Accessibility issues causes blind student to drop class

There are several reasons why a student may decide to drop a class, but Ken Hanggi , a blind student at the University of Minnesota, said he had no other choice. The first-year computer science major registered for two classes this fall. Two weeks in, he decided to drop one because he couldnâÄôt get his materials in time. He is still waiting for the materials he needs to start the other class. Hanggi hasnâÄôt been able to receive his textbooks from the UniversityâÄôs Disabilities Services in a form in which he could listen. Blind students purchase their books just like any other student and then bring them to the Disability Services Office for conversion. Hanggi brought his in two weeks before the semester began. Blind students have some options for receiving their class materials. The roughly 57 blind students on campus can use books recorded on cassette or written in Braille âÄî but Hanggi said books that have been scanned and read back to them by a âÄúscreen readerâÄù are the easiest to use. Converting books from paper to accurate electronic versions that a screen reader can understand, however, can be a long process âÄî so long, in fact, that Hanggi said he had to drop a class. âÄúIâÄôve got portions of [the books] but not enough to even start the first homework assignment,âÄù he said. âÄúTwo weeks into the semester, I had a choice of dropping the class and getting 75 percent of my money back or trying to finish the class, which never would have worked.âÄù Hanggi said he didnâÄôt know what the problem was or even who to contact. Blind graduate student Ken Rodgers didnâÄôt receive his materials until six weeks after classes started, and said he thought Disabilities Services was understaffed. Disabilities Services has a document conversion unit that consists of a manager, a Braille worker, two other full-time staff members and 25 to 30 student workers, said Mari Magler , associate director of access programs at the University. Magler said it also brings in temporary workers at the beginning of the semester because of the high demand for document conversion. The order in which materials are scanned and processed is based on when the corresponding assignments are due. âÄúOur service standard is to get materials to students and staff two weeks before their course due dates,âÄù Magler said. But Phil Kragnes , the adaptive technology specialist for Disabilities Services, who is also blind, said there are some explanations as to why materials arenâÄôt always completed on time. âÄúYou have to consider the sheer number of students. Document conversion is not just converting for blind students,âÄù Kragnes said. Document conversion is also done for students with attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, traumatic brain injuries and students with a lack of mobility, he said. âÄúWhen you consider each student may have how ever many textbooks, thatâÄôs a lot of books and a lot of pages,âÄù Kragnes said. Magler said the office converts between 250,000 to 400,000 pages in a semester. Aside from textbooks, some readings in a .pdf format on Web Vista posted by instructors also canâÄôt be read by screen readers. âÄúWhen I pull up one of those .pdfs from WebCT, my computer says âÄòblank document,âÄôâÄù Rodgers said. Quality assurance is also a major part of the process. âÄúThey actually go through it word for word and make sure itâÄôs scanned properly and it didnâÄôt drop a letter or drop a word,âÄù Rodgers said. Screen readers are unable to recognize symbols, pictures, charts or graphs, because theyâÄôre not in a text format, he said. âÄúIf thereâÄôs a picture embedded in a text somewhere, theyâÄôve got to document it textually,âÄù Rodgers said. Magler said when professors donâÄôt post their materials ahead of time the document conversion staff canâÄôt begin the process. She said the Disabilities Services office has always worked with students experiencing problems and that she hasnâÄôt seen a systemic issue. Still, the problem exists. Rodgers said he fell through the cracks and that nobody fixed the problem. âÄúMeanwhile IâÄôm sitting waiting and waiting and waiting and nothing,âÄù he said. âÄúIf I went to the University of Minnesota with the intent of taking two classes this semester and the semester ends and IâÄôm not able to do that, I would say that the University is not accessible to me,âÄù Hanggi said.