December 18, 2012
For students with disabilities at Colorado State University, increased awareness and advances in technology have helped to make attaining a college degree more accessible than ever. This is thanks to Ellie Gilfoyle, former department head in occupational therapy, who had the foresight to help establish the Assistive Technology Resource Center in the early '90s, and who also later funded an endowment to support the center.
James Peth, a student earning his Masters of Public Health in Nutrition, has attended CSU for two years, working with ATRC to develop practical solutions to problems caused by his disability—everything from taking notes in class to having an easily accessible work space.
“My needs have been a little different than maybe what some other students have,” Peth said. “The key to academic success is having the ability to get work done while I’m on campus, and it’s not that straightforward because my hands don’t work.”
Among other programs that improve the experiences of students with disabilities on campus, the Department of Occupational Therapy’s ATRC mainly provides direct services to CSU students and employees with disabilities in the form of assistive technology assessments, accommodations, training, equipment loans, and resources.
The ATRC’s process first evaluates students to determine the best possible match between the person, environment, and available technology options, and to help determine what sort of equipment to utilize. Rather than just general technology to assist those with needs, ATRC works directly with students to solve their specific needs.
In addition to the direct services to students and employees with disabilities, the ATRC also acts as an advocate for students with disabilities at CSU, ensuring that they receive the tools they need to be successful in their college courses, as well as assisting the campus in training faculty and staff in how to create accessible course materials and web content.
“I’ve needed a different track ball and keyboard and things like that, they’ve worked with me to really meet my specific needs,” Peth said. “I can’t believe how supportive they’ve been. We just kept working at it and talking with faculty here in food science and human nutrition.” As a team, they were able to create a learning environment that greatly improved Peth’s ability to complete his coursework, he said.
“I’ve received so much support related to software—especially voice recognition software,” Peth said. “I take notes in class using iPad applications and record lectures using an iPhone. These mobile devices and applications have made it much easier for me to return to school.”
Primary recipients of services from ATRC are students with an identified disability as defined by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, including many non-apparent disabilities as well.
Bryant Monreal, a CSU student studying industrial organizational psychology, was not identified as having a disability when he first entered college. Unable to understand why he was struggling so much in his classes, Monreal was placed on academic probation after his freshmen year and dropped out of school.
Taking a year off, Monreal was eventually diagnosed with a form of dyslexia, which causes him to occasionally mix up words and letters when he’s writing or typing. Coming back to CSU with a new understanding, Monreal became involved with ATRC, who’ve helped him gain access to resources that help mitigate negative effects of his disability while doing schoolwork, such as software with voice recognition technology.
“Dragon Naturally Speaking allows me to speak into a microphone and it will type everything I say onto a word document,” said Monreal. ATRC also has a program called Ginger, which Monreal uses the most, “It finds mixed words in a paper I type and asks me if this is what I meant. For example if say I ‘red’ the book, it will ask me to fix it to ‘read.’”
In addition, Monreal has been provided with other programs that make it easier to read and identify words when researching online. “Thanks to ATRC I can do better on my papers and actually get work done at the library. I have two A's and three B's in my classes. It’s not all thanks to ATRC, but a big part of the credit goes to them.”
ATRC’s support is much more than the technology and resources provided, however. Peth stresses the importance of working with great people as the primary reason for his success with the organization. “Assistive technology solutions do not always fit particular user's needs right out of the box. Some require significant troubleshooting first,” Peth said. “This has been the case for me, especially this semester, but ATRC staff Marla Roll, Shannon Lavey, and Allison Kidd have been dedicated enough to work with me to figure out perfect solutions.”
The ATRC is located in the Occupational Therapy Department at CSU. If you have been diagnosed with a disability and are eligible for their services, call them at 970-491-6258 to schedule an appointment or visit their website, atrc.colostate.edu/, for more information.
Faculty and staff needing assistance with creating course content that is accessible to students with disabilities, see atrc.colostate.edu/resources-for-faculty.aspx. For a directory of all of the resources available to make CSU more accessible, see accessibility.colostate.edu.
Contact: Marla Roll