Where it’s AT?

Students watching a tutor demonstrate a Chemistry experimentLocation, location, location.  I’ll soon have a chance to restructure the location and method of assistive technology delivery on campus and I’m interested in feedback.

At the moment, we have a good-sized Assitive Technology Centre with 12 computers, CCTV, wireless projector, two offices, two small rooms (no natural light, a litle small), several scanners, Inspiration, TextHelp. JAWS, Dragon, Kurzweil 3000 & 1000, ZoomText (all local installations). This is where we give students training and where many students registered with the Disability Office like to work.

Our Library are planning an expansion and a rethink of the services they offer. They want to encourage users to see the library less a place of ‘silent reference’ and more of a collaborative learning space. They already have a small room with two PCs with assistive technology, but I reckon we have an opportunity to be more imaginative.

Next semester we will have TextHelp and Inspiration on every PC across the campus. As these are our most popular applications, I reckon that by mainstreaming their availability, the needs of a lot of students will be taken care of. Students with mild dyslexia for example won’t need to use the current ATC.

So, what shall we do? We still need a space to train all students in the use of assistive technology, whether that be in small groups or individually. We need somewhere to house the less network-friendly applications such as JAWS, and we need a place to develop our production of alternate format media. We also need a space for students to receive learning support in small groups and ideally we’d like to have a space with technology where students can collaborate.

Right now, I think there is an opportunity for the Library to build a small Learning Lab where students can receive training in the use of educational technology (Moodle, how to use electronic research resources, RefWorks, EndNote), general ICT (using Word, internet, file management, ECDL) and maybe the mainstreamed AT titles (Inspiration & TextHelp). We could also have some scanners for students to create their own altformat material (what better place than the library?).

The existing ATC then could be where the heavy-duty assistive technology is located. The Higher Education Authority in Ireland have set targets for us to double our intake of students with sensory disabilities, so I anticipate a greater need for JAWS, ZoomText and Kurzweil 1000. These more-specialist titles could be housed in the existing ATC to facilitate these learners for whom it’s impractical to have to track down free space in the general computer labs and where there is a dedicated AT specialist who can be on hand to quickly troubleshoot and support.

I see the production of altformat as being located in the library too. They are currently engaged in converting material into digital format so they have the tools and the know-how. We can work with them to ensure that the material they are producing meets standards of accessibility and take advantage of their clout as librarians to deals with publishers and copyright issues. They also have superb means of storage and distribution.

I’m interested in any feedback from those of you who may already have gone through this, users of assistive technology or any objective opinion.


3 responses to “Where it’s AT?

  1. The first time I did this was in 1999, and I had to fight wildly to do what you are doing, to get WYNN, Inspiration, Zoom-Text, ViaVoice into every computer lab across campus. Universalizing is the first step, and you are doing that. I’d just suggest that you also have Firefox with all the accessibility extensions across campus as well (FireVox, Click-Speak, right-click dictionaries, g-Translate, etc), and consider the “simple-free” text-to-speech and magnification stuff everywhere as well (WordTalk, NaturalReader, MicrosoftReader, PowerTalk, iZoomWeb, Click-N-Type). Maybe few will use this stuff, but you’ll be building general community awareness of free AT resources, and that’s important – and especially important for students in your education department.

    All that said, your two lab idea is, I think, the right way to go. Training is a two-part thing – teaching students with special needs how to choose and use the technologies they need
    and teaching faculty and staff how to meet those needs – and how to universalize their materials.

    The thing I’d add is “virtual training centres” – build web sites which step people through these training schemes, so those not quite willing to come in still have access and those who have been trained have “just-as-they-need-it” refresher tips.

  2. Fantastic suggestions, Ira. I’m very grateful.

    I’m particularly interested in the ‘virtual training centres’ in that we have begun using youtube as a promotional or supportive medium. I’d like to add to those clips by having short ‘How To’s such as ‘How to use styles in Word to make your document navigable’ (for faculty) or ‘How to use footnotes/create a bibliography/convert a mindmap into text/etc’.

  3. Think about simple Camtasia videos, they can be really easy to follow. We used to do page after page of screenshots, but Camtasia works much better.

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