Small Group Discussions
Following the presentations, participants broke into small groups for discussion. Each group was assigned a specific question to consider.
What does NEADS need to do to ensure the long-term success of CampusNet?
- Do outreach to student groups;
- Encourage more local (institutional) student groups;
- Ensure that student union committees have representatives on disability issues;
- Do outreach to disability services departments to pass on information to students with disabilities;
- Encourage service providers to facilitate involvement in student groups on campus;
- Provide a separate forum for professional service providers;
- Provide a forum for student leaders trying to start groups-help them through the growing pains by "mentoring";
- Do outreach to high schools;
- Increase the number of active members through publicity and high school outreach (e.g. Moving On);
- Bring in new members through student mentors;
- Keep updated/current;
- Include handouts in orientation kits;
- Consider what role its listserv will play.
If there is no student involvement, CampusNet will not survive, participants emphasized, while expressing that the NEADS conference should continue. NEADS should encourage participation and give information on funding options (e.g. where to go for sponsorship).
Do you see technology such as the Internet playing a useful role in advocacy for students with disabilities? If so, how? If not, why not?
The Internet plays a useful role in terms of awareness building, access to information, networking and community building, self-determination, e-mail, and strategies to develop alternate solutions to problems.
- Allows people to research or look up information on a certain disability;
- Makes people more aware of what is out there;
- Can be a source of information (e.g. www.LDonline.com; online libraries);
- Equalizes communication between people;
- Allows people to support each other (through chat rooms and other forums);
- Saves money (e-mail is more efficient than regular mail).
However, participants also noted some negative aspects of the Internet:
- The Internet excludes some people.
- Web sites are not always universally designed.
- Using the Internet is difficult for people whose systems have low bandwidth.
- The Internet can be inaccurate.
One group identified important conditions for using the Internet in advocacy for students with disabilities:
- Awareness of information (e.g. the Campus Café needs to be actively promoted);
- Accessibility of the Internet (e.g. federal/provincial Web sites);
- The opportunity to consult across Canada.
Another group was divided on this question. Research results from Université Laval show that the Internet increases sociability among people with disabilities, with a reduction in stress and anxiety. However, a participant pointed out that those who are not sociable may be less sociable if they spend more time on the Internet. It is necessary to meet people in order to form groups, and this is easier when you are younger. The Internet is a good way to exchange information, but may or may not be a good way of making contact with people.
Do you have any recommendations for government agencies who provide funding and/or access to computer and adaptive technology for students with disabilities, and if so, what are they?
There are a number of improvements that can be easily implemented:
- Agencies should increase awareness of funds and how to go about getting them (providing that information in an easily accessible form).
- In order to qualify for grants to buy technology, an individual has to qualify for a student loan. But many people who need this technology may not qualify for student loans. The two types of loans should be separated, making them truly exclusive.
- Rules for getting funding are quite tricky: there are many ways that one can "screw up" the application or slip through the cracks because of the rules. These rules should be clarified and simplified, to make it easier to abide by them.
Participants also said that agencies should untie Canada Study Grants (CSG)/Bursary for Students With Disabilities (BSWD) from student loans, make CSG tax-exempt, assert government pressure (through procurement) for the development of products that meet a wide variety of needs, and have universal standards for funding and technologies.
Do you have any suggestions for suppliers and developers of computer and adaptive technology, and if so, what are they?
Participants raised the following issues:
- Pricing: The technology should somehow be made more affordable, and there should be better site license systems for educational institutions.
- Universal design: People with learning disabilities can benefit from technologies conceived or developed for those who are blind or vision impaired. This suggests that adaptive technologies could be geared towards broader groups.
- Training materials: Training materials included with the packages are poor. A "help" function is not enough-better tools are needed.
- Products in French: An equal number of products should be available in French.
- Accessibility software for computers: Software is needed which allows people to easily customize a system running off Windows NT and adjust a computer to suit the different needs of each user.
- Availability: Products should be available through mainstream vendors, who often offer payment plans, making the products more accessible.
- Advertisement: Products should be advertised (by providing information-not a sales pitch) through listservs and Web sites used by the disability community.
- Sound quality: For software or hardware tools with voice output, a more human quality to the sound would enhance comprehension.
Suggestions for suppliers and developers of computer and adaptive technology included:
- Provide better warranties for products.
- Conduct user testing, verify the target market, verify needs, and do visibility testing.
- Adopt a "whole product" approach, including the product, training, documentation and support, and the platform.
- Do marketing and advertising. Advertise and inform in the right places, and ensure that the distribution channel is accessible.
- Do universal design. Accessibility should be designed in-not retrofitted.
- Make the instructions/help function appropriate for all target users.
- Provide upgrades that are cost-effective, substantial (i.e. substance, not "glitter"), and consistent with previous versions in the user interface.
- Bundle adaptive technology with standard operating systems.
- Offer more free products on their Web sites.
- Allow users to customize the package, choosing from a number of items and only buying what they choose.
- Merge programs together (e.g. merge a common word processing program with an accessibility program and make it more effective for everyone).
Are you encountering any difficulties in accessing computers and technology on your campus, and if so, what kind of problems are they?
- There have been many problems with smaller community colleges.
- Institutions have come a long way-most have some adaptive technology-but staff are not familiar with the technology.
- Disability co-ordinators need to help train staff on the technology.
- Challenges will increase in the future, when there will be more e-learning/e-classrooms.
In general, people with disabilities tend to have access to a better variety of technology than people without disabilities, because specific computers are targeted solely to people with disabilities. Most institutions have a disability office with computers for students. However, this should be expanded across campus, with e-classrooms that include adaptive technology. It may be beneficial to decentralize disability resources and have the software installed on all machines, so that students can use any machine, participants said. To do this, it was noted, the licensing issue would have to be addressed. Another issue relates to system administration. Shared computers set up one way by one person may not meet the needs of another user. Computers should be set up so that each user's profile is saved and the computer adapts to individual users. There should also be better access to non-standard applications and systems.
Is your school providing you with the same opportunities as your non-disabled peers to learn about and use the latest technology (e.g. online courses)?
Students discussed the situation at various institutions.
Mount Royal College:
- The technology is good and there are study grants.
- A key issue is Web accessibility.
- The Internet is inaccessible to those with auditory, visual, and learning disabilities.
- The institution is trying to find quicker ways to make the Web more accessible.
- Barriers include cost, the need for training of IT staff, the need for better communication with the accessibility committee, and a lack of sensitivity training for professors.
- Adaptech is based here.
- A resource person to learn and teach is useful.
- Laptops for notetakers are needed.
- The key barrier is cost.
Malaspina University College:
- This institution is very good in providing grants (federal, provincial, local).
- The Web is not even accessible for non-disabled people; and there are no accommodations for students with disabilities.
There is an increase in provisions for online learning, but for some pieces of course work, the software does not function properly within Web CT, and students have trouble accessing the material. This is an issue of compatibility and universal design.