The Adaptech team includes academics, researchers, consumers, and students, said Daniel Lamb. Research focuses on the use of computer, information, and adaptive technology in post-secondary institutions by students with disabilities. Adaptech is based at Dawson College in Montreal and is funded by federal and provincial grants. The organization is pleased with the partnerships it has with NEADS and with other organizations like AQEIPS, ACICEP, and CADSPPE. Its advisory board is interdisciplinary and bilingual.
Adaptech has carried out a number of empirical studies:
- AdaptCan (1999): This was a Canada-wide study in which students were surveyed on how well adaptive technology was received in institutions.
- ITAC (2000): This study focused only on Quebec. The methodology was different, with more focus groups and one-on-one interviews with service providers.
- DSS Focus (2001): This was a Canada-wide study that resulted in the creation of a self-evaluation tool for service providers to evaluate on a scale of 1 to 10 how accessible their institution is to students with disabilities.
- A current study on outcomes: This study is just being completed. It involved 734 students and tracked outcomes over 10 years for students with disabilities studying at Dawson College. It found that students with disabilities take slightly longer to graduate-but they are graduating, so it is worth investing in resources for students with disabilities. Also, there is evidence that these students are graduating at higher rates than students as a general group.
- "Free and Inexpensive": This is an ongoing study that keeps track of a series of products that bridge the technology gap until students can afford more expensive technology.
Catherine Fichten presented some findings of the Adaptech research:
- Almost all students with disabilities use computers.
- There were no age, sex, or linguistic differences (a different finding than among the non-disabled population).
- Many students have multiple impairments (e.g. both keyboard issues and font size issues). The potential for multiple problems in using a computer means that different adaptive technology solutions are required.
Close to half of those studied needed some kind of technology. Cost issues were "the number one, two, and three reasons" why participants did not have the technology that they needed. Other problems with using adaptive technology included compatibility, upgrading requirements, support and service, training, and lack of information (on how to get subsidies, on what technology to get, and where to get it).
The results converge on three points:
- Computer technology has the potential to level the playing field for students with disabilities. At Dawson College, 55% of students with disabilities graduated, while 54.5% of non-disabled students graduated.
- There is concern over inadequate funding for technology.
- There is a need for universal design.
Daniel Lamb reviewed technology use, noting that there is a blurring between general and specific use of adaptive technologies: things designed for general use have applications for people with disabilities. Some of the issues faced by the aging population are the same as those faced by people with disabilities-the distinction will blur more and more, and software will become more flexible as the population ages.
He then demonstrated three free or affordable software products:
- ReadPlease 2000 (www.readplease.com) is a free program that can be downloaded off Adaptech's Web site. Some of the voices used are already installed by Windows 98 and higher versions. The program reads the text aloud in English or French and highlights the words as it reads.
- Text Aloud MP3 (www.nextup.com/TextAloud) is a program costing $25 US that is only available through the organization's Web site. It allows the user to put the text onto an MP3 or Wave file and burn it onto a CD, or download it into a portable MP3 player.
- OmniPage Pro 12 Office (www.scansoft.com/omnipage) costs $149 Cdn (upgrade price) or $250 Cdn. It comes bundled with Canon scanner technology, so people can use that version to get the upgrade. The program scans documents and converts them to text, and furthermore gives the option of speech. This is useful, because text in Portable Document Format (PDF) has long been inaccessible to those who require an affordable solution.
Lamb concluded the presentation by providing the contact information for Adaptech:
Web site: www.adaptech.org
"Free and Inexpensive" Web site: www.adaptech.org/download.htm
(or for the French version: www.adaptech.org/downloadf.htm)