by Anne Psolka-Green
LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J.—March 19, 2011—Among the many services with which the Rider University Services for Students with Disabilities Department provides students with disabilities, the most innovative is their technology services. Recent technological innovations have allowed students with disabilities to receive the assistance they need in the classroom without appearing as if they are doing so.
“It’s not as though, with technology, that our students need something that is, in most cases, extremely specialized and expensive, and obvious to others around them,” said Dr. Barbara Blandford, Director of the Rider University Disabilities Department. “For example, a student can download the audio version of a textbook onto their iPod or iPad, and their friends won’t know that they are listening to a textbook, not music.”
All Apple products come with accessibility features of which students can take advantage, as well as numerous Apps they can download to streamline their academic experience. This follows the idea of universal design, in which a student with a disability does not need to use specialized software.
Another product, called the Pulse Pen, records what is being said while the student is writing it down, so when the student goes back to a certain part in his notes, he can actually hear what was being said when he wrote that down.
“A lot of things we find that are really helpful and make a difference to our students are helpful and make a difference to other people who do not have disabilities,” said Dr. Blandford. “There are some soft wares, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, and it allows someone to speak rather than keyboarding in, and once they’re speaking, the words come up on the computer screen. And, it’s something that our students use and is known in the disability word, but doctors and lawyers also use Dragon Naturally Speaking to dictate.”
Along with the products and programs that the Disabilities Department provide, a plan is being set in motion to create a technology training room to aid students in learning about the technology they may need to use. Dr. Blandford is hopeful that the room will be up and running by the beginning of this summer.
“The technology training room is for any student who might want to learn a little bit more about the technology out there, and see how it can apply to their situation,” said Dr. Blandford. “We’re trying to expose students to the possibilities, and for those who may not be quite as comfortable with technology, we can let them know about it in a safe environment, rather than them being in a pressured situation, such as in the classroom.”
The graduate assistants who help out in the disabilities office will most likely run the technology room. In order to avoid the risk of acquiring too much technology that may become outdated, the technology room will feature only one or two of each product or program. As technology continues to change, so will the types of products and programs available to students with disabilities.
“Some of this is new to me, as well, so I’m going to right there with my students learning the details,” said Dr. Blandford. “And if there are any students here at Rider who feel they may have a disability, our office and the technology training room are always open.
With approximately 500 students receiving services from the Disabilities Department, keeping up with new technology is essential to providing those students with the proper accommodations to keep their experience at Rider running smoothly. Who knows what the next advancement in technology will be, and how it will affect Rider students?