Iowa State University will soon have a lab on campus where students with disabilities will have access to assistive technology resources.
ISU’s Computation Advisory Committee approved a $24,264 funding request to create the physical location on campus. Information Technology Services Interim Vice President Kirsten Constant said the committee evaluates different proposals for how the university’s student technology fee is spent.
ISU President Wendy Wintersteen approved the project at the end of April and the project will begin this summer. It is expected to be completed in the fall.
ISU Digital Accessibility Coordinator Cindy Wiley is overseeing the lab with the input of several students and employees. The lab will be in a room under 200 square feet, and located in the Durham Center.
“This summer, we are working with the facilities and planning people to get the space (ready),” she said. “I think eventually we could have a larger space or an additional space, but this is a place to start.”
Wiley said assistive technology is “anything in a computer that could be used to complete a task.” She said an example of assistive technology is email. When it was first created it was used for deaf people as an assistive technology, but is now a mainstream form of communication.
“It really is just that idea of inclusive design and designing for all,” Wiley said. “It’s going to help everybody by making a few changes to things.”
Wiley said many students with disabilities don’t file for accommodations through the university and are using technology they have as their own accommodation.
“The lab will be a way for them to experiment with other technologies they don’t have or own,” she said.
In the lab, some of the assistive digital technology will include speech-to-text and text-to-speech tools, a screen reader, a Braille display, and screen magnifier.
The lab will also be available for faculty to try the technology in order to adapt their course materials for students with disabilities.
“(Faculty) may not know what a test or a quiz would sound like if read by a screen reader,” Wiley said. “Faculty can come in and test with their course materials as well.”
Wiley said the lab’s purpose is much bigger than helping students with disabilities break down an education barrier. She said she hopes the lab starts a cultural change.
“Students with disabilities tend to go unnoticed, or people ignore them, or faculty sometimes may feel that it is a burden to provide an accommodation,” she said. “(Information Technology) and digital accessibility is approaching this entire cultural change form an inclusive design perspective, which includes accessibility and the field of user experience.”
By bringing in students with disabilities, supportive student groups and faculty, will bring a new interaction between communities that may not have started a conversation otherwise.
“Having faculty and students in the same room will break down those barriers,” she said. “I’m hoping this lab can become an incubator or sorts for those type of relationships.”
With the future of the lab, Constant said this is a test facility and adjustments will be made according to changes in the university.
“Like almost everything we do in the university, we are in the process of continuous improvement,” she said. “It could be that we find that distributed approach would be best (from feedback).”
Constant said the lab will also bring new opportunities professionally and personally to ISU. The department will continue to improve and adapt to changes within the community.
“We will continually work to improve (the lab) and to make sure that it is meeting all the needs as time goes by and everything evolves, technology evolves, our demographic evolves,” she said. “What we do know is that the demographics of our student body is continually changing and we will need to serve and continue to serve a broad range of people.”