Access for the Disabled: Technology lab helps disabled students study

By Michael McFall

Disabled students living on campus have two locations and two lab technicians to help them study on computers.

Sage Point Building 811 has four computers that are available six hours a day Sunday through Thursday for disabled students. However, there are two students who regularly use the Sage Point lab for about three hours every other day, said Allison Pawlus, a junior in pre-nursing who works as a technician for the lab.

The Benchmark computer lab is also equipped with one computer for disabled students, but disabled students rarely use the disability-enabled computer at the lab, said a lab technician who asked not to be named. Non-disabled students tend to use it, he said.

Although the computers are not used as often as planned, their presence is still a wonderful convenience for the disabled students who do, Pawlus said.

“It means a lot to them, because (they) don’t have to go far off campus to use another computer system,” Pawlus said. More disabled students would probably use the lab if they knew about it, she said.

Although the lab was initially created to benefit disabled students, faculty members have taken advantage of it, as well. One member of Housing and Residential Education comes in to use the lab so much that he leaves stacks of his work inside to return to, said Ben Givens, a sophomore biology major and lab technician.

The available disability software and hardware are used by two or three individuals a day and paid for by student computing fees. Students pay an average of $160.34 in computing fees each semester.

All four software applications cost around $2,700 and the hardware costs around $3,000. The hardware cost solely covers one item: a closed-circuit television, which magnifies outside books, articles, notes or photographs onto a screen for the visually impaired.

The disability computer lab has software and hardware to meet all the basic needs of disabled students, so the center has no plans for major purchases other than updating current programs as needed, said Sidney Davis, interim director of the center for disability services.

As technology progresses, upgraded versions of the software are purchased and kept up-to-date when the center applies for funding each year. New versions of the software applications are released about every nine months, said Geoffrey Skousen, a technology specialist for the center.

However, students won’t have to worry about their computing fee rising because of advances in software or hardware technology. Over the years, the software and hardware have become more cost efficient and will likely continue to do so, Davis said.

For example, Dragon Naturally Speaking, a program that allows a user to type by speaking into a microphone, used to cost as much as $6,000 when it was first released in 1995. Now, the newest version of the program sells for $200.

Disabled students tend to use Dragon Naturally Speaking more than the other programs or hardware available, Pawlus said.

“They actually get done with their papers really fast, so it’s exciting for them,” she said.

Givens said he hasn’t dealt with any student who didn’t already know how to basically use the hardware or an application.

“I’m here to unlock the door” and provide help as needed, Givens said.

A lab technician such as Pawlus is always on hand to assist disabled students. Pawlus said she took the job because it’s relatively easy, and as a pre-nursing student, she has a chance to work one-on-one with a student and learn about health-related applications.

[email protected]