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Information Systems, Computing & Communications
University of Washington
Disabilities and Computing Program
Disabled Students Services High Tech Center
California State University, Long Beach
As adaptive computing technology and support services have become more prevalent on college and university campuses in the past decade, various models have emerged for funding such services. On some campuses, funding comes as a portion of the central computing budget, on other campuses, funding comes through the Disabled Student Services offices. Other campuses provide fees for services to help fund their programs. Many campuses are putting together a package that incorporates a variety of funding sources. Regardless of what model a campus sets up to fund their adaptive technology services, two things have become increasingly clear. One, students, faculty and staff backed up by legal mandate - are expecting that adaptive computing technology and information access be supplied by colleges and universities, and two ensuring that funding is in place over the long haul has become a trickier proposition than establishing the funding in the first place.
This paper focuses on three models of initiating and securing program funding.
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Funding Through Central Computing
The basic philosophy about funding computing technology for students with disabilities at the University of Washington in Seattle is that the unit that provides a given service should fund access to that service for all students. The parking division handles disabled parking spots and the admissions office makes sure that their services are accessible to individuals with disabilities. In the same manner, any unit providing computing access to students in general is responsible for providing such access to everyone, including students with disabilities.
The central computing organization that provides consulting and general computing access provides these services to students with disabilities. Staff also employ universal design features in the campus World Wide Web pages that they host. A central adaptive technology lab where students can test and use adaptive technology for general computing access is located within a general computing facility available to all students. Besides initial central computing support, its resources have been enhanced through grants, targeted state funds, and student technology fees. Departments can receive consultation from the adaptive technology staff, but their respective units are responsible for purchasing equipment and software to support clients in their departmental computing facilities. Similarly, the staff supporting departmental Web sites are responsible for assuring access to these resources. Campus libraries and other campus units have also made use of the central support facility as they make their computers and electronic resources accessible to people with disabilities.
The adaptive technology lab works closely with the disabled student services office and other campus units to assure that students with disabilities can gain access to computing services at the University of Washington.
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Funding Through Disabled Student Services Office
Adaptive technology programs that are part of the disabled students services office are in an unique position, because on one hand they are part of a department that inherently understands the needs of students with disabilities, yet at the same time, they are competing for funding within a usually limited budget. Consequently, securing initial funding and ensuring long-term funding become two very distinct challenges that must be met in different ways.
When the ADA was first signed, individuals from many campuses were able to persuade their administrations that adaptive computing programs were necessary and that funding should be established. That was the good news. Unfortunately, what happened in all too many cases, is that the initial funding dried up, and the adaptive technology programs were left struggling to get funds to keep technology current and to hire enough staff to support a growing number of students who needed the technology.
When adaptive technology is funded through a disabled student services office, ensuring that long-term support stays in place is generally a matter of making the case that quality services are being provided and that they have become critical to a significant number of disabled students. Making such a case rests on gathering solid statistics about the number of students served, what technology the students are using, and how well the technology meets students' needs. Creating a long-term strategic plan based on campus demographics and demographic projections and writing funding proposals that focus on pertinent statistics, commonly used adaptive computing technology, good evaluations, and a reasonable staffing plan become the basis for the funding request.
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Fees for Service
Charging a fee for service is common in the world today. If you get any professional service in the competitive business world, you have to pay something for a quality service. Charging for adaptive computing services is an opportunity to sell an important, quality service in an area where there are relatively few resources. The services can include adaptive computing system recommendations, training, and ongoing adaptive technical support. Many universities such as UCLA and the University of Missouri-Columbia provide adaptive computing professional services to their students, faculty, and staff, free of charge as a benefit of going to that university.
Many people in the local area outside of the university could use the adaptive services provided by the university, as well.
Vocational Rehabilitation and Rehabilitation Services for the Blind, as well as many other agencies that work with people with disabilities, do not have the adaptive computing expertise to help people with disabilities. The university has an opportunity to fill a void and at the same time to reap some benefit. Charging outside agencies that help people with disabilities for adaptive services can help both the people in the community with disabilities as well as provide money for the university that can be funneled back into the university's adaptive technology program. Even when the money is not funneled directly back to the program, it helps the program by making it be known as a money-making resource for the university and not a "drain" of resources.
In many cases, generating revenue will spur the university to dedicate more resources to the program, which helps the main clientele of students, faculty, and staff. This paper will look into some of the issues that have been encountered while dealing with a fee-for-service approach that has been implemented by the University of Missouri-Columbia's Adaptive Computing Technology Center.
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First of all it is important for the university to have the people resources, equipment, and time to deal with outside agencies. If the university is struggling to provide resources to its own clientele, it shouldn't look to expand to a community resource. The university must have the time, resources, and a supportive university administration.
Getting the university administration sold on the idea of fee-for-services is the key first step. The policies of the administration may make it hard to expand services to the community. Administrators usually like the idea of getting more resources and they also like expanding a program's profile. A fee-for-service program can be marketed to the administrators as something that can be positive to the university, as well as ultimately helping the main clientele of students, faculty, and staff with disabilities. Administrators need to be convinced that the services to the main clientele will not be compromised as other agencies bring in their clients. The adaptive technology program has to establish that their main university clientele has priority on any appointments and resources.
Once the administration is sold on the idea, there are still a lot of details that have to be addressed before an adaptive technology program can successfully implement a fee-for-services approach.
Dealing effectively with money-handling issues is critical to the success of the fee-for-services approach. The university adaptive program has to establish a way for people to submit money to pay for the services. A university usually has ways to accept money from the community, and the adaptive technology program will have to become a part of that money-accepting system. The university will have to set up an account to let other agencies submit money that goes through the correct channels with the university. The policies for accepting money have to be firmly established to avoid confusion as the university's adaptive technology program begins accepting fees.
Once all the money and administrative issues are resolved for the university, the many client issues have to be resolved also. The program has to be marketed as a valuable resource, and all the services and limitations of service have to be made clear to potential clients. The specific adaptive and standard hardware and software supported should be communicated, along with the specific expertise of program personnel so there won't be unrealistic expectations or demands on the program. Providing a demonstration of products supported, as well as introducing the staff will help clients understand what they will receive in services for their own clientele.
When making adaptive system recommendations for a person with a disability who is sponsored by an agency, there are some critical issues to be addressed. The main question is to whom does the university hold allegiance the paying client (i.e. Vocational Rehabilitation) or the person with a disability. The person with a disability wants resources to successfully complete his or her work. Sometimes those expectations are realistic and sometimes they are not.
The paying clients are tasked with spending money to make the client successful, but they don't want to overspend. Sometimes they also are unrealistic about what it will take to make the person with a disability successful. The university's adaptive technology program, when providing a fee for services is often in the middle. The university's adaptive technology staff has to rely on their expertise to determine what realistically will help the disabled person be successful and not be swayed by either side. This issue may cause headaches but it is something the university's adaptive technology program will have to deal with if it is going to offer services for a fee to help people with disabilities.
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The university's adaptive technology program has to establish guidelines for offering services for a fee. Some important questions to ask are: What age of clientele will the department serve? What particular types of disability will the department serve? Will the department go off campus to provide services, or must all services be provided on campus? How large a geographic region will the program serve?
The adaptive technology program will also have to establish a fee structure. In establishing fees it is important to look at similar programs in the community and what they charge for the same service. If the charge is too much or too little, it could adversely affect the amount of fees that will be received. Establishing guidelines and boundaries will make clearer the focus of the programs' services and will let the client agencies make correct referrals to the university's program.
The university's program has to establish accountability with the client agency. The client should not dictate the guidelines, and the program needs to provide written documentation about services, costs and deadlines. The client may have unrealistic expectations about the scope of services the university will provide, and the adaptive technology program has to manage these expectations and provide a realistic idea of what can be accomplished within a specific timeframe and what the fees will be.
Customer service needs to be excellent for a fee-for-service program to work, and it should include follow-up surveys. We've already mentioned marketing, but like any business, a fee-for-service program needs to continually be marketed to the community and must also use customer comments and feedback to improve and promote the program.
A fee-for-service program can take a lot of effort, be time-consuming, and use a lot of resources. The university' adaptive technology program must continually evaluate whether it is worth the effort and must always ensure it is not compromising services to the university's main clientele of students, faculty, and staff. Many times such a program is worth the effort because the upgrading of services for the outside agency improves services for the main clientele. For example, customer service skills are helpful to enhance the fees-for-service approach. These customer service skills can help serve everybody, including your main clientele of students, faculty, and staff.
In my experience, fees for services have been worth the effort. It provides many people with disabilities expertise to draw upon, and a good program also generates a lot of positive feedback from the community. And, of course, providing a service that brings in money generates respect for the department within the university. Overall services are usually enhanced by such a program. A fee-for-services program can be a positive approach to helping all the parties involved, including individuals with disabilities, who needs access to technology to accomplish their goals.
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