High Tech solutions offer assistance to disabled students
Harriet Eskildsen, Computer Specialist
We are taught in school that everyone, regardless of social or economic background, cultural heritage, religion, race or disability, has the opportunity to obtain the American dream and fulfill his or her goals.
Advances in computer technology, particularly adaptive devices designed for disabled students to facilitate learning and to access information, has radically altered accessibility to education for persons with disabilities. Accessible adapted computer technology for K-12 students has resulted in many disabled students entering two- and four-year colleges well prepared to handle the rigors of higher education with the assistance of this technology.
Long before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990, California community colleges were addressing the educational needs of disabled students. Begun as a pilot project at Monterey Peninsula College in the mid-1980s under the direction of Carl Brown, adapted computer technology was introduced to help students with disabilities be academically independent and learn more effectively. By 1988, 12 of the 106 California community colleges had received grants to establish High Tech Centers for the Disabled.
College of Marin's Marie McCarthy, Coordinator of the Disabled Students Programs and Services (DSPS), had the vision to realize the potential that adapted computer technology offers disabled students. She was among the first to establish a High Tech Center (HTC). With the aid of adapted computer technology, students have the potential to attend classes unassisted, take their own notes, and remain current with their class work and assignments. In the HTC, students receive instruction in accessing the technology that will provide academic freedom.
If a student has low vision or is blind, he or she can choose from a range of appropriate adapted software and/or hardware. For example, ZoomText, a software application, can enlarge the text of databases, spreadsheets and word processors appearing on the computer monitor. A blind student can read this text with JAWS (Job Access With Speech), another software application, permitting him or her to read and edit the information appearing on the screen.
If a student has a learning or visual disability, or has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and requires access to printed material. several options are available. The HTC at College of Marin uses the Reading Edge with BookWise by Xerox Imaging Systems, Inc., and the Hewlett Packard scanner with Arkenstone, Inc.'s Open Book Unbound. Each product scans a document, and then a DecTalk speech synthesizer reads the text aloud as the student reads the text from the computer monitor.
If a student has low vision, ZoomText may be used in conjunction with Open Book Unbound to enlarge the text and permit him or her to read along with the synthesized speech.
The Reading Edge has the option of reading scanned text without a personal computer. The document is scanned, and a student can listen to the text being read through synthesized speech. A tape recorder may be attached to the Reading Edge, and the text recorded for review at home.
Open Book Unbound, BookWise and other software applications permit a student to edit hard copy. It is possible to scan a document into the computer, edit it and print it.
If a student has limited manual dexterity and needs to access a computer, there are two possibilities. The HTC has an IntelliKeys keyboard from IntelliTools, Inc., an alternative keyboard for people who cannot use a standard keyboard. Another option is to use voice recognition in lieu of a keyboard to access computer applications. The HTC offers both VoiceType by IBM and DragonDictate by Dragon Systems, Inc. VoiceType can be used with communication software, and both can be used with databases, spreadsheets and word processing applications.
Almost all of the described adapted software and hardware in the HTC are on systems designed by Marty Tibor, president of Synapse, Inc. These are Pentium computers specifically integrated with adapted devices for students with disabilities.
With the help of adaptive computer technology, students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to acquire information and have access to technology available for use in schools, businesses and homes. Only when information is made accessible to all will persons with disabilities have the same opportunities to achieve success and pursue the American dream.