Helpful technology assists people with disabilities

DeShawna Hornbuckle

Bridging the gap between technology and those with disabilities will be the focus as CSUN hosts its 23rd Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference from March 10 to 15.

“The purpose of this conference is to introduce people to the technology that is available for people with disabilities so they can have an easier life,” said Sandy Plotin, who serves as the managing director of the Center on Disabilities conferences, training and contract programs.

The events will take place at both the Los Angeles Airport Marriott and Renaissance Montura hotels and will provide general information and feature more than 275 general session workshops and more than 150 exhibits displaying the latest groundbreaking technological developments that will enhance the lives of disabled individuals.

“You would be amazed at some of the products out there,” said Plotin. “The conference is a great place to start for families who have children with disabilities. There are a lot of exhibits that are showing educational things.”

The conference is not just for disabled individuals and their family, educators or researchers.

“I think students from any major will enjoy going to the conference, especially if they enjoy technology. If I look across the campus, I couldn’t see any area that wouldn’t enjoy it,” said Mary Ann Cummins-Prager during a phone interview. Cummins-Prager is the associate vice president for Student Access and Support Services and director of the Center on Disabilities.

Exhibit halls are free to the public and will open on Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Conference discounts are available for all CSU faculty, staff and students.

For some students, their attendance at the conference is a part of their course syllabi. Computer science professor Gloria Melara sends her class to the conference as a way of exposing her students to the challenges that may be met by disabled individuals while using technology.

When creating programs, “you are not aware of the difficulties faced and just strive for the functionality of the product,” said Melara. “It’s easier if you start thinking about these issues from the very beginning.”

“When we talk in class, we are just giving them a general explanation. But once they see it used, it makes them aware,” said Melara.

After attending the conference, students come to realize that there is a demand for products that aid the disabled and that they can contribute new ideas.

“When students go to the conference, they see the actual need for the software. It opens their eyes so they can see how people use technology,” said Melara. “This course is a very good match for what they learn at the conference.”

There are 850 students who are served by the Center on Disabilities. Another 200 students are served through the National Center on Deafness, said Cummins-Prager.

“I think we have a lot going in our favor,” said Cummins-Prager, which includes the fact that CSUN has a primarily flat campus, making it more accessible to disabled faculty and staff.

The conference will present John Williams with the Dr. Fred Strache Leadership Award. Williams, who coined the term “assistive technology,” was chosen due to his constancy in the advancement of disabled people. “I consider him to be a great advocate,” said Plotin.

The keynote speaker will be Jim Fruchterman, a “technological entrepreneur and engineer,” who was the recipient of last year’s Strache Leadership Award.