Inclusion In Postsecondary Education: Role Of Computer And Information Technologies
Catherine S. Fichten, Jennison V. Asuncion, Maria Barile, Christian Généreux,
Darlene Judd, Jason Lavers, Daniel Lamb
Adaptech Project, Dawson College, Montreal
Through a series of focus groups, telephone interviews and questionnaires the bilingual research of Dawson College's Adaptech Project collected data on computer and adaptive computer technologies used by college and university students with disabilities across the country. Topics studied include: types of computer and adaptive computer technologies students with disabilities use (or wish they could use); advantages and disadvantages they experienced using the technology; and views about training and about obtaining the necessary technologies to meet one's needs.
Our research 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), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), and the Henry & Berenice Kaufmann Foundation. 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.
The research has had the involvement of many partners, including both provincial and federal groups of postsecondary students with disabilities, college and university personnel responsible for providing services to students with disabilities, manufacturers and distributors of adaptive technologies, nonprofit organizations, rehabilitation agencies, and academic educational technology groupings. In addition, the research activities have been guided by an enthusiastic Advisory Board.
Projects and Studies
Recently completed studies of interest, all conducted in both English and French, are listed below. More information about each of these investigations is available on our bilingual web page http://www.adaptech.org
- AdaptCan (completed in 1999: Fichten, Barile, & Asuncion, 1999a, 1999b). For this study, the goal was to obtain information about how computer technologies were being used – or not used – by postsecondary students with disabilities. Data from three studies that involved close to 800 Canadian postsecondary students with disabilities were obtained. The results of this investigation are in the process of being disseminated via refereed journals and conferences as well as through non-traditional means, including newsletters, web pages, electronic media, the ERIC database, etc.
- ITAC Project (Informatique et technologies adaptées dans les cégeps pour les étudiant(e)s ayant des incapacités - completed in 2000: Fichten, Barile, Robillard, Fossey, Asuncion, Généreux, Judd, & Guimont, in press). In this Québec based project data from 97 college students and 71 individuals responsible for providing services to college students with disabilities were obtained using focus groups, interviews and closed-ended questionnaire. Here, too, we are currently engaged in both traditional and non-traditional forms of dissemination of the findings.
- DSSFocus (an ongoing cross-Canada study). In this study the focus turns from the students to the approximately 200 individuals at Canadian colleges and universities who directly oversee support services to students with disabilities. This structured interview study investigates accessibility of computer technologies on campus and institutional and external factors that help or hinder access to these technologies. This study is almost complete.
- Free and Inexpensive Technologies (an ongoing exploration). This bilingual paper based and electronic series of publications is a response to a need, identified by both students with disabilities and professionals, for inexpensive and free software and hardware solutions. These low cost products allow people to experiment with technological solutions without having to make expensive purchases. This is our most popular publication. Additional details are available in English at http://www.adaptech.org/adlinks.htm#5 and in French at http://www.adaptech.org/adlinksf.htm
In all studies, participants had different types of disabilities. We found out how students used "mainstream" as well as adaptive computer technologies. Software that enlarges or speaks what is on the screen, adapted mice for use by people with limited hand movement, and word prediction software are examples of such specialised technologies.
Our results are too numerous to list here. Key findings indicate that 95% of respondents were computer users and 87% of them used the internet, mainly for research and e-mail. Only about a quarter of the students used adaptive computer technologies, although almost half indicated needing these. The reasons: cost and lack of information about what was available. Almost half of the students had more than 1 impairment and about 1/3 of students needed adaptations to use a computer effectively (e.g., software that enlarges what is on the screen, adapted mouse).
Findings relevant to Québec indicate difficulties related to lack of recognition of students with learning disabilities by the provincial government (e.g., they are not eligible for disability related bursaries, equipment or educational services) and to the availability of specialized adaptive software in French (e.g., no appropriate software or software that is obsolete). In addition, a key finding shows that Québec has a much lower proportion of postsecondary students with disabilities - 1/10 as many - as the rest of Canada. Although learning disabilities account for some of the discrepancies, these by no means explain all of the differences found.
Results from all stages of our investigation converge on three points:
- the incredible potential of computer technologies to "level the playing field" for students with all types of disabilities
- concern over inadequate funding for computer and adaptive computer technologies, both for the students themselves and for the institutions and
- lack of information about existing subsidy programs to help students acquire computer technologies.
Computers are technologies that are enabling - that allow students with disabilities to prepare for and to participate in the knowledge-based economy of tomorrow. To plan for the future rather than catch up with the past we recommend that the broadest based consultations take place at all postsecondary institutions and organizations and agencies which provide equipment and training for students with disabilities. Such consultations must involve students, who, of course, are ultimately the end-users. The complexity of the issues suggest that diverse sectors of the campus community need to collaborate to ensure that computer-based teaching materials and resources are accessible to students with different impairments. In this regard, we recommend that multidisciplinary computer accessibility advisory committees be constituted in postsecondary institutions with representation, at a minimum, by students with different disabilities, by professors, by those responsible for providing computer related services to students with disabilities, and by someone from computer support services as well as administration. Such committees could benefit from the expertise of academic computer staff, adaptive computer technology specialists, librarians, audio-visual specialists, and rehabilitation professionals, among others. Creative partnerships and alliances are urgently needed.
In addition, we suggest better coordination and collaboration between disability service providers and provincial agencies, programs, and departments which are responsible for providing equipment subsidies and computer and adaptive computer technologies to students for off-campus use. This would allow for better coordination and better information dissemination about what is really required to meet the forthcoming computer related needs of students with disabilities.
Planning for campus-wide information technology purchases and computer infrastructure improvements in colleges and universities are actively proceeding. The needs of students with disabilities are simply overlooked in much of the planning until it is discovered, often much too late, that the expensive new campus-wide technology is inaccessible. This is not done through malice but through lack of forethought. Designing for accessibility always results in better, less expensive, and more timely solutions than retrofits. Implementing accessibility features in the initial design of information and instructional technology results in fewer design, construction and legal expenses. It is important to ensure that the needs and concerns of students with all types of disabilities are represented in planning decisions from their inception.
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 on the World Wide Web in
English: http://olt-bta.hrdc-drhc.gc.ca/publicat/Dawson79160exe.html and in
French: http://olt-bta.hrdc-drhc.gc.ca/francais/publicat/Dawson79160exf.html and at http://www.cdc.qc.ca/Pages/rech.htm
Full text version in English: http://olt-bta.hrdc-drhc.gc.ca/download/Dawson79160.pdf
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: http://www.adaptech.org/pubs/olt99app.pdf
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 on the World Wide Web: Summary in English: http://www.omega.dawsoncollege.qc.ca/cfichten/itacexee.pdf
Summary in French: http://www.omega.dawsoncollege.qc.ca/cfichten/itacexef.pdf
Full text in PDF in English: http://www.omega.dawsoncollege.qc.ca/cfichten/itacallpdf.exe