Adaptive technology eliminates roadblocks to education for disabled students

Adaptive technology eliminates roadblocks to education for disabled students

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Olie Smith, 19, Para-Professional of the Disability Resources and Educational Services located in Bayramian Hall 110, demonstrates the use of adaptive technology offered to students. Text enlargers and modified keyboards are among the plethora of technologies offered at CSUN. Leah Oakes/Contributing Photographer

CSUN students with disabilities are encouraged to seek assistance and support from the Center on Disabilities and professors for aid necessary to ensure academic success.

Across the nation, the average percentile of any university’s student body who have registered disabilities is about 4.7 percent, said Jodi Johnson of the Center on Disabilities. For CSUN, this means an estimated 1,645 students out of 35,000 have disabilities.

“The biggest challenge to helping these students is their reluctance to identify as a disabled student because of the stigma,” Johnson said. “It’s usually the second semester when they come to us, after having academic problems in the first.”

Due to this issue of an attached stigma, there are only 911 disabled students registered with the Center on Disabilities as of Fall 2010, Johnson said. Another reason for this low number is some students never need services since CSUN has made almost everything accessible, she added.

Johnson said there is a slow increase of students with disabilities filtering into the university and compared to a decade ago, an absolute difference in numbers. The center works with local high schools and community colleges to encourage those students to pursue a higher education and explain to them that a college career is a realistic, attainable goal.

“We have all kinds of tips and tricks for all types of students so they can learn the way they learn and not how others learn,” Johnson said.

The center offers several different technological learning tools to aid students in classes and many academic coaches. Students who are having difficulties in class can seek help in writing, math, English or any other subject.

Computer programs allow individuals with racing thoughts to input all ideas which are computed into a digital outline. For others, a scanning station creates digital files of a textbook that can be read, highlighted, take notes and includes a dictionary for unknown words. The program is aimed at auditory learners or those who have a hard time focusing.

Sometimes the challenge for students is not registering with the center but merely attempting to blend in with the rest of the class. Professors see first-hand the struggles and obstacles students face.

“I think there is a diversity element with a disabled student,” said Dr. Dianne Bartlow, associate professor of the Gender and Women’s Studies Department. “Others in class take interest in learning from someone different. It’s pretty cool, makes for an additional positive dynamic in the class.”

Bartlow said having students with special needs in her classes is common and the level of disability varies. Some are severely developmentally or physically challenged while others are not as apparent. Additional assistance fluctuates on a case by case basis.

Despite the obstacles students face, Bartlow has not changed lesson plans and offers hours to work one-on-one with students to ensure success.

“Able bodied students sometimes take additional help for granted,” Bartlow said. “Sometimes spending additional time with a student, for example, a deaf student and their interpreter, is time consuming but all students deserve to be successful.”

There are no particular guidelines that instructors must follow, only recommendations from the center and CSUN’s open mandate. Usually a student will present paperwork to the instructor on the first day of class.

Freshman Karen Espinosa, 18, has been in a wheelchair since her car accident three years ago. Espinosa possesses limited movement of her legs. However, insurance won’t cover physical therapy to aid in learning how to walk again.

Biology major, Espinosa, found the accessibility of CSUN helpful in her ability to reach all of her classes. She said her main issues are the lack of short cuts to classes and slow elevators.

“My experience here is OK,” Espinosa said. “I’m not a big school person so I don’t love it but don’t hate it either. It meets my expectations.”

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