Asuncion, Maria Barile, Catherine Fichten
Dawson College, Montreal, Canada
Computer literacy is fast becoming essential in the new knowledge-based economy. Many colleges and universities are on the front line, introducing new instructional technologies and ensuring that their students become skilled and knowledgeable users of computers. How can we guarantee that students with disabilities are not left behind? The goal of the Adaptech Project (based at Dawson College in Montreal, Canada) is to provide research data and sound, empirically based recommendations to allow for informed decision making in this new reality.
In Canada, it is generally the individual/office that provides services to students with disabilities on campus that is responsible for ensuring that the computer technology needs of students with disabilities are met. The background of many service providers has not prepared them for this rapidly evolving "high tech" component of their job. The trend to incorporate technology as part of classroom teaching and learning will necessitate expertise in interfacing adaptive technologies with educational CD-ROMS, web-based and networked courseware, and the like.
In the past, computer technologies have worked to empower people with disabilities. There is a concern, however, that today's computer and newly emerging technology-driven curricula may become barriers rather than facilitators for students with disabilities. For example, if a department decides to teach the majority of its courses online, and these courses are presented using inaccessible web sites, what impact will this have on students with disabilities? To provide data to assist with decision making, during the past 3 years we conducted a series of studies to investigate the computer and adaptive computer technologies needs and concerns of approximately 800 Canadian postsecondary students with disabilities (Fichten, Barile, & Asuncion, 1999). Here we share some of the findings and provide recommendations that we hope will be useful to you in your work.
Findings Of Interest
The overwhelming majority of students with disabilities in our studies used computers (95%), mainly IBM compatibles. The proportions were similar in community colleges and in universities. Most of these students used the internet, both at home and at school, for research, e-mail, accessing library materials, and entertainment.
Almost half of the students indicated having more than one impairment and the data show a clear tendency to "cross use technologies" (i.e., technologies intended for students with one type of disability are used by students with a different disability). Almost half of the students indicated that they needed adaptations to use a computer effectively (e.g., software that enlarges or speaks what is on the screen, adapted mice for use by people with limited or no hand movement, word prediction software). About half of them failed to use needed adaptations. The reason: cost and lack of information about what is available "out there."
Results of the three investigations we conducted converge on one point: concern over inadequate funding for computer and/or adaptive computer technologies, both for the students themselves as well as for college and university departments which provide services to students with disabilities. Another key finding was that students in Canada were simply not aware of the existence of the government programs which they can use to acquire the necessary technologies.
We are presently conducting a companion to our study of students. Carried out in partnership with the Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post-Secondary Education (CADSPPE), this investigation explores needs and concerns of Canadian disability service providers about computer-related services and accommodations. We believe that it is only by knowing both sides of the equation - the perspective of students as well as of service providers - will we have a full picture about what could and should be done in postsecondary education to ensure equity of access to the new computer and information technologies that are rapidly "invading" campuses across North America.
Resources And References
Adaptech web page http://omega.dawsoncollege.qc.ca/adaptech/ and Adaptech electronic discussion forum (send an e-mail with SUBSCRIBE ADAPTECH to firstname.lastname@example.org - leave the subject line blank)
Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Postsecondary Education http://www.cadsppe.cacuss.ca
CAST - Bobby (Web-Based Web Page Accessibility Tool) http://www.cast.org/bobby
Chancellor's Office, California Community Colleges. California guidelines for on-line courses. Available January 22, 2000 on the World Wide Web: http://www.htctu.fhda.edu/dlguidelines/final%20dl%20guidelines.htm
DO-IT Program (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology). http://www.washington.edu/doit/
EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information. http://www.rit.edu/~easi/index.htm
Fichten, C.S., Barile, M. & Asuncion, J.V. (1999). Learning technologies: Students with disabilities in postsecondary education / Projet Adaptech : L'Utilisation des technologies d'apprentissage par les étudiant(e)s handicapé(e)s au niveau postsecondaire (190 pages). ISBN 2-9803316-4-3. Ottawa: Human Resources Development Canada. Available July 23, 2000 on the World Wide Web:
English abstract: http://olt-bta.hrdc-drhc.gc.ca/publicat/Dawson79160exe.html and in
French abstract: http://olt-bta.hrdc-drhc.gc.ca/francais/publicat/Dawson79160exf.html
Full text in English: http://www.adaptech.org/pubs/olt99fin.pdf (alternate electronic formats available upon request)
HEATH Resource Center (American Council on Education - National Clearinghouse On Postsecondary Education For Individuals With Disabilities). http://www.acenet.edu/about/programs/access&equity/heath/Resources.html
Lougheed, Tim. (2000). New perspectives on accessible technology. University Affairs, June/July, 2000, 22, 26-27. Available July 10, 2000 on the World Wide Web: http://www.adaptech.org/pubs/uafe.htm
National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS). http://www.neads.ca/
Trace Research and Development Center. http://www.trace.wisc.edu/