2001 Conference Proceedings

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PROVIDING ACCESS TO TECHNOLOGY - IS IT ENOUGH?
The Role and Responsibility of the Disability Services Office in providing Adaptive Technology in Higher Education

Katherine L. Myers
Assistant Director
Office of Disability Services
E186 Student Union
Dayton, OH 45435
phone: 937-775-5680
TTY: 937-775-5844
Fax: 937-775-5795
email: katherine.myers@wright.edu



With the boom in the use of technology on college campuses and the legislation requiring electronic access, it is clear that colleges have a responsibility to provide adaptive technology or equal access to technology in the classroom and the computer lab. However, does the responsibility of the college end with access? What happens when the student with a disability arrives with very little knowledge of computers? What happens when the student has never used an adaptation before? Who is responsible for training the student in the use of adaptive technology? If the university or college requires access to the internet for taking exams, whose responsibility is it to make sure the authoring tool is accessible and who is going to train the student on how his/her adaptation works with the authoring tool? This presentation will demonstrate how Wright State University has dealt with these issues.

The Adaptive Computer Lab

One of the biggest questions seems to be whose responsibility is it to establish the adaptive computer lab, maintain it; and once it is established, who trains the students to use the equipment. The Adaptive Computer Lab at Wright State University is a separate open lab located with the other general use open labs in the Computer and Telecommunications Services (CATS) Department. The lab contains computer stations with access to a wide variety of adaptations on all stations. Adaptations include screen reading, text reading, scanning with a reading program, head-pointing, screen enlargement, onscreen keyboards, mini keyboards and king keyboards. The lab is maintained by CATS, but the management of the use of the lab and responsibility for training students lies with the Office of Disability Services' Adaptive Technology Specialist.

Most of the adaptive hardware is available for checkout and use in any open computer lab. Adaptive software is available through the university network and can also be used in any open computer lab. The mission of the lab is training, testing, and homework; but it is not meant to be a segregated computer lab. Any student can use the lab; however, a student with a disability who needs the adaptations on a specific computer has priority in the lab.

Training

Now that the lab is established, who will do the training? Should the student be expected to be able to go in and use the equipment from the beginning? Wright State University discovered several years ago the student with a disability typically arrives on campus with very little training on computers much less using adaptive technology. The first step in solving this problem is when the Adaptive Technology Specialist meets with students who require adaptive technology. Together they look at the student's knowledge of computers and use of adaptive technology to determine the level of support, i.e., training that the student will need during the first few months at the university. If the student does not have adequate computer skills or has had limited access to adaptive technology, the recommendation is made for the student to take "Adaptive Computer Technology" - a course on adaptive technology that focuses on computer survival skills and learning how to use an appropriate adaptation.
All students who take the course are required to have met with the Adaptive Technology Specialist in advance to be signed into the class. The class is offered two different quarters each year, is graded and counts as four credit hours towards graduation. There is a lecture that meets twice a week and a lab that meets once a week. The first five weeks of the class focus on computer terminology and computer basics. The last five weeks focus on adaptive technology in general. In the labs, the students work with Microsoft Word and are taught the basic features of the program while using an appropriate adaptation for their disability.

An advanced course is being offered for the first time this year due to the increased requirements for web enhanced courses. This course is also being taught by the Adaptive Technology Specialist, is graded and carries four credit hours towards graduation. The focus of this class is the use of the Internet and WebCT which is the authoring tool adopted by Wright State University.

Student assistance is provided on a limited basis through a collaborative effort between the CATS department and ODS. This allows the student with a disability to obtain assistance without feeling self-conscious or inadequate. CATS does the hiring of the assistant, but the cost is split between CATS and ODS.

Collaboration

Now that we have them trained, who is responsible not just for maintaining equipment, but making sure all technology is available to all students? Collaboration and education are the key to success. No one person or department can be responsible for every aspect of providing access on the university campus. However, someone has to take the lead to ensure that, just like architectural access, all aspects of technology remain as accessible as possible. At Wright State University the Office of Disability Services (ODS) takes that leading role. Staff members from the Office of Disability Services serve on university- wide committees to ensure students with disabilities are always considered in university decisions. Either the Director or the Adaptive Technology Specialist is an active member of any committee involving the use of technology.

There is an advisory group that includes personnel from the University Library, Computing and Telecommunications Services (CATS), Office of Disability Services and students with disabilities to look at the student needs and use of technology on the campus. This group is the catalyst for testing and reviewing the use of new technologies on campus.

All new technologies are tested in the Adaptive Computer Lab by the Adaptive Technology Specialist and CATS technical support personnel. This includes new software for the classroom and computer labs as well as web authoring tools. Any technology that is not found to be accessible is reviewed for possible updates and how it can be made accessible. When necessary, alternative recommendations are made. It is recognized that we will not be able to make every situation totally accessible. However, every attempt is made to ensure that every situation is as accessible as technology will allow.

Budget

The lab is established, students are trained, collaboration is ongoing to maintain electronic accessibility, but who is responsible for paying for upgrades and providing funds for new adaptive hardware/software for existing labs and new labs? The recommendation across the campus for all new labs is to set aside 3 percent of the equipment budget to go specifically for adaptive equipment. Computing and Telecommunications Services has a set amount in their budget for ADA equipment. The university also has access to funds from the state lottery every other year to support academics. priority in allocating those funds is given to equipment to support students with disabilities both in the actual classroom and in support of the student outside the classroom, i.e., textbooks in alternative formats. The Office of Disability Services works with departments/colleges when requesting those funds to help ensure enough dollars are set aside to provide the appropriate equipment.

Summary

The student with a disability who enters college without a strong computer/adaptive technology background cannot be expected to become independent in computer use without some form of assistance. Maintaining access to new technologies is not going to happen on its own. One person/department does not have to shoulder all of the responsibility. As you can see, with Disability Services at the helm and with solid collaboration, the student with a disability can have more than just equipment to be on equal ground with peers. He/she can also have the training and increased knowledge as well as assurance that new technologies will work for them.
If you would like to learn more about the Office of Disability Services at Wright State University, you can visit us on the Internet at http://www.wright.edu/students/dis_services.


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