their own systems. This includes forming independent relationships between the client and vendors for direct technical assistance when needed. Our student clients should enter the workforce not only able to use their adaptive technology efficiently, but with the ability to learn and adapt to future technologies in a changing workplace. For Staff and Faculty our goal is to spin off day-to-day technical support needs to home department support units. Here, too, self-reliance in computing is the best long-term strategy for full integration into technology-related campus activities. In all of these cases, as the models of distance education and telecommuting become more accepted and broadly implemented, mobile computing offers the most flexible solutions for the full participation of persons with disabilities.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Patrick J. Burke
Disabilities and Computing Program
UCLA, OAC

Tel.: (310) 206-6004
E-mail: burke@ucla.edu 
WWW: http://www.dcp.ucla.edu/patrick

Guido Grimaldi
Interim Coordinator
Disabilities and Computing Program
UCLA, OAC

Tel.: (310) 206-9458
E-mail: grimaldi@ucla.edu 
WWW: http://dcp.ucla.edu/guido/

Disabilities and Computing Program WWW: http://www.dcp.ucla.edu

TRADEMARKS

DragonDictate(R) is a registered trademark of Dragon Systems, Inc.

Eudora(R) is a trademark of Qualcomm, Inc.

Ghost(R) is a registered trademark of Binary Research Limited.

IrISPen(R) is a registered trademark of Image Recognition Integrated Systems, Inc.

JAWS For Windows(R) is a registered trademark of Henter- Joyce, Inc.

Keynote Multimedia Speech(R) is a registered trademark of Pulse Data International, Ltd.

Microsoft, Windows, Windows NT and/or other Microsoft products referenced herein are either trademarks or registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation.

Netscape(R) is a registered trademark of Netscape Communications Corporation.

Omnipage(R) is a registered trademark of Caere Corporation.

Partition Magic(R) is a registered trademark of PowerQuest Corporation.

ULTimate Reader(R) is a registered trademark of Universal Learning Technology.

ZoomText(R) is a registered trademark of AI Squared, Inc.


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