1999 Conference Proceedings

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TELECOMMUNICATION AND DISTANCE LEARNING FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

JAMES M. BARRY
DIRECTOR
ADAPTIVE COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY
CONSUMER AFFAIRS
BELL ATLANTIC

The technology that corporate america utilizes to facilitate the exchange of data between remote conference meeting sights is finding an application in academia. Distance learning for people with disabilities as an expanding application of the school system, is realizing the benefit of this technology transfer.

As an example, Queensborough Community College, Bayside, Queens, New York has been a leader in the inclusion of people with disabilities into the profile of the student population. The "homebound project" is attempting to meet the un-meet need for higher education by a person with a disability unable to travel to the classroom. Technology is bringing the classroom to the student's home on the bell atlantic infrastructure or telephone lines.

This not a new endeavor for this school, Queensborough Community College has been providing distance learning for students with disabilities for a quarter of a century. The basic tool over most of those years has been the speaker telephone.

Students who need to take classes from home are enrolled in regularly schedules classes on campus. Those classes are scheduled to meet in rooms that are equipped with speaker telephones. At the beginning of each class the instructor places a call to the homebound student. The student hears what is happening in the classroom and can ask questions and interact with the class.

This remains the fundamental form of distance learning that is used. It is possible to have several students conferences on one telephones. That is not favored. optiumly, it is advantageous to schedule more than one homebound student to a clas. For some classes and club activities the school has used conference calling. This allows the equipment to serve a group of homebound students on line at the same time.

The next big advance in the application of technology has been the use of the personal computer. In the early days, few students had and used computers. As comupters came into general use, the staff began encouraging students to get computers. The school lent computers to students who did not yet have their own. The staff has encouraged students to seek formal evaluations so that their computer systems can be optimally configured for their particular disability - related needs.

Several years ago some of the students who were taking computer labs learmed of virtual compitering, and were able to use pc anywhere. They were able to take over a computer in the lab and use it as if they were physically present.

The next technological breakthrough was facsimile. in the early years written materials had to depend on regular mail. It was often several days before materials and assignments could travel between instructors and teachers. Now most of the homebound students have fax capability.

In 1996, the school installed a softboard from microfield technologies. The instructor writes on a whiteboard with a marker. Laser scanners record what is written as a bitmap. Using a simultaneous-voice -and -data modem the students are able to hear what is happening in class and see what is written on the board. Softboard also has the capacity to record an entire class and save it in a file that does not occupy a lot of hard disk space. In 1997 the scgool added the telewriter by optel. This system uses a tablet, which allows a tutor to write to a student in real time. The studentis able to view the materal and allows the student to write back. So far, the major use of this system has been for one-on-one tutoring of students. This semester, they have begun using this system in a classroom using a projection monitor that can be seen by the entire class as well as the student at home. This system has the capacity to work as a "slide show" with visuals prepared in advance.

In the beginning of 1998 the school started using a video conferencing system from U.S. Robotics which allows a student at home to see and be seen in chemistry lectures and labs.


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