Volume I Number 1, January 1994

The Electronic Rehabilitation Resource Center at St. John's University

Bob Zenhuasern
Professor of Psychology
Mike Holtzman
Manager at Systems Programming


Over the past two years, the network facilities and resources located at SJUVM.STJOHNS.BITNET and SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU have provided a meeting place for leaders in the areas of education, disability, and rehabilitation. Based on the integration of the standard Bitnet and Internet tools and a unique resource--UNIBASE, these Internet addresses have become the locus of a major center for disability information and resources; this Electronic Rehabilitation Resource Center (ERRC) is comprised of three major components: Bitnet Lists, gopher, and UNIBASE.BITNET

Established Bitnet Lists Often referred to as special interest groups, Bitnet lists are mailing distribution lists devoted to a special topic. The principle is simple: any message sent by a subscriber is distributed to all subscribers. This results in a rapid exchange of information and ideas. There are a number of these lists located at SJUVM that are part of ERRC.

Altlearn (Alternative Approaches to Learning), a professionally- oriented list, deals with alternative approaches to learning, especially those that are relevant to students in special education. Discussions among academics and classroom teachers are quite common on _Altlearn_. Bob Zenhausern (drz@sjuvm.stjohns.edu) coordinates the list.

Chatback is a project-oriented list, designed to provide guidance and support for teachers who use computer networks in their classrooms. During the past two years Chatback has introduced several projects including: Far Star, where children responded to an Alien Being about the policies and practices of Earth; The Holiday Dinner, where children from all over the world described a holiday meal; Steel, where 10 steel yachts, involved in a race around the world, posted latitude and longitude. Children followed the race by plotting that information on maps. Talkback is an associated list for the children to share ideas and meet new friends. Tom Holloway (xuegx@cvs.warwick.uk) is the founder of the original Chatback Trust in the UK and coordinator of the Chatback and Talkback lists.

Autism provides a forum for those interested in autism and other developmental disorders. Subscribers include parents, relatives and friends of autistic individuals, teachers and researchers in the area, and individuals who are autistic. Ray Kopp (rkopp@suum) coordinates this list.

Bicompal (Big Computer Pals) serves as the "classified ads" for individuals who are looking for network contacts for people with special needs. The initial goal was to develop big brother- sister or mentor-student relationships among those with similar disabilities. For example, a group of blind college students are planning to communicate with school children in the New York City Board of Education's Visually Limited Program. In practice peer relationships have developed in parallel with the mentor relationships. Tzipporah BenAvraham (zippy@sjuvm.stjohns.edu) coordinates _Bicompal_.

Emerging Lists

The five lists mentioned above have been active for several years and have matured into important sources of communication and information in the areas of Education and Disability. During the past several months a new series of lists have expanded the scope of the ERRC in several new directions. These lists are in varying stages of readiness, but will be completely operational by September of 1993.

Four lists devoted to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome already exist, but the leaders of those lists, Molly Holzschlag (mollyh@geis.genie.com) and Roger Burns (rburns@gwu.edu) have collaborated on the formation of several lists that are concerned with the coordination of various organizations and the dissemination of information dealing with CFS.

Compumed (Computers in Medicine) is a list which is an outgrowth of an international conference on the use of computers for medical and adaptive use. It will serve as an exchange center for the latest theory and research in the field. It is coordinated by Dr. Paul S. di Virgilio (virgilio@epas.utoronto.ca) of the University of Toronto.

Equal Access to Software and Instruction (EASI) has a communications center at sjuvm and has established three lists. EASI is a transplant of the original EASI list and serves as an information and communications forum.

EASIplan is a private list dealing with EASI policy and plans.

Easipub is a private list that is concerned with publishing the new electronic journal, _Information Technology and Disabilities_.

AXSLIB is a discussion group devoted to library and information access issues for persons with disabilities.


A gopher is a piece of software that allows the user to access material anywhere across the networks and to view selections on a menu-type structure. The amount of information that is available by gopher is truly remarkable. Norman Coombs and Jay Leavitt have developed gophers that deal with disability that are accessible via the SJUVM gopher. Anyone with full Internet capability can access this resource using the command: gopher sjuvm.stjohns.edu; once connected, users simply select the Electronic Rehabilitation Resource Center from the menu; others can telnet to the same address (sjuvm.stjohns.edu).


UNIBASE is an educational network, based on unique software that allows full BBS services, has a CD ROM-based information retrieval system (that scans and updates gopher information), and provides facilities for real-time conversation and conferences. Anyone interested in exploring UNIBASE can telnet to rdz.stjohns.edu and sign on as "student." During the past year several interactive conferences on topics ranging from Learning Disabilities to Violence in the Schools originated on UNIBASE; in September, Olga Galkina from Moscow conducted several interviews on the UNIBASE network. EASI, Chatback, Rehabilitation, and Elder Centers are currently planned for UNIBASE.

The SJU Rehabilitation Gopher

St. John's University has become a world leader in the collection and dissemination of rehabilitation and disability- related (electronic) information. The primary tool for organizing and disseminating this information is the SJU Gopher server.

Internet "surfers" who gopher to sjumusic.stjohns.edu can select a menu entitled "SJU Rehabilitation and Disability Resources" which results in the following menu*:

* Note: Due to the dynamic nature of Gopher, these menus may change over time. New resources are constantly being added.

The SJU Electronic Rehabilitation Resource Center is a vast collection of databases, publications, and resources covering all facets of rehabilitation and disability. The major categories include Papers and Articles; Adaptive and Assistive Devices; Organizations, Resources, and Funding; and the Dyslexia Database. The databases included in the ERRC are keyword searchable. For example, all references to adaptive devices for the visually impaired can be selected and displayed almost instantly. EASI is an organization chartered to provide information and guidance to the education community on equal access to information technologies by persons with disabilities. The EASI archives, hosted by St. John's University, contain information on Library Access, Adaptive Devices, and the ADA (American with Disabilities Act).

RSINET, Cartharsis, and CFS-NewsWire are electronic newsletters concerned with Repetitive Strain Injuries, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), and CFS News, respectively. New issues of these electronic publications are automatically added to the Gopher archive as they are published.

The SJU Listserv Archives serve as a repository for LISTSERV mailing lists sponsored by St. John's University. The remaining menu selections, "File Archives and FTP Sites" and "Gophers and Other Resources" provide pointers to disability and rehabilitation resources at other Internet sites. By providing links to other sites, St. John's provides "one-stop shopping" for those interested in rehabilitation and Disability information.

It was March and the blizzard of 93 was raging as Leigh Calnek, from Saskatchewan, Canada installed the St. John's UNIBASE System at rdz@sjuvm.stjohns.edu. In the intervening six months, rdz has grown into an international electronic conference center, has been upgraded in terms of both software and hardware, and is the prospective home of a series of Special Interest Centers devoted to Education, Rehabilitation, and Elders. A brief history of the early development of UNIBASE at St. John's University follows.


UNIBASE has been under development by Leigh Calnek over the past 10 years and there are over 20 systems currently in operation from Manila to Saskatchewan to New York City. It is a comprehensive system which encompasses the most important forms of electronic communications currently available for computers and the Internet. These include:

  1. Electronic Mail both within the world-wide UNIBASE network and across the Internet.
  2. A Usenet News program that serves as a replacement for the ReadNews programs. As it is integrated with Usenet News, networkers have access to the local and network UNIBASE discussions as well as Usenet and Bitnet discussions from the same user interface.
  3. Access to an in-house mail list management system capable of supporting private and public lists to subscribers anywhere on the Internet.
  4. The ability to support interactive conferencing across the network. Each UNIBASE host can know about other UNIBASE network hosts, and permit any number of users from each site to engage in an electronic conversation with users at other UNIBASE sites. Discussions are conducted in "virtual rooms", and there are no limits to either the number of users who can participate or the number of rooms which can be opened for use.
  5. A powerful library bibliographic system as support for special libraries. This same database engine is used for cataloging full text materials, providing users with a single user interface which can provide access to resources locally and across the network.
  6. CD-ROM access added where any resource can be made available at a site under either the local area net mode or the wide area net.

Workstations can be connected to a UNIBASE server using either RS-232, arcnet or ethernet cabling. This permits a school to extend the functional utility of products such as Apple II computers by using them as terminals to access the resources made available through the network host. The UNIBASE host can also perform the function of a Local Area Network Server supporting both MS-DOS and Mac networks.


The UNIBASE system at rdz@sjuvm.stjohns.edu has been integrated into the Education and Rehabilitation network that is emerging at St. John's. During the past six months UNIBASE has been used as a real-time conference center. Representative conferences include:

  1. A panel on learning styles, with panelists from the US and Canada, including Dr. Riata Dun of the School of Education at St. John's and Sheila Rosenberg, a teacher for special children and student in the School Psychology program at St. John's University.
  2. On ongoing live discussion group on violence in the schools, led by Dr. Linda Scott, Principal of the Science and Technology High School in Norfolk, VA.
  3. Olga Galkina, from Moscow, was available for several Broadnets on UNIBASE where she was available to discuss her efforts to get disabled children in Russia on the Networks.

Note: A Broadnet is almost the opposite of a Broadcast. A Broadcast sends all the information across the nets in all directions. A Broadnet attracts those who telnet to participate; it is more like a fishing net.

Students from around the world are using the UNIBASE system to reach out into the Global Village. I was demonstrating the UNIBASE system to Dr. Richard Scarpaci, Principal of PS 102 in Brooklyn, when we were joined by Linda Scott. The next thing we knew, students of Anne Pemberton, Network leader from Nottoway VA, as well as Sheila Rosenberg's students in Syosset, NY, joined students from Regina (Canada) and Finland. We sat there and watched as they discussed the "midnight sun", "European geography" and "whether all New Yorkers live in skyscrapers." PS 102 has since installed a UNIBASE system of its own, UNIBASE.stjohns.edu.

During another UNIBASE demonstration, administrators chatted with children from Canada and Syosset. It was hard to tell whether the students were more surprised they were talking to "big shots" or the big shots that they were talking to LD students.


The latest development on rdz is the creation of Special Interest Centers on UNIBASE which can be customized for specific interests. The structure for the first Center has already been created for EASI and will be operational before the end of the year. Other Centers are planned for Vocational Rehabilitation, Education, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Elders. These are expected to provide resources relevant to the Center, as well as standard Internet resources (gopher, for example). In addition, the interactive conferencing can be used to listen to a lecture, take part in a debate, or just schmooze with some friends.

More real-time conferences are planned, as well as the creation of regularly scheduled UNIBASE Broadnets from rdz.stjohns.edu. The idea has the feel of the early days of radio. Anyone who is interested in exploring the UNIBASE system at St. John's can telnet to rdz.stjohns.edu and use "student" or "guest" as their user ID. Announcements of upcoming Broadnets will be available via gopher.

Zenhuasern, B. & Holtzman, M. (1994). The Electronic Rehabilitation Resource Center at St. John's University. Information Technology and Disabilities E-Journal, 1(1).