2004 Conference Proceedings

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COMPONENTS NEEDED FOR AT SUCCESS: EXPERIENCES FROM CAL STATE, SAN BERNARDINO

Presenters
Kevin Price, ATP,
California State University, San Bernardino, CA
Phone: (909) 880-5079

Niraj Parikh
California State University, San Bernardino, CA
Phone: (909) 880-5071

Davena Burns-Peters
California State University, San Bernardino, CA
Phone: (909) 880-5238

Three years ago California State University San Bernardino (CSUSB) did not have a formalized assistive technology (AT) program. Since then, the Assistive Computing Resource Center (ACRC) has been developed to serve not only students, faculty, and staff with disabilities, but now is providing assistive technology services for the "Inland Empire" of Southern California. The "Inland Empire" is a dual-county area located some 70 miles east of Los Angeles and has a combined population of over 3 million people. This paper will convey, and the participants for our presentation will learn, the components that have been key to our program's quick development. Even though there are different environments at different universities, having these components in place will aid in the growth of any AT program. The components that are going to be covered include administrative support for AT, developing of funding sources, creating partnerships, and building a knowledgeable AT team to provide excellent customer service.

Before any AT program can begin, there must be administrative agreement on the necessity of such a program. Equal access to information and technology for students was first established for universities in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Rehabilitation Act requires an institution to be prepared to make appropriate academic adjustments and reasonable modifications to policies and practices to allow for full participation of students with disabilities. Due to the Rehabilitation Act, most (if not all) universities have some assistive technology provided. Frequently, this assistive technology is not supported adequately. Often times the assistive technology is maintained and supported by a staff member, who has many other responsibilities besides AT, or by a part-time student worker who will graduate and leave a void in supporting and training AT. In many cases it takes lawsuits to get administrative support for AT. In California there were several Office of Civil Rights (OCR) complaints at different universities that have helped spur the development of AT programs. Key administrators in a university program need to be shown that AT is not just the right thing to do for it opens the university up to avoidable lawsuits. To add positive incentives to administrators not only can AT programs avoid lawsuits, but also provide other services that support both the university and the community. AT service outreach to the community could be the key aspect that makes administrators realize that an AT program is valuable. Once key administrators in the university realize all the possibilities of AT services, a successful AT program will develop.

Developing funding sources is another key factor in providing a successful AT program. Once administrators are onboard with AT, the development of funding will sustain the program. Technology and the staff who train and support it, costs money. Space has to be allocated to support an AT program. Technology changes constantly and upgrades are necessary. Without continuous upgrades in technologies and the skills of the staff who train the AT, the technologies that help people with disabilities become outdated and almost useless. Funding can come from a variety of sources. The university can sometimes integrate the costs of AT in their overall budgets. The rationale for this is that students are paying for access to technology with their fees. People with disabilities need to be supported with up-to-date technologies and support that all students on campus receive. Grants, donations, and a "fee for service" relationship with the community are other methods a campus can use to locate funding for a program. To receive outside funding, raises the profile of the AT program and enhances the services to the main clientele of students, faculty, and staff. At California State University San Bernardino, we have been awarded grants and have established a "fee for services" relationship with the community. The Department of Rehabilitation and Verizon have funded our assistive technology initiatives for community outreach. Without this outside funding, we would not have been able to afford technologies such as a Tiger Braille printer which allows us to provide accessible graphics to people with visual impairments. Our "fee for services" relationship with the California Department of Rehabilitation (DoR) also provides assistive technology assessment and training services for DoR clients. No matter the source, funding is critical to the lifespan of a program.

Another key element that needs to be developed is partnerships. Some university-based AT programs are located in disabilities services, while other AT programs are located in technology services of the university. At CSUSB, the AT program is located within Academic Computing and Media which provides different technology services for the campus. No matter the structure of the university, the location of the AT program is not as crucial as its relationship with other campus entities. The ACRC of Academic Computing and Media has developed a very strong relationship with CSUSB's Services to Students with Disabilities (SSD) office. There have been several projects, including a project to create an E-text database for the whole California State University System, which has been successfully completed together. Cultivating this relationship has provided a lot of synergy at our university to provide comprehensive services. The SSD office refers students with disabilities to the ACRC regularly and the ACRC has the technical expertise and resources to help the SSD office and its clientele. This relationship with the SSD office is just one key partnership out of many. ACRC works with many departments on campus in providing AT services in addition to having a partnership with the California Department of Rehabilitation. Each of these partnerships requires effort, time and understanding.

The last vital aspect to the success and growth of our program is customer service. Technical services are a large part of this. However, we emphasize providing one on one service that focuses on the individual's needs as a key element for serving people with disabilities. When hiring people for our program, we emphasize people skills over technical skills. Staff that can be patient with an individual and talk on a client's technical level, allows our program to be flexible in meeting clients needs. Our staff however, does keep up on technology by going to conferences, trainings, and networking with technical people all over the country.

Each of these components have been equally important to the success of our program. The Assistive Computing Resource Center is a young AT program. We have had the right combination of variables come together to help our program meet our clients' needs on campus and in the community. These components are reproducible in other environments, but they take dedication, planning, and support. People with disabilities can be served more effectively with a program supported by an administration, funded by a variety of sources, created with strong partnerships and run by a friendly knowledgeable staff.


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