Thomas Bradley / Campus editor
Ohio State students with disabilities can access assistive technology programs on more than 1,000 computers around campus, while previously they were limited to a 16-computer lab in the Office for Disability Services.
Job Access with Speech (JAWS) for Windows, ZoomText and Read and Write Gold were made available campus-wide after ODS, the Office of the Chief Information Officer and the Office of Americans with Disabilities Act teamed up to provide seamless accessibility for students beginning October 2011.
“Getting assistive technology on all library and campus lab computers is a great example of how individual areas coming together toward a common goal can create great results for the university,” said Kathleen Starkoff, OSU’s chief information officer. “We were very happy to play a role in making sure assistive technology is available across campus because we know how critical technology access is to our students.”
The team invested about $7,500 in the project to ensure that about 1,450 students registered with disabilities no longer had to share about 16 stations in the ODS computer lab, said Abdirahim Abdi, ODS assistive technology training center coordinator.
The three assistive technologies have been introduced throughout campus and are geared mainly toward visually-impaired students. JAWS reads the computer screen or contents of the browser out loud to visually-impaired or blind students through voice output. ZoomText enlarges materials on the screen or alters the contrast to accommodate the preferred aesthetics of the student. Read and Write Gold is a literacy tool that converts text to speech and speech to text and also serves as a phonetic spell checker for dyslexic students.
Scott Lissner, ADA coordinator in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said having these programs available in campus libraries and labs will make it easier for students to collaborate with other classmates, complete coursework effectively and avoid waiting for computers in the ODS lab.
Lissner said during exam weeks, students were unable to get adequate time and attention due to the lack of space and limited hours.
“Putting (these programs) on a server that lets them roll out across campus makes them easily available and allows those students to interact in the environment without having to go to a particular location, or make particular plans during the hours that the lab is open,” Lissner said. “To serve students out of one lab in our office in disability services effectively occupied a big chunk of space, and so there was a real space payoff particularly for things like midterm week and final exam week.”
Abdi said they were not able to start adding the programs to the computers until October 2011.
Abdi and Ken Petri, director of the Web Accessibility Center at OSU, worked to ensure that students registered with ODS received access to the education they need. The process of adding these programs to about 1,000 OCIO-managed computers took between nine and 11 months, but the idea to do this started three years ago, Lissner said.
“Ever since I’ve been working (at ODS), I’ve been learning about assistive technology and training students on how to use it,” Abdi said. “The natural thing to do after we have it available and updated in our own lab is to start pushing it out. It’s been something that was on the back-burner for a long time until now.”
Increasing accessibility to assistive technology programs is not just for students with disabilities, but for the larger student population, Abdi said.
“It’s the idea that things should be made in such a fashion that they exhibit some properties of universal design and can be used by anybody,” Abdi said. “It’s something that the end user, whether they have a disability or not, has equal access to. That is something that’s very important to us.”
Promoting the idea of universal design across campus will help reduce the stigma that surrounds students with disabilities, Petri said.
“As much as getting access, it’s the mainstreaming of people with disabilities so that we don’t (identify) them as somehow special or odd or having to be accommodated,” Petri said. “It’s creating a fluid interaction with the rest of the student population. That’s the biggest thing for me.”