Accessing Assistive Technology at Colleges and Universities.
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Accessing Assistive Technology at Colleges and Universities.

by Terry Martin

It is important for students with disabilities to have access to assistive technology. This type of technology is necessary if one wants to excel in any educational program. Colleges and universities understand that they must provide reasonable accommodations for these students. One such accommodation is providing assistive technology for students to use. What is available on each campus and how assistive technology is managed varies from campus to campus. In this article you will learn some of the different ways colleges and universities manage assistive technology.

Educators who are familiar with assistive technology understand how important such technology is to people with disabilities. For example, such hardware and software can assist people with reading, writing, and communicating. Usually educators with this familiarity work in the Office of Disability Services. Many colleges have different names for this department; however, this is one of the most common names for this office. It is this department where you can find the available assistive technology on campus. The staff in this department manages the assistive technology. How assistive technology is managed varies from campus to campus. It can even very between colleges that belong to the same educational system.

Currently, it is safe to say that most colleges and universities have assistive technology on campus for individuals to use. What each institution has and how they manage it will vary. The staff in the Disability Services office will determine what the student population can use for assistive technology. When a determination has been made, the purchase process will begin in the technology ordered. Most institutions will try to purchase equipment that will address the needs of many different students.

For those Disability Services departments on a tight budget, you will typically find assistive technology stations in their office.  For students with disabilities to take advantage of the available technology, students must schedule an appointment to use a particular piece of equipment. The student would use the technology while in the Disability Services office. This can be difficult to do especially around midterms and final exams. The waiting period can be difficult to manage, especially if the student waits until the last minute to schedule time.

Other Disability Services offices may have the ability to loan out equipment to students. The student would put in a request, the request is then considered, and if inventory permits, the request is approved. Typically, these are usually smaller and less expensive devices. Some of these devices include the Livescribe smartpen and reader pens. The student would use the device until the end of the semester. At such time, the student would ask for an extension for the next semester if necessary. For those devices that require accessories like the Livescribe smartpen, that again is up to the Disability Services office. For example, the Livescribe smartpen requires ink cartridges and special notebook paper. The college may have enough in their inventory to give to the students or they may ask the students to go purchase the supplies from the college bookstore, the manufacturer, or some other source.

Larger colleges and universities may have the financial resources to deploy assistive technology outside of the Disability Services office. For example, reading and writing software, if a site license is purchased, is deployed throughout the campus and computer labs. This makes it much easier for a student with a disability. The student typically does not need to schedule time in the Disability Services office to use a system. For hardware devices such as video magnifiers, a student would find those only in the Disability Services office. Such a device is very expensive, and it is not cost-effective to deploy many of them across the campus. It is not impossible; it is a cost consideration.

There is a new assistive technology service that many educational institutions across the United States are providing to students with disabilities. Again, it depends on the financial resources that are available for the service. These institutions are now providing site licenses for different pieces of assistive technology software. The site licenses are deployed in all computer labs on campus. This makes it great for students. A student can select any computer on campus and have the necessary tools to access information. What is even better is that these software licenses are also made available for students with disabilities to install on their own equipment. This means that a student can install a particular piece of software on their own computer and use it on campus or at home. It is important to note that not all educational institutions can provide this service.

The two most popular software developers that have made this possible are Kurzweil Education Systems and Texthelp. Kurzweil Education Systems is the developer for Kurzweil 3000. Texthelp is the developer for Read & Write. If the educational institution has purchased either of these site licenses, a disabled student can download at no charge Kurzweil 3000 or Read & Write. The student will have access to either one of these software applications until they graduate from the institution. It is rare for a college to have two competing software applications, due to the cost of the large site licenses that offer this service. It is important to note for those who start at one college and transfer to another that they may not have access to such software. For example, a student who starts at a community college and has access to one of these packages, may not have access to the application after transferring to a four-year college. Lastly, there are no requirements that states that a college must have a particular software application.

As a service to vocational rehabilitation counselors and parents who request an assistive technology evaluation from me, I will provide the contact information for the Disability Services office. I will try to list what assistive technology is available on campus to use, to borrow, or what is available for free download. This depends on if the staff at these offices will provide me with the information. They are usually very cooperative when I ask for this information. In addition to my evaluation services, for the two software applications I mentioned in this blog article, I can provide training on how to use them.

If you have any questions about the content in this blog article, please feel free to contact me through the website contact form, LinkedIn, or Facebook. I would like to hear from you.