2004 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2004 Table of Contents 


Esther Mason
Community College of Allegheny County - South Campus
1750 Clairton Road
West Mifflin, PA 15122

Education is a major component for economic success in today's world. This is especially true for many individuals with disabilities. Training and skills development are necessary in providing the opportunity for an independent life style and career improvement. Under President Bush's "New Frontier," the federal government is focusing on providing individuals with disabilities access to success in the nation's workforce and in reducing the numbers of people currently on Social Security Disability.

In reviewing the options, many individuals with disabilities choose the community college system. The mission of community colleges is focused on teaching and learning. This is a place for transition from high school (IDEA) programs to postsecondary education. It is a starting point for many adults returning to education after an illness or accident. Community colleges work closely with the state Offices of Vocational Rehabilitation. Community colleges often have open door enrollments, which eliminates the barriers of admittance into higher education. Community colleges also provide a wide variety of academic programs including certificates, two year associate degrees in career fields and transfer to four year institutions. Traditionally class size has been small, costs low and location convenient. Community colleges have prided themselves in the types of academic support offered to their student population. Again, because of these factors many students with disabilities choose community colleges to begin their academic careers.

Key to the success of transition into post secondary education is technology. Since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the area of technology related to disabilities has grown and developed at an amazing rate. Accommodations for individuals with disabilities have changed dramatically. Once where a person may have been dependent on the assistance of another person, independence is now possible.

The Community College of Allegheny County, (CCAC), located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has developed an outstanding supportive services program for students with disabilities. This program began in the mid 1970's and has been a significant part of the College's Mission and Goals as well as a major initiative in the CCAC Planning Documents. CCAC is a multi-campus institution with four main campuses, nine campus centers and numerous off campus sites. The total college enrollment for 2002-2003 was 30,149 credit students (unduplicated). Each of the four main campuses has a supportive services center. In 2002-2003 over 3,000 students with disabilities provided documentation of their disability and were registered for various services and accommodations.

In order to provide exemplary services, CCAC has established ADA committees. This includes a college-wide committee, four individual campus committees and a community advisory board. The responsibilities of these committees are to review current practices, policies and procedures. The role of assistive technology is a major focus in all the groups. Currently, technology issues have been broken into three areas: accessibility, training and funding. Coordination of these three components is primary to the successful implementation of technology at CCAC.

The first area is accessibility. The college is committed to providing access for all individuals with disabilities. This includes credit and non-credit students. A technical support center for disabilities is located within the four supportive services centers. Their responsibility is placing adaptive technology at their campuses, centers and sites. In order to provide equal access to college services, the libraries, career center and computer labs have been equipped with adaptive equipment. Currently the college is researching the use of networking programs throughout the system. Firewalls and costs are two factors under review. It is the responsibility of the supportive services center to identify students' needs of the appropriate technology and then guarantee access in a timely and consistent manner.

In order for students to successfully utilize the available technology, training is vital to the process. Students are provided opportunities to work with a technical support specialist to experience the different types of technology available for their particular needs/disabilities. Each student receives individual training and a workbook specific for the selected technology.

Training is also conducted for the faculty and staff at CCAC. General workshops are offered each semester and individual sessions are also provided upon request. These opportunities expand the awareness of advances being made in technology for the disabled.

Funding is the third component in providing technology advancements. This is often the most challenging. Higher education is facing a fiscal crisis. Federal and state funds are limited and tuitions are on the rise. CCAC has been very generous in recognizing ADA issues and prioritizing money in both the capital and operating budgets, but there continues to be a greater need than available resources. Creative fund raising has been increasingly necessary.

The supportive services centers have addressed this concern in various ways. In 1999, the centers became agencies within the United Way of Allegheny County. This allowed an option for contributions to be designated directly to the supportive services centers for students with disabilities. Grant writing has also been pursued. Federal and state grants have been targeted, as well as, private foundations.

The students have also been actively involved in raising funds for specific needs. Proposals were submitted to student government for procuring various pieces of equipment and received approval. ABLE Company, a student club for raising disability awareness has also been active in fund raising.

In conclusion, post secondary educational institutions must continue to explore and advance the use of technology as it relates to individuals with disabilities. Accessibility, training and funding are issues that must be addressed. Higher education has a responsibility for promoting the use of technology as it prepares students for success in the work environment.

For the conference the following will be presented:
A PowerPoint show highlighting relative information
The student training manual

Technology is the key to academic success for many students with disabilities pursuing higher education. Accessibility, training and funding issues are addressed.

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2004 Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings

Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.