2006 Conference General Sessions



Alice Anderson
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Information Technology, Technology Accessibility Program
1210 West Dayton Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53706
Day Phone:  (608) 262-2129
Fax: (608) 265-6453
Email:  alice.anderson@doit.wisc.edu


Henry Huang
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Information Technology
140 Memorial Library

Madison, Wisconsin 53706
Day Phone:  (608) 265-3017
Email:  huangh@doit.wisc.edu

Should students with disabilities (SWD) on Postsecondary campuses have separate computer labs (or space set aside) for assistive technology(1) workstations, or should assistive technology be included with other software at each workstation in the labs?  

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-M), SWD are asked to participate in a bi-annual survey that measures the use and utility of computer and information technologies. Results are compared to those of an annual survey with similar goals that administered to the larger student population. The data from both surveys is used for campus planning and policy development.

The results of the 2002 and 2004 SWD “Technology Use Survey”(2) revealed three findings that resulted in the way the Campus Computer Labs purchase and install assistive technology:
1. SWD would prefer to access assistive technology from any workstation in any campus lab. They do not want to be relegated to a corner or area that calls attention to “disability” or difference. Both students with hidden and visible disabilities were in agreement on this point.
2. Many SWD are not aware of assistive technology available in the Campus Computer Labs.
3. Many SWD do not have knowledge of assistive technology that addresses reading and writing challenges.

The campus provides general-access computer labs at 13 locations(3). Use of the labs is free (except for printing) for anyone with a valid UW-M ID. Computer Lab services include many popular word processing, spreadsheet, desktop publishing, graphics software and other packages as well as course-specific offerings. These packages are generally available on both Macintosh and PC platforms. Additional Computer Lab hardware includes DVD/CD-RW & Zip drives, scanners, video editing resources and color printers and assistive technology.  

Unlike many Postsecondary Institutions who designate computing facilities responsibilities for SWD to the Disability Student Services (DSS) offices, the primary responsibility for coordinating computing services for all students at UW-M rests with one central department—The Division of Information Technology. Until recently, computer services for SWD varied from lab to lab. Computer labs had computer workstations equipped with accessible software or hardware, at varying levels. These workstations were set-aside in an area labeled for people with disabilities (non-disabled clients could access and use, however preference was given to SWD). One computer lab (Memorial Library) had the most knowledge of assistive technology, the largest inventory, and worked closely with the campus Disability Student Services Office (McBurney Disability Resource Center) to assure that SWD needs were being met. However, SWD on the UW-M campus said they prefer to have integrated computer labs that d!
o not designate areas as “disability computing” workstations—that request was heard and the computer labs started their transformation.

There are advantages as well as challenges to consider, when a computer lab integrates assistive technology into each workstation. It would be much easier if computer labs during their design, development and implementation stage thought in terms of Universal Design: What works for many different students (universal design) seeks one integrated solution to diverse problems, and addresses the needs of many people without stigmatizing any group. Universal Design has been defined as "The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized usage"(4)  

The Campus Computer labs were also faced with the challenge of rethinking what assistive technology would better serve UW-M. The formula used to meet these challenges is: DAP + BBP + OBA +DWT (Develop Awareness of Problem (DAP), Build Broad Partnerships (BBP), Obtain Buy-In at many levels including Administrators (OBA), Do the Work and Training (DWT).  Specifically the steps taken are:
1. SWD survey results are broadly shared with both administrators and key computer lab personnel.
2. Partnerships are formed or strengthened between the Computer Labs, DSS offices and other individuals, offices and agencies that service disability populations.
3. Buy-in is obtained by sharing survey results, gathering data and examples from other institutions that use server based solutions to serve up software to networked computers, and by partners advocating for change.
4. Having a key computer lab manager agree to help coordinate the work necessary to transform how Computer Labs do business.

The change is ongoing, and requires diligence and patience. In postsecondary institutions, long-lasting positive changes supporting equal access to academic learning requires systemic (institutional) change rather than isolated actions of individuals. Collaborative efforts of faculty, administrators, staff, and students should work toward the goal of educational equity.(5)

Lessons we’re learning (from one Computer Lab):

1. Administrators often think that assistive technology serves a very small population, requiring what appears to be excessive “justification” for acquisition of assistive technology software and upgrades (when compared to the rationale and justification for other software.
2. Training for both students and Computer Lab personnel is needed. Lack of knowledge about how to use assistive technology on the part of both students and staff who oversee the technology is an important concern. If it is to be used effectively, systematic training must be seen as part of the overall investment in the equipment itself.
a. Staff training is key: lab staff consists of 20 part-time students. Training part time students how to use the assistive software/hardware is challenging, as turnover is high, and the training needs are never ending. Often the lab manager (full time staff) is the person who supports assistive technology and will be called at all hours (including while on vacation).
3. The workstations get trashed because they are heavily used—requiring high maintenance (daily usage of the lab is 2000+).
4. Prohibitive costs of software licenses that are server based.
5. Noise complaints from computer lab patrons that the Braille printer is noisy (because it is located in the lab).

Some students are intimidated by computer technologies. Others are not given the appropriate support to use it to its optimum. Rectifying this situation starts with having knowledgeable staff who know how to use the equipment. Periodic "in-service" workshops, demos by students or representatives of adaptive technology organizations and companies can provide a change of pace as well as information Whether it is providing educational opportunities or allotting time to allow staff to learn on their own, learning about adaptive computer technologies needs to take place.

The bottom line for orchestrating changes to be more inclusive is the art of being innovative and creative, including during fiscally restrictive times and when working with a team of students (that are constantly in a state of flux). At UW-M, we are fortunate that a manager for one of the computer lab has the qualities needed to take risks, and go the extra mile to serve all students. He recently received the UW-M Academic Staff Excellence Award (recognizing excellence by members of the UW-M academic staff) for exemplary service, facilities and technology for the campus. Supporting documents for the award stated “…he insures that all users, regardless of age, race, disability or comfort level with technology, feel welcome and are successful in their experience at the computer labs…he does this by example, and by how he develops cooperative relationships among the people he works with and serves.

This session will look at the many factors and players involved in creating an inclusive computer lab; evaluating the views and opinions of students on the state of equipment and support available to them; steps taken to garner buy-in and to implement the changes students request, as well as what the future of campus computing labs is projected to like at UW-M.

(1) Assistive technology is defined by the Technology-Related Assistance Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-407) as any technology used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Source: “Assistive Technology for Postsecondary Students with Learning Disabilities” LDOnLine http://www.ldonline.org/ld_indepth/technology/postsecondary_tech.html
(2) “Technology Use Survey – SWD, 2002 and 2004” http://www.doit.wisc.edu/accessibility/resources.asp
(3) Computing at Madison, Services, Computer Labs http://www.doit.wisc.edu/computerlabs/
(4) The Center for Universal Design ht
(5) “Systemic Change” University of Washington, DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunity, Internetworking, Technology) …http://www.washington.edu/doit/TeamN/systemic.html

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