Citation: Fichten, C.S., Asuncion, J., Robillard, C., Fossey, M.E., Généreux, C., Guimont, J.P., & Lamb, D. What decision makers need to know about the NTIC needs of postsecondary students with disabilities: The Adaptech research project. Proceedings of the CAMO Conference: Towards Technology Connected To Diversity.

What Decision Makers Need To Know About The NTIC Needs Of Postsecondary Students With Disabilities:

The Adaptech Research Project
Catherine S. Fichten, Jennison Asuncion, Chantal Robillard, Myrtis Fossey,
Christian Généreux, Jean-Pierre Guimont, Daniel Lamb
Adaptech Project, Dawson College, Montréal

The goal of the Adaptech Project is to provide empirically based information to assist in decision making which ensures that new policies, software and hardware reflect the needs and concerns of Canadian postsecondary students with disabilities, the professors who teach them and the individuals responsible for providing services to them. We are based at Dawson College in Montreal. Adaptech's research is conducted bilingually. The project's research endeavors are guided by an active cross-Canada bilingual Advisory Board. The team consists of an interdisciplinary and multisectorial group of academics, researchers, students and consumers. Several of us have the personal experience of living with disabilities.

Our research during the past 5 years has been funded by major Canadian federal and provincial research granting organisations, including the Office of Learning Technologies (Human Resources Development Canada), the Fonds pour la formation de chercheurs et l'aide à la recherche (FCAR), the Programme d'aide à la recherche sur l'enseignement et l'apprentissage (PAREA), the Network for the Evaluation of Education and Training Technologies (EvNet) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). We run a moderated electronic discussion forum (listserv) with over 250 members. The goal of both the listserv and the Adaptech web site <> is to encourage dialogue about our research and to serve as a resource to the Canadian postsecondary education community.

Projects and Studies

Recently completed studies of interest, all of which were conducted in both English and French, are listed below. More information about each of these investigations is available on our web page <>.

Québec College Students

Of specific interest in the Québec milieu is the ITAC Project. This is a focused investigation consisting of three studies which examined the views and experiences with computer, information and adaptive technologies of three key stakeholder groups in Québec's cegep (junior/community college) system: students with various physical, sensory and learning disabilities, the professors who teach them and the personnel who provide services to students with disabilities on campus.

A key area of interest highlighted by the ITAC Project concerned funding for computer, information and adaptive technologies. Problems in this area were noted in three realms: (1) lack of recognition of all disabilities for technology-based funding support; (2) the problem of "not being disabled enough" faced by some students when they attempt to request funding for computers; and (3) widespread lack of information about provincial government funding programs.

We found that almost half of the respondents in our samples needed adaptations to use computers effectively. In addition, students often had multiple impairments which required that different types of adaptive computer technologies be able to work together. These results partly explain our findings on problems related to the use of computer and adaptive computer technologies. These include: high cost, difficulties related to compatibility of needed adaptive software and hardware, the necessity for continual upgrading, poor technical support and lack of training.

A key finding of our cross Canada and Québec based studies is that Québec has a much lower proportion of postsecondary students with disabilities - 1/10 as many - as the rest of Canada. For example, using the identical methodology (i.e., asking individuals responsible for providing services to students with disabilities at postsecondary educational institutions about the number of students registered to receive services from them or their office), we found that only 0.5% of students enrolled in Québec's cégeps have a disability compared to the 5.5% of college students in other parts of Canada. Similarly, only 0.2% of Québec's university students have a disability compared to 2% in other parts of Canada. We examined the possibility that this was due to the lack of recognition of specific learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia) as disabilities in Québec (these are considered a disability in the rest of Canada). Our analyses show that although learning disabilities account for some of the discrepancies, these by no means explain all of the differences found.


Our studies show that when in comes to postsecondary education, technology is the future and a MUST for students with disabilities. Therefore, it is imperative that students with disabilities have good access to computer, information and adaptive computer technologies. Based on the findings of the ITAC Project, we make the following policy recommendations for Québec government, organizations, agencies and programs which fund and provide computer equipment and subsidies.

1. Inform the postsecondary community about programs and any changes

Our research clearly shows that both cegep students with disabilities as well as cegep personnel responsible for services to students with disabilities are poorly informed about government programs which help students acquire computer and adaptive computer technologies. To rectify the situation, we recommend that all government programs, organizations and agencies make an effort to inform the cegep community about the full range of programs, the rules and regulations, and the eligibility criteria.

Information packages should also be sent both to the Québec and to the Canada-wide associations of students with disabilities (i.e., AQEIPS - located at Université de Montréal and NEADS located at Carleton University in Ottawa) as well as to cegep personnel responsible for services to students with disabilities for broad based dissemination to students and other concerned college personnel (e.g., financial aid officers). Material should be made available, of course, in alternate formats (i.e., Braille, tape, diskette, regular and large print). Information should also be posted on accessible web sites, and the locations widely publicised.

On-site visits by program officials to meet with students and with personnel responsible for services to cegep students with disabilities would also be useful. An orientation to government assistance programs which relate to computer technologies at conferences for the postsecondary education community would also be helpful. In addition, informing the general community can also be useful. If more potential students know about available programs, perhaps more would enroll.

2. Define eligibility rules and criteria more clearly

The criteria concerning what constitutes a disability are unclear. It can be seen in our results that depending on whose definition is used, the number of postsecondary students with disabilities in Québec varies by more than 100%. This is important, because definitional issues determine whether students are eligible for subsidy programs for computer, information and adaptive technologies and whether the cegep receives funding for providing services, including computer supports, for these students.

3. Simplify the application process and make application forms and information available in alternative formats

Students need to be able to apply for equipment and equipment subsides without resorting to assistance from others. This includes students with print impairments, who need to have application forms and information in alternative formats (e.g., audiotape, large print, electronic text).

4. Provide flexibility to allow for upgrading and updating equipment

As noted by cegep professor participants in our ITAC Project, the useful life of a computer is between 3 and 5 years. Students with disabilities often spend long periods in cegeps because they are taking a reduced course load. Because of rapid changes in the computer industry and incompatibilities between newer and older technologies many students indicated that they had to acquire a second computer, since their first one had become obsolete. Yet, certain programs fail to provide students with either updated equipment or with subsidies to update or replace obsolete hardware and software.

5. Treat different impairments on equal terms

Our findings show that many cegep students were unable to benefit from subsidy programs either because their impairments or disabilities were excluded from the eligibility criteria or because their impairment or disability was not deemed to be sufficiently severe. Thus, students with certain types of impairments are denied access to government programs. Similarly cegep personnel working with students who have disabilities are often limited in their ability to provide computer, information and adaptive technologies and support due to lack of funding for students with specific disabilities. In fact, our data show that cegeps are funded for providing services to only 1/3 of the students whom they actually serve. This puts an undue burden on the cegep, the service providers, and rehabilitation centers, as well as the students concerned and limits students with "unrecognised" impairments in the pursuit of higher education.

6. Limit the share of parents' income when determining eligibility for funding

The average age of cegep students with disabilities was 23 - considerably older than that of cegep students in general. It is often the case that adult students with disabilities live with their parents to assist with aspects of daily living. To take the situation to an extreme, it is certainly inappropriate to take the income of a 30 year old student's parents into account when determining his or her eligibility for a bursary. In this context it is important to remember that identical treatment is not equal treatment.

7. Shorten waiting periods to receive equipment

Courses at cegeps have firm start and end times. Exams and assignments are scheduled with fixed dates. Students who need to use computer and adaptive computer technologies must be able to access these in a timely manner. Our data suggest that waiting periods in many government programs are simply too long to meet the needs of cegep students with disabilities.

8. Fund training

If students do not know how to use computer equipment, or if they can only use the most rudimentary features, they will not be well served. Nondisabled cegep students are taught how to use needed software. Similarly, students who use adaptive computer equipment need to be taught to use these to allow them to keep up with their nondisabled peers. It would also be important to provide training sessions across the province for service providers.


Two tables which list useful resources are included below. Additional information about the Adaptech Project and its activities is available at our bilingual web site <>.

Table 1. Anglophone Resources

Table 2. Francophone Resources


Fichten, C.S., Barile, M., Robillard, C., Fossey, M., Asuncion, J., Généreux, C., Judd, D., & Guimont, J.P. (in press). Access To College For All: ITAC Project - Computer and Adaptive Computer Technologies in the Cegeps For Students With Disabilities / L'accessibilité au cégep pour tous : Projet ITAC - informatique et technologies adaptées dans les cégeps pour les étudiants handicapés (309 pages). ISBN 155-016-837-1. Final report to PAREA (Programme d'aide à la recherche sur l'enseignement et l'apprentissage), July, 2000. Québec: Ministère de l'Éducation. Eric Document Reproduction Service. Available July, 2000 from:
Summary in English:
Summary in French:
Full text in English:

Fichten, C.S. Barile, M. & Asuncion, J.V. (1999a). Learning technologies: Students with disabilities in postsecondary education / Projet Adaptech : L'Utilisation des technologies d'apprentissage par les étudiant(e)s handicapé(e)s au niveau postsecondaire (190 pages). ISBN 2-9803316-4-3. Final report to the Office of Learning Technologies, 1999, Spring. Ottawa: Human Resources Development Canada. Eric Document Reproduction Service (ED 433625 EC 37369). Abstracted and available September 7, 1999 from
English: and in
French: and at
Full text version in English:

Fichten, C.S. Barile, M. & Asuncion, J.V. (1999b). Appendix to: Learning technologies: Students with disabilities in postsecondary education - Final report to the Office of Learning Technologies. (107 pages). ISBN 2-9803316-5-1. Ottawa: Human Resources Development Canada. Eric Document Reproduction Service (ED 433625 EC 37369). Available September 23, 1999 on the World Wide Web: