CSU students are filing complaints with the university after not being given resources in the classroom that would level the playing field with their peers who don’t have similar impairments, like the inability to hear professors during lectures, according to the campus director overseeing assistive technologies.
Marla Roll, the director of Assistive Technologies Resource Center, calls it universal design: resources and materials available for everyone, including disabled and impaired people.
“In higher education right now, students with disabilities are filing complaints that course materials are not accessible to them,” Roll said.
For Roll, creating accessible surroundings and providing better technology to those who are impaired has been her job for the 20 years.
A list of those resources can be found at their website.
“I’m a believer in building an environment that works for everybody,” Roll said. “The disability resides more in the environment then with the person so if you give people the tools they need, they can work alongside their peers.”
The American Disabilities Act of 1990 states no individuals with disabilities should be excluded from participating in any program or activity of a public entity.
“That piece of legislation spoke a lot to the built environment,” Roll said. “But it took a long time for people to get on board with it. I feel like we’re in the same place with electronic information. I call it electronic curb cuts. We need to make curb cuts so everyone can access the technology.”
Assistive Technologies provides qualifying students with the resources they need to pass their classes and succeed in school. As visual learners or auditory learners, or those diagnosed with ADD/ADHD or dyslexia, students access the campus resource to get the most out of their investment in higher education.
“Think of our services in two ways — there’s these direct services we do for students and then there’s this other part that’s growing, which is our consultation education domain,” Roll said. “And, what that means is this assistive technology is only as good as the content it interacts with so we are trying to educate and help the campus understand how to create accessible course materials.”
Roll said she is really passionate about her job because she has seen the resources transform people’s lives and said that some students wouldn’t be graduating without them.
“Assistive Technology could be for visual impairment — the majority of students we see now, it’s more things related to learning challenges, learning disabilities,” Roll said. “It can read it back to them, it can change how it’s displayed, they can control the font, they can highlight and annotate electronically.”
Students must be able to recognize that they are having problems in the first place. Then, they either go to RDS or ATRC for an assessment to determine what kind of help will fit them Assistive Technology.
“That’s a thing that really changes a lot from high school to higher ed — you have to become good at knowing what your needs are and advocating for it, seeking it and finding it, and thats a hard thing for freshman to do,” Roll said.
The campus offices provide services for impaired students in different ways. Assistive Technology is more of a technology implementation service. They will give the students the software and hardware they need to succeed. RDS will do this, too, but they’re not as specialized in the computer aspect of it.
“There are about 2,200 students that self identify with a disability on campus and we work with about 900 of them,” said Kendra Wager, a representative of RDS.
Once these students register with services on campus, they can be provided the tools they need.
“So, we do mainly alternative testing,” said Dede Kliewer, employee at RDS. “We have many students who use that service, get extended time or a little bit quieter testing environment. We have interpreting services. We have alternative text services for students who are visually impaired or who cannot read their textbooks — they get it in an alternative format like mp3 or something like that. And we have limited van services around campus for students who have broken legs.”
Student technology fees provide funding for services like RDS and ATRC.
“It’s called the University Charges for Technology Committee,” Roll said. “Every college has student representation on that committee. And, it’s students deciding how their tech fee dollars will be spent.”
Resources have been made available across campus inside highly-trafficked buildings. The Morgan Library has seven rooms outfitted with assistive technology. Durrell computer lab, the Adult Learner and Veteran Student Center and the E-Cave inside the Lory Student Center also have built-in assistive technology
Some of the software can be installed on personal laptops for qualifying students. The programs are semester-long loans because the technology changes so fast and the course load from semester to semester changes with each individual student, so what works one semester might not work the next, Roll said.
Assistive Technologies resides in the occupational therapy building on the North-East side of the Oval. It’s a unique setup because the center mostly employs occupational therapy graduate students. RDS is located in the general services building just west of the Jack Christiansan Memorial Track.
“I think CSU does a really good job supporting students with disabilities,” Roll said. “It’s just a matter of getting people connected with those resources and raising awareness of the ADA Act.”
Collegian Reporter Scott Fromberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.