2001 Conference Proceedings

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UIUC Summer Computer Technology Camps for High School Student with Disabilities

Jon Gunderson, Ph.D.
Division of Rehabilitation - Education Services
College of Applied Life Students
University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign
Rehabilitation Education Center
1207 S.Oak Street
Champaign, IL 61820


The UIUC Summer computer camps are an opportunity for high school students to explorer higher educational opportunities, learn about assistive technologies and develop skills in using the WWW. Two week long camps are offered: one for students with significant visual impairments and the other for students with orthopedic impairments. The camps provide hands on learning experiences with computers and a chance for students to share experiences with their peers, college students, faculty and staff with similar disabilities. Students live in college dormitories during their stay and also sample campus life through evening recreational experiences including: quad rugby, bowling, theater, picnics and swimming.


The summer technology literacy camps were born out of a need seen by both the Division of Rehabilitation - Education Services (DRES) and the State of Illinois Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS). Brad Hedrick the Director of DRES and Bob Galbreath (UIUC campus ORS counselor) saw the need for improved preparation of students with disabilities for post-secondary education. Many students were not well prepared for the demands of campus life and the issues of independently managing their disabilities. Discussions initiated in the Fall of 1997 to determine how DRES and ORS could work together to develop programs that would prepare students with disabilities for post-secondary education.

There were four main areas of need identified:

Improving the knowledge of post-secondary educational opportunities by students with disabilities.
Independent computer literacy for reading, writing and accessing print and electronic information.
Transitional services for orienting students to campus life.
Knowledge of disability accommodation laws for education and employment.

There are structural barriers for students with disabilities to learn about post secondary opportunities. A few examples of barriers include:

Universities and colleges do not providing accessible recruitment materials to high schools, unless there is a specific request for accessible materials.
Counselors and recruiters are not familiar with disability accommodation services in post secondary education.
Patronizing educators often feel continued education would be "too difficult", other educators are discriminatory and feel people with disabilities are "not capable" of continued education.
Students with disabilities do not have the skills to independently work in a university environment, since many have been dependent on surrogates for classroom accommodations. There are many other examples of barriers, but in general there are more structural and attitudinal barriers for students with disabilities to attend post secondary education than for able-bodied students with the same academic credentials.

Independent Literacy

For students who cannot type on a computer keyboard, write with a pencil, see the print in books or images on a computer screen independent literacy is a major issue. Most school districts provide students with writing and reading impairments with surrogates to provide access to print materials or for completing writing assignments. This model is often convenient for both student and the schools since the able-bodied surrogate can easily adapt to the needs of the student and the curriculum needs little (if any) modification. The schools do not need to invest in assistive technologies and support resources that enhance independent reading and writing development of the student. While the surrogate model may work in schools it does not provide students with essential skills upon graduation. Students who graduate without the ability to independently read or write will be severely limited in their opportunities. Employment discrimination law (Americans with Disabilities Act) does not require an employer to provide surrogates for reading or writing and therefore students with disabilities need to develop knowledge and skills in technologies that enhance their independent literacy in order to enhance their future opportunities.

Rights and Responsibilities

Many students and parents do not understand their rights and responsibilities under existing disability law for primary, secondary, post-secondary and employment. This puts the educators and administrators in the leadership role for managing Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) for educational accommodations. In many cases educators don't have the necessary knowledge of assistive technologies to enhance independence, and in other cases administrators are reluctant to purchase technologies due to scarce resources for purchasing and supporting assistive technology without proven knowledge that the technology will be used effectively. Parents and students need to know their rights for technology evaluations and for the inclusion of assistive technology as part of educational accommodations, if they are to be an effective participant in the IEP process. The more knowledge and skills parents and students have in assistive technologies, the more effectively they can advocates for their use of assistive technologies to enhance their independence.

Transitional Issues

Students with disabilities have a more challenges than an able-bodied student transitioning to post-secondary education. In addition to normal transitional issues all students face, students with disabilities also face additional issues related to transportation, orientation to accessible routes to classes and campus resources, conversion of educational materials to accessible forms, independent management of disability related personal care issues (i.e. managing personal attendants, environmental control…). The more of these issues a student has developed compensation skills before they start school, the more they will be able to compete on an even footing with their able-bodied peers.

Objectives of the Independent Literacy Camps

The camps are centered on the development of skills in the use of assistive technology to augment their physical or sensory abilities in order to independently read, create and transform both print and electronic information. The camps are focused on two disability groups: persons with significant upper extremity impairments and persons with significant visual impairments/blindness. These groups are targeted since they are at the highest risk of not developing independent literacy skills and their need for transitional services. More specifically, the four main goals of the camp will be:
To Improve Awareness and Skills in Independent Literacy Technologies Assist students in determining the types of assistive technology that are most effective in meeting their independent literacy and information access needs, and provide hands-on training in the use and application of that technology. Improve students' knowledge and skills in the use of the WWW via active learning techniques, hands-on experiences and the creation of personal WWW home pages. To provide transitional information to students on post-secondary opportunities Orient students to the career possibilities that may be achieved through post-secondary education.
Orient students to campus life through tours and interaction with current UIUC students with similar disabilities.
Increase students' knowledge regarding post secondary disability accommodations.
Help students understand the process of admissions to post-secondary institutions.
To Improve the Ability of Participants to Self-Advocate

Improve students' understanding of legislation related provision of assistive technology within secondary and post-secondary education, and employment settings. Improve students' ability to advocate for themselves' regarding the inclusion of technology for literacy and setting educational goals in their IEPs.

Camp Activities

Orientation to Higher Education Opportunities

The students lived at university residence halls during the camp and had UIUC students with disabilities serve as residential counselors. The students received tours of the libraries, digital music lab, food and crop science laboratories and the NCSA virtual reality cave. The students from the visual impairment camps also attended the play the at the Krannert performing arts center. Other evenings students went bowling at the student union, played quad rugby, had a barbecue with UIUC students, staff and faculty with similar disabilities. The students had many opportunities to experience both the educational and recreational resources of the university.

Picture of students and staff outside Beckman Research Institute after touring the NCSA Virtual Reality Cave

Trying Assistive Technology

The campers were able to try a number of different assistive technologies during the week. The following is a list of the technologies that were demonstrated and available for students to try during the camp:

Microsoft Windows Accessibility Options, Display options and Mouse pointers Adjustable tables Alternative pointing devices: Trackballs and ProPoint Large Monitors: 21" and 29" video monitors used in low resolution graphics mode Screen Magnification and Enhancement: Zoomtext Extra Screen Readers: Henter-Joyce JAWS OCR Reading Software: Arkenstone Ruby, Kurzweil 3000 Word prediction software: Co:Writer, TextHelp: Read and Write Voice input: Dragon Dictate and Dragon Naturally Speaking Alternative Keyboard: TASH Mini-keyboard, BAT one-hand keyboard, Intellikeys keyboard

Developing WWW Literacy Skills

Students learned how to access the WWW using Internet Explorer with the JAWS screen reader, built-in accessibility options or through Zoomtext. Students used Softquad HotMetal Pro to create their own personal WWW home page. The WWW is becoming an important literacy skill and students with these skills will have more educational and employment opportunities, than students who do not have these skills. Just like people with basic reading and writing literacy skills, people with WWW literacy skills have more educational and vocational opportunities. The students created an on-line daily diary of their camp experiences and published the results of their water balloon catapult predictions on their home page. The students learned how to use elements like headers, paragraphs, images and tables to create their WWW pages, and how to transfer pages to a WWW server.

Higher Education Experience

The students participated in a water balloon launcher experiment. The experiment required the students to collect data on the distance a water balloon traveled based on the pressure and the angle a balloon was launched. The students used the data to build a mathematical model of the distance traveled using the software Microsoft Excel. Each student used the model to predict the distance a balloon would travel for 5 previously unmeasured pressures and launch angles. The predictions were then tested by comparing the predictions with actual distance measurements at the test pressures and angles. The results were published on the WWW home pages of each student. The visually impaired students generated charts using Microsoft excel that were used to create raised line drawings for the students to feel, complete with Braille labels.

Picture of staff and campers launching water balloons with accessible water balloon cannon

Picture of visually impaired student analyzing waterballoon trajectory using raised tactile graphics generated from an Excel spreadsheet they used to analyze their data.


Eighteen high school students participated in the 1999 camps and 22 students are expected to participate in the summer of 2000 camps from throughout the state of Illinois. The participants of the camps included people of both genders, diverse racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds. The 1999 students gave the camps very high ratings and most wanted to increase the number of days of the camp. Post camp surveys supported the camp staffs observations that the camps were very successful in stimulating interest in post secondary education, knowledge of assistive technology for computer accessibility and their accommodation rights.

More Information



I would like to thank the Illionois Office of Rehabilitation Services and the University of Illinois Partnership Illinois project for supporting the development of the summer camps.

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