2000 Conference Proceedings

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DO-IT On The Road: Technical Support of Students With Disabilities in Multiple States

Dan Comden
University of Washington
DO-IT Program
Box 354842
Seattle, WA 98195

Delivery and maintenance of computers and adaptive technology in a large geographic region poses unique problems. The DO-IT Program at the University of Washington works with high school students (Scholars) with disabilities in thirty states. Computers and adaptive technology to access the Internet and for academic use are loaned to DO-IT Scholars and are employed in their homes. Observation and research has demonstrated that self-esteem, academic success and leadership skills have increased for participants in DO-IT. Central to these success stories is the use of computers and the internet – without them there would be no program. But what happens when a modem no longer works or a piece of software needs reinstallation or general usage help is sought? With seven years of experience supporting Scholars locally, regionally and nation-wide, DO-IT staff have identified strategies, vendors and techniques to address a variety of support issues. Using the resources of the Internet as well as voice and TDD phone support, DO-IT staff are able to provide a high level of support and training without onerous travel and administrative expenditures.

Success in providing quality support has four elements: selection of quality equipment, thorough initial training, contact with alternate local technical assistance and a consistent availability of program staff via telephone and electronic mail when questions or problems arise.

Selection of quality hardware and software simplifies long term and long distance support issues. But no program has an inexhaustible budget; discovering effective and affordable technology is the cornerstone for providing support when the computer and student is three time zones away. Determining which system vendor to use in these scenarios has resulted from satisfaction surveys and experience. Cost is also a factor. By using a nationally known vendor of computer systems that provides special University pricing, the DO-IT Program has been able to acquire high quality systems at reasonable prices. Along with these systems comes a robust three-year warranty that includes on-site service in the event of system failure. This obviates the need for additional in-person technical staff visits. Properly selecting systems that can later be expanded or upgraded is also important. As the scholars gain experience with their systems at home, they're able to upgrade various components as they see fit.

Choosing adaptive equipment and software that is flexible in addressing the needs of these students as their requirements and abilities change is also critical. Determining the proper mix of hardware and software can't be a trial-and-error experience, as many of the participants from other states only receive one in-person visit. Via a process of telephone interviews with student, parents, and local specialists, the best mix of technology to suit the student's needs is achieved. For follow-up in-person support, school or other specialists participate in the in-person training by DO-IT staff to obtain knowledge of the equipment and software provided. This allows them to be the in-home support if necessary.

Delivery, setup and adequate training in the use of computers and adaptive hardware or software as well as use of internet resources (particularly electronic mail) is another key element of providing good support. By ensuring that the student has a solid grasp of computer and internet fundamentals, including where to find answers to some of their questions in documentation, the number of calls for technical assistance is reduced. Follow-up training is provided when the Scholars visit the University of Washington for their summer session experiences. While living on campus for two weeks, Scholars are treated to daily training sessions covering a wide variety of topics to increase their knowledge and computing skills.

Coordination with local resources, including family members, peer institutions, special education teachers, and technology specialists is yet another piece of the support structure. By using nearby resources who can provide hands-on support and technical expertise, students are assured of the personal touch when the "chips" are down.

Availability of staff is the fourth aspect to consider when providing assistance to remote users of adaptive technology. By using voice mail, fax and most importantly, electronic mail, DO-IT has been able to fill the technical support needs of program participants. Requests for troubleshooting sent via e-mail allow support staff to provide coverage regardless of their physical location or work shift. Program staff also have access to a computer lab where a Scholar's system can be replicated in order to provide a similar setting to allow for accurate and complete answers to questions and provide solutions to problems.

Merely providing students with computers and equipment is not enough; resources must be allocated to provide for initial and ongoing training as well as technical support when things go wrong. High tech tools allow DO-IT staff to provide a high level of personal support to program participants in a timely and cost-effective manner.

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