Thursday, August 16, 2012

Education Tech Can't Leave Disabled Students Behind

The Department of Education estimates 11% of new college freshmen will arrive on campus with some sort of disability. That’s become a huge issue as institutions try to keep pace with technological changes while providing accessibility to all its students, whether they have vision or hearing problems to learning and cognitive disabilities.

State and federal legislators have stepped up with laws and regulations to provide equal access, and the industry is making progress. Blackboard claims its products meet industry standards and must gain approval from people with disabilities through partnerships with organizations such as the National Federation for the Blind before they ever reach the market.

But laws often have no teeth, according to Dianne Hengst, director of disability services at the University of Texas at San Antonio in a recent article that appeared at Not only that, Hengst has also found students with disabilities do not always register with her office.

“(People with disabilities) don’t want to be segregated,” said Marti Hathorn, a blind graduate of UTSA and assistive technology supervisor at the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind. “We don’t want our own computer lab. I didn’t want to be left out of anything or cut corners. I wasn’t (in school) to get by, I wanted to do better than everyone else.”

Assistive technology could be as simple as curbs with handicap ramps and speech recognition software to more controversial ideas such as cochlear implants for children. For Hathorn, it included a screen magnifier, a closed-circuit television, and a scanner for her textbooks.

“When computer usage first took off, accessibility wasn’t even brought to the table,” she said. “Now it is starting to be a priority and is part of the discussion and more people with disabilities are speaking up.”

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