Technology eases studying for handicapped students

Beth Hornby

Education student Jeremy Heyer wheeled his wheelchair into a closet-sized computer room, tugged on the keyboard’s extendable arm to lower it to his lap and began typing his homework into a machine that read his words out loud.

For Heyer and other handicapped students, a $14,000 renovation to the Disabilities Services center in the McNamara alumni center, completed in August, has made homework, tests and lab assignments much easier.

“For all of the places I’ve been to, it is one of the most accommodating,” Heyer said. “I normally only come here if I have a long paper to write, or if I have a test to take that makes my wrists weak, but I know of a lot of people who use these services more regularly.”

The four individual computer labs in the Disabilities Services office are now specially equipped with “adaptive technology,” including magnifying screens visually impaired students, equipment allowing students who cannot type to dictate their work and scanners that read documents for the hearing impaired.

Before the lab renovation, students could only use it to take tests. St. Paul campus students could use a “lab in a bag” – a laptop specially equipped with adaptive technology – to take projects and homework home to finish, but Minneapolis campus students could only use other computer labs on campus.

Disabilities Services specialist Phil Kragnes said the individual labs serve students’ special needs better.

“The best thing that’s come of the new office space is the privacy that students get when we are assessing their needs,” Kragnes said. “The setting is much more comfortable.”

He said the renovation – which includes new conference space and offices – was long overdue because of staff increases over the last few years.

The labs are available to students from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, and Disabilities Testing Center coordinator Nan Nelson said the four rooms are usually filled to capacity, with about 20 students using them daily.

Nelson said although she estimated 900 to 1,100 students have disabilities on campus, many students are unaware the service exists.

“There is no way of knowing if there are more students with disabilities on campus, but perhaps more word is getting around that our unique service exists,” Nelson said.

Alex Hussey, a visually impaired environment and applied economics student, said she has used the voice recognition and magnified screens for three years.

However, she said she was not aware of the “lab in a bag” services, which are still available to students in St. Paul.