Gabriella Pinos/Assistant Entertainment Director
At the Disability Resource Center in the Modesto Maidique Campus, computer labs are outfitted with adjustable tables, a closed-circuit television system, or video magnifier, a white noise machine and a braille printer.
However, the adaptive technology lab at the DRC isn’t a physical place, but a hub for resources that students with disabilities might need, according to Martha Wong, associate director of administrative services at the DRC.
“It can be anything from visually impaired, it can be students that have ADHD, that have anxiety, that have learning disabilities,” said Wong. “We have a variety of students that fall under different types of the spectrum when it comes to autism and intellectual disabilities, so it really is dependent on the student itself.”
Adaptive technology such as speech recognition software, screen readers and text magnification provide accessibility for students with disabilities, according to Wong. The most widely used accommodation at the lab is accessible textbook material, where accessible version of textbooks are provided to students. If no accessible textbooks are available, the DRC will scan the pages of the student’s textbook and convert them into an accessible PDF that reads text out loud.
Blind or visually impaired students can have text read out loud to them through screen reading software such as ZoomText. This was the case for a visually impaired French major who is currently registered in the DRC, according to Wong.
“The constant struggle or challenge that we were experiencing is a lot of the accessible text cannot be provided with screen readers because it’s in French,” said Wong. “So now, with new technology that we have procured and has been updated, they can provide all this readable text in over 150 different languages including French.”
Fully online students can also access the software the technology lab. If students need software to be installed on their computer, the DRC sends it to them via email or gives it to them personally, according to Wong.
“[Technology’s] been able to not only be able to break the barriers that students might have to be able to have an inclusive and equitable environment in their courses, but it also has allowed us to be able to expand our services outside of the classroom for online students, for example,” said Wong.
On campus, the DRC provides satellite computers on MMC and the Biscayne Bay Campus that are accessible to students with disabilities.
Wong said the DRC is working on expanding their computer services to the Engineering Center, which will include adjustable tables and adequate spacing for students. A pilot program which will allow students with disabilities to take exams at the University Testing Center is in the works this semester and will be implemented in Spring 2019, according to Wong.
“It would allow students with disabilities to have a well-designed testing center space with the software that they need to take their exams,” said Wong. “We already collaborated with that area, so we can have at least 12 computers that are already set up with the software.”
With the approval of a technology fee this semester, the DRC will begin collaborating with the computer assistive technology labs, which are designed for students with disabilities to study and work on assignments, in the MMC and BBC libraries.
“It’s four private small rooms,” said Wong. “The tech fee that we got approved will allow us to upgrade those four rooms. So we’re buying new furniture, new chairs that are adaptable, new computers, so making sure that they’re bigger screens, also bigger keyboards that have braille dots on the keys.”
Currently, this software is available exclusively to students registered within the DRC; however, Sonocent, a speech recording software, and Sensus Access, an alternative format conversion tool, is available to all students with an @fiu.edu email on the DRC website.
In the future, Wong wants the software in the adaptive technology lab to be available university-wide, not just for DRC-registered users.
“What do you prefer to use? You tell us, and we’ll do the research, and we’ll bring it to FIU,” said Wong.
Photo courtesy of Martha Wong.