Disability department advocates for new program advancing CSUN students with their school work

Girl pictured working on a desktop
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. File Photo, Leah Oakes/Contributing Photographer

The Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) department provides resources for students with disabilities, but are advocating Read & Write Gold, a software program designed for all CSUN students to improve research, reading, study and writing skills.

Read & Write Gold accommodates students who have a difficult time reading if English is their second language, or if they just want to pass their classes successfully.

The program helps make students’ everyday tasks easier by converting text into audio so students can read along as they listen, and offering them ways to download the audio onto an MP3 format so they can listen to it on the go.

If students have trouble starting a paper, they can speak their thoughts out loud and Read & Write Gold will start typing for them. When it comes time to review their work, Read & Write Gold can also check for grammar and spelling errors so students can feel more confident about their papers.

As students study, they can use Read & Write Gold’s highlighting features so when they are done, the software can collect all the highlights, put them in one place, and even create study guides. The software is free through myCSUNbox, a cloud-based storage and collaboration solution that gives students, faculty and staff the ability to access content at any time, from any device.

According to Patrice Wheeler, assistant technology specialist at DRES, more departments and students are asking about the software.

“We think this [Read & Write] has enough potential that it could help just about any student out there or faculty or staff person,” Wheeler said. “If it’s good for some students, it will probably be good for everyone.”

As someone who has worked closely with students with disabilities for almost 20 years, Wheeler believes it is crucial for them to have the tools they need to be successful, but to also build the skills they are going to need when they search for internships, graduate school or employment.

According to Wheeler, it’s important for students to have close relationships with counselors who can lead them to success through their guidance because only 28 percent of college graduates with disabilities are employed. Currently, only 1,600 students are registered through the DRES office as disabled.

Another service that the DRES department offers to help students plan for life after graduation is called Journey to Success, an individualized learning plan.

According to Jaaziel Sigala, an academic coach for the Thriving and Achieving Program (TAP) within the DRES department, Journey to Success is like a visual aid the department uses to help students feel comfortable on campus.

“Most of the students we meet with are freshman or transfers, so we want to make them transition into the university a little bit more easier,” Sigala said.

According to Sigala, academic coaches meet with students once a week on one-on-one basis and go over skills such as time management, and their strengths through the strength quests process. Strength quests is an assessment students take that evaluates their talents. There are 32 different kinds of strengths and students get their top five. Sigala said it is important for students to know those strengths for job interviews and future careers.

“We try to encourage them to use their strengths and use them in their academics,” Sigala said. “I hope to make a difference in students’ lives because as a freshman I felt like I was on my own and for them to have someone to be able to guide them through the process, I think it’s very encouraging and helps them stay in the campus.”

In particular, the Thriving and Achieving program helps keep students with the same mentor and coach for the whole year so that they can create strong relationships, according to Sigala.

“We try to work on a sense of belonging,” Sigala said. “If they feel connected to someone here on campus than they’re more likely to stay.”

The DRES department offers priority registration to students connected to the program. There is also an online system where students can request their accommodations and schedule their exams.