Department: Campus Computing
Campus Computing and Disability in 1994: Emerging Issues for a New Journal and a New Year
Some of the most dynamic applications of adaptive computing technology are in post-secondary education. The Campus Computing department of _Information Technology and Disabilities_ will help you keep on top of this rapidly changing area by offering a broad sampling of news and reviews in the post-secondary education realm.
We encourage our readers to become participants: send us your news items; suggest topics for discussion; send in brief descriptions and vignettes of innovative information technology services on your campus that other schools could learn from (avoiding the reinvention of the wheel is a big concern around here!). We also strongly encourage you to submit articles to the journal for publication, especially more detailed case studies of successful service strategies.
A new year and a new journal present a unique opportunity to take a look ahead. Here are a few key themes that this editor sees emerging as dominant concerns for post-secondary education in the coming year. In future issues of the journal the Campus Computing department will be taking a closer look at these and other important topics.
All campuses are facing tremendous pressures to reduce costs. Computer support for people with disabilities, never an easy thing to secure resources for, is now faced with new fiscal challenges. Can we turn adversity into our advantage? Can we identify where and how the creative use of adaptive technologies can actually save a campus money? How about that student with a visual disability who used to need note takers, transcribers and readers for classes, tests, and assignments? Now that he or she is using a lap top with a voice synthesizer and working independently, can we identify how much we have saved the campus?
Our answers might surprise and encourage administrators who undervalue the economics of adaptive computing support to the campus.
Campus Wide Information Systems:
The Campus Wide Information System, or CWIS, is the newest development in campus information services, and what a great development it is for people with disabilities! Making campus course catalogs, phone directories, even newspapers, available electronically can help people with difficulty reading due to disability gain equal access to vital academic and employment information. But will this potential be realized? Graphical user interfaces, hyper-media and other means of accessing the CWIS can present new barriers to those with print-impairment -- as imposing an obstacle as paper text. How can campuses realize the full potential of the CWIS?
Distributed Computing, Coordinated Support:
Campuses that have tried to implement computer support for people with disabilities quickly learn that it is a real challenge to balance two big needs: How to provide expert support for consulting and training on adaptive computing technologies, while at the same time trying to provide the most integrated setting for people with disabilities to use campus information technologies. Computing is widely distributed on college campuses, and most campus computing support staff aren't familiar with adaptive computing technologies. Campuses need to identify a support strategy that provides both consulting expertise and mainstreaming in an increasingly distributed computing environment.
A campus's adaptive computing support service (ACSS -- how do you like that for a new acronym?) is so much more than a training unit. It is a unique agent of change on campus, one that can enhance the missions of many different campus units through partnerships. When an ACSS teams with the computer science department, undergraduate and graduate theses on adaptive computing can create new knowledge, and even new technologies. An ACSS partnering with a campus occupational therapy or rehabilitation unit can introduce new adaptive technologies to help patients, while the OT's skills bring a needed consulting dimension to the traditional clients of the ACSS. Such partnerships not only create more powerful services, they can save the campus money. An ACSS combined with the OT/Rehab department can provide support to campus workers with long- standing or newly-acquired keyboarding difficulty to help them stay on the job, reducing workman's compensation costs, down- time, retraining, and other related, and very expensive, costs.
Optical scanners form the basis of today's reading machines that help people with print impairment to read books as electronic text, or e-text. Once campuses become familiar with this technology, they inevitably ask, "Why can't we just get the computer file from the publisher?" As anyone who has tried to do this knows, it isn't so simple. New industry standards are being developed for electronic text, even for disability access to those standards. We in post-secondary education have to be sure that the needs of students are represented in those standards. Mathematical, scientific and linguistic notation, are among the many kinds of textual information that need to be presented electronically in an accessible form for post-secondary students to have equal access to e-text. The same demand holds true for the text books and other academic materials that are being developed in multi-media and hyper-media formats.
Sometimes campuses are so busy educating students that they overlook where those students are coming from and where they are going. Students with disabilities coming from high schools and community colleges have particular technical support needs. For example, they may have learned technologies at their former school that are not available at the four year college. Establishing a liaison between you and your counterparts at feeder schools is one way to address this need. Then there are the graduating students, moving into a workplace that seldom offers the kind of support available on many campuses. Will they have the tools for independence they'll need to secure and keep a job? Some campuses offer computer training classes for people with disabilities, not only for the campus, but for the community at large. Adult education is an important and often overlooked aspect of disability-related computer support. Attending to the transitions is critical if our other support efforts are really going to make a difference.
These emerging themes are just some food for thought. There are many other key areas of concern. We hope you'll find something useful to your own school's efforts in the Campus Computing department of each edition of the journal. And we eagerly look forward to hearing from you! Your successes -- and failures -- will enlighten us all.Daniel Hilton-Chalfen, Ph.D.
Coordinator, UCLA Disabilities and Computing Program
310-206-7133; 310-206-5155 (TDD)