2004 Conference Proceedings

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Terry Thompson
Box 355670
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195
Voice 206/221-4168
TTY 206-685-3648
Email: tft@u.washington.edu

Personal digital assistants (PDAs) are small handheld computers, such as the Palm(TM) and iPAQ(TM). PDAs are becoming increasingly popular, not solely for business and personal use, but also for use in education. At all educational levels, PDAs are being used in the classroom to increase student organization, foster collaboration, and maximize portable technology capabilities. PDAs are well suited to these tasks. There are thousands of applications available, many of them free, that support a full spectrum of organizational and educational activities across many academic disciplines. PDAs are also fiscally appealing to educational entities; most models cost less than desktop computers. Higher end PDAs have functional word processing, spread sheets, and presentation software. When combined with a collapsible keyboard, PDAs may fill some of the functions of notebook and desktop computers, particularly in combination with the wireless networks found on many campuses. In May 2001, The University of South Dakota (USD) became the first U.S. postsecondary institution to require the use of handheld computers by undergraduate students.

In many ways, PDAs provide benefits to individuals with disabilities, both in and out of the classroom. For example, people with learning or cognitive disabilities can benefit from PDAs' organizational and task management functions. Also, PDAs may benefit those with mobility impairments by being small, light weight, and portable. With the addition of global positioning system cards and map software, PDAs may aid in community navigation. Vendors of augmentative communication devices have capitalized on the light weight and portable characteristics as they develop PDA-based versions of their products, which can be used in the classroom.

Despite these benefits PDAs are currently not accessible to all users. Users generally interface with a PDA using a small stylus for input, and a small screen for output. These devices can be difficult or impossible to use by individuals who are unable to use the stylus, or who are unable to see the screen.

This presentation will provide an overview and demonstration of how PDA's are being utilized in education. It will also provide an opportunity to explore and discuss the current barriers to accessing PDA's by those with disabilities, and explore current and possible future accessibility solutions.

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