Specialist creates laptop package for disabled students

Branden Peterson

Some people take it for granted, but the computer screen and humming box a person uses for hours a day has become a necessity for completing assignments and tasks.

Most students can stand at a University computer kiosk or walk to computer lab to reach the World Wide Web. But for some, it’s not that easy.

It’s Philip Kragnes’ job to make sure anybody with a physical impairment isn’t left behind. Kragnes has been an adaptive technologies specialist for Disability Services since 1998, helping disabled students and faculty use University technology.

Blind since age 17, Kragnes understands how hard it is to have limited access to technology in a computer-driven world.

Four adaptive technology laboratories on the Minneapolis campus give University students and employees access to computers, regardless of their impairments. Meanwhile, the St. Paul campus doesn’t have any facilities.

Last spring, Kragnes set out to place a lab on the St. Paul campus. But he ran into a snag.

He had $45,000 set aside to construct a new adaptive technology lab in St. Paul, but nowhere to put it. Some room was available, but it was inaccessible during peak usage times.

Kragnes found the answer in a black leather backpack.

Designed specifically for students and faculty on the St. Paul campus, Kragnes put together packages with a laptop, a scanner and accessories that can be carried on backs or rolled along the sidewalk like a suitcase at the airport.

Launched during the last week in October, six computer packs are available for loan to impaired University students and faculty.

Users get a powerful laptop with wireless internet, 15-inch display, 512 MB RAM, an interchangeable CD-ROM/zip-drive, a DVD/CD-RW combination drive, a flatbed scanner, a headset and more gizmos.

Sure, the computers will have all the bells and whistles, but will potential users know how to use everything the Lab in a Bag has to offer?

Kragnes says yes, even if it means personally training them is necessary.

State-of-the-art software also accompanies the powerful laptops. Pre-installed programs include voice recognition software that types documents and text-reading programs telling users what is displayed on the screen. For people with deteriorating vision, text magnification software is included.

Lab in a Bag units can be rented on a per-semester basis at no charge by any disabled or physically impaired University employee or student with obligations on the St. Paul campus.

Kragnes said he thinks he has covered nearly every angle in creating the computer packs.

“Anything you can find in our sites, you’ll find in our bag – with a few exceptions,” Kragnes said.

Six computer bags now rest inside Kragnes’ office while word of their existence spreads. Now it’s up to students and faculty to begin using them.

“For people sustaining injuries or living with disabilities, if I can set them up with the right technology, that’s what’s really satisfying,” he said.

Branden Peterson covers the St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected]