2001 Conference Proceedings

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The A to Zs of Setting Up Assistive Technology Services in the College Environment

Marla C. Roll, MS, OTR
Director, Assistive Technology Resource Ctr
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523
Email: mcroll@cahs.colostate.edu 

Howard Kramer, ATP
Assistive Technology Lab Coordinator
University of Colorado-Boulder,
Boulder, Co 80309
Email: hkramer@colorado.edu 

  1. Model of Services

    a. Central Lab vs. Distributed Across Campus

    At some point, when either starting up Assistive Technology Services or evaluating current services, the decision will have to made as to the best model for providing services, either through a central location or through adaptive technology distributed around campus. Many campuses use a combination of the above two models, using a centrally located AT Lab for training (of Assistive Technology) and then distributing adaptive workstations around various locations to ensure that students have access to technology where needed.

    A survey of 4 universities/colleges along with the models of our own two institutions provided results that support this contention. University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado State University, Ball State University, Oregon State University, UC-Berkeley and San Jose State all have labs at both a centralized location and distributed at various labs and classrooms/departments around campus.

    b. Legal Issues that relate to the above model

    This combined model described above not only makes programmatic sense but is also encouraged by OCR rulings related to the Title II or the Americans with Disabilities Act. In a letter to UC-Long Beach, OCR stated that:

    "....sole reliance upon a single centralized location (when not limited to adaptive technology training, but instead used for instructing disabled students in course subject matter) may run counter to the strong philosophy embodied in Title II and Section 504 regarding the importance of fully integrating students with disabilities into the mainstream educational program, unless such services cannot be otherwise effectively provided"

    Therefore, having Assistive Technology integrated throughout the campus is not only a question of effective access, it is also necessary to do to ensure compliance with the ADA.

    c. Other Models for distributing adaptive workstations around campus

    Another model discussed and at the beginning stages of implementation at the University of Colorado is a laptop loan model. With this model, instead of placing workstations at various labs and locations around campus, laptops with adaptive equipment are sometimes loaned to students. The advantage to this model is that the user is provided with the particular technology (on the laptop) according to their specific needs. The technology can then be ported to any location on campus where it is needed. 

    There are a number of issues that will arise and have surfaced with CU's implementation of this project. Since access to the Web and Internet are key to academic activities, this model will only work if there are available network/data ports for students to plug into (physically or through infra-red ports) around campus. Furthermore, there is still the question of access to scanners for students with vision or reading disabilities who need to convert hard copy to an electronic format. Therefore, students will either have to conduct scanning at existing satellite stations or "scanning stations" need to be established that can be hooked into by students as needed.
    Another questions that arises with this model is: how to determine who receives this loan of equipment and who does not. Do we discourage students from acquiring their own technology if it is provided through the university?

  2. Selecting Equipment

    Another issue faced by any institution that seeks to set up Assistive Technology and Adaptive Computer Stations on campus is "what is the essential equipment that needs to be obtained and how to decide among competing products?"

    Most Assistive Technology programs include the following types of technology:

    a. Screenreaders (voice output, usually for students with vision impairments). Ex. JAWS & Window-Eyes.
    b. Screen Enlargement such as Magic or ZoomText.
    c. Scanners to be used with specialized software to convert hard copy to computer format.
    d. OCR software for individuals with vision impairments (usually converts document to a text-only format). Ex. OpenBook, Omni 1000.
    e. OCR software for individuals with reading disabilities (usually includes both text and graphics). Ex. Wynn, Omni 3000
    f. Reading software for individuals with reading disabilities. Ex. E-Reader, Read & Write.
    g. Voice recognition. Ex. NaturallySpeaking, ViaVoice.
    h. Ergonomic mice and keyboards
    i. Larger monitors (17" or greater)
    j. Braille printer and brailling software
    k. Closed Circuit TV for enlarging hard copy
    l. Adjustable workstations
    m. Adjustable chairs

  3. And sometimes:

    a. Tactile printers
    b. Dynamic braille displays

    Choosing a product among a field of choices is often a dilemma. A campus or university often does not want to use the resources in obtaining and upgrading two products that perform the same function, such as JAWS and Window-Eyes. Furthermore, selecting more than one product in a particular function area means learning and supporting that software, another drain on resources. 

    Without recommending one product over another, we will start by saying that there are advantages and disadvantages among the pairs of products listed above. For instance, in the area of screenreaders, JAWS is the most popular screen reading software for Windows. Therefore, most students who have their own screenreading technology will more often have this product. If this is your chosen campus screenreader, your should be better able to support students who have this software. Another consideration is platform. If you require a screenreader for an NT platform, you have no choice but to select JAWS over a product such as Window-Eyes. 

    Some of the benefits of Window-Eyes are that it is often ahead of JAWS in access to the Web though at the time of writing this paper, they both have excellent tools for "reading" Web pages. Another advantage of Window-Eyes is that it has tools for individuals with low vision. A user who can operate the mouse, can use the mouse pointer to read icons, text and other items on the screen. JAWS does not have this feature. One last point to consider is cost. Windows-Eyes is significantly less expensive than JAWS.

    There is similar give-and-take when comparing other products with similar functions. IBM's ViaVoice is rated more accurate than NaturallySpeaking (PC Magazine, 11/5/99). However NaturallySpeaking was also rated as a better product for hands-free control and correction. 

    During the actual CSUN presentation we will look at how other products compare.

  4. Access to online classes and online course material that supplements traditional classes

    No matter how well equipped your campus is with Assistive Technology and adaptive access, there are some issues that can only be resolved in collaboration with other departments and campus units. One of these areas is Web Access. 

    Even if access is provided to computers and print material through assistive technology, that does not assure full academic access for students. As the college and university presence on the Web grows, Web based information must be designed accessibly. This issue must be addressed through inter-department collaboration since Web pages, particularly academic-related pages, can come from many different parts of a campus. The impetus for such collaboration and outreach must usually come from the Disability Services Office or from the staff involved in providing Assistive Technology Services since other groups are usually not aware of this access issue.

    Many campuses, including CSU and CU-Boulder, have found that forming a committee with representatives from various areas of campus involved with Web design is an effective way to address this campus-wide issue.

    Problems that often arise when trying to improve Web access on campus include the following:

    a. There are no LEGAL guidelines for determining the accessability of Web pages.

    b. It is not clear that Web access is legally required by the ADA or Sect. 504.

    c. The technical guidelines that exist, such as from the Web Access Initiative (WAI), are too complex and lengthy.

  5. Some approaches that can be used to address this issue include:

    a. Using a subset of the WAI guidelines such as AHEAD's (http://www.ahead.ie/acc/index.html) , WAI's (http://www.w3.org/WAI/References/QuickTips/) own Quicktips or Ron Stewart's from Oregon State University and posting these guidelines or links to these guidelines on campus Web pages.

    b. Develop an outreach and training program to various areas of campus involved in Web development and distance education.

    c. In outreach activities, use the OCR rulings, such as the letter to CSU, Long Beach, to emphasize the need to make Web pages and other electronic information resources accessible.

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