Oct 092005
Authors: Mandy Billings

Ana Espinoza didn't know that the Assistive Technology Resource Center could help her. She didn't even know she had a disability.

"I didn't consider my tremor a disability," said Espinoza, occupational therapy graduate student, "but when I got to school, I couldn't finish my tests because I would have tremors."

Espinoza's tremors stem from a neurological disorder and a scotopic sensitivity that makes reading difficult. Like some other students with disabilities, she didn't initially realize the services, which CSU's Assistive Technology Resource Center (ATRC) provides.

"The hardest part was that I didn't know that there were these accommodations," Espinoza said.

The ATRC provides free on-campus adaptive technologies to students, faculty and staff with disabilities.

"Our focus is access to technology for students and faculty with disabilities including those with visual impairments, motor impairments, physical disabilities and learning disabilities," said Marla Roll, ATRC director.

Braille embossers, track ball and foot-controlled computer mice and computer programs like WYNN, which reads text from a computer screen to the user, are some of the many technologies available to the CSU community, Roll said.

Despite the wide range of technology available to students and staff, Roll said she believes only a fraction of the students who could benefit from the ATRC's services are using them.

"We want students to know resources exist for them, and I think more would use them if they knew about it," she said. "We'd love to see incoming freshmen come in and check it out before they start struggling and withdraw from classes."

The Resources for Disabled Students office referred Espinoza to the ATRC. Among the adaptive technology she now uses are a weighted pencil for note taking in class, which allows her to write during tremors, and the WYNN program, which is able to read her scanned textbooks and electronic reserve articles out loud, if they are scanned in clearly.

"WebCT and e-reserves are really hard for me to read because sometimes the scan is crooked or sometimes the quality is too low for the computer program to read," Espinoza said. "Sometimes I have to print it out and rescan it. When you tell teachers you have a disability and I need this and this and this, they aren't always receptive."

To alleviate this problem, the ATRC, in collaboration with the Center for Community Participation, has received a grant to help educate and train the CSU faculty to use and accommodate adaptive technology.

"It's an amazing feat," said Mary Beth Coyne, graduate occupational therapy student and ATRC staff member (CQ)kd. "It's amazing how much classes and assignments now rely on technology. Getting access to computers is huge."

Working with other departments like the Morgan Library is essential to providing accessible computers to students with disabilities, Coyne said.

"The library has done an amazing job making computer labs accessible," she said. "There are five rooms available for students to reserve with lots of software."

The ATRC's close work and communication with the library have made the assistive technology rooms a success, Roll said, but there is still work to be done.

"The five private rooms where we load assistive technology software are heavily used," Roll said. "The goal is to have at least one accessible lab in each college."

Coyne agreed there is still room for progress on campus.

"It could always be better, but the CSU community is making strides toward making it accessible. I'm really impressed with the campus and all they've done," Coyne said. "In comparison to other universities I've been at, CSU makes more of an effort. They make it a priority."

Espinoza, originally from Venezuela, was shocked by the amount of services and technologies available at the ATRC.

"In my country, they don't have anything like this. There aren't any accommodations," Espinoza said. "I have a lot of places I can go and study and do my work. It's been really good and helpful."

Espinoza, who is also a single mother and a non-native English speaker, is grateful for the help and support of the ATRC.

"If you have a disability, they will help you as much as they can to succeed," Espinoza said. "If you succeed, I think they feel that they succeed too."


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