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Lesson 10: Adaptive Technology

Lesson 09 | Lesson 10 | Lesson 11

Academic Accommodations for Students with Disabilities
Distance Learning Course


The purpose of this lesson is to increase your awareness of the use of
ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY in accommodations for students with disabilities. 

By reflecting on YOUR own course while reading the CONTENT, you will
be guided to consider possible modifications to your course
SPECIFICALLY related to the accommodations for using computer labs and
web pages.  By considering design features to include when setting up
a new lab that will be accessible to all students, you will become
more aware of the possibilities of adaptive resources.

Question to REFLECT upon while reading the CONTENT

What challenges might students with disabilities face when using
computer labs on your campus? What accommodations might they require?


In the past eight lessons we have concentrated on accommodations for
students with specific disabilities or impairments. This lesson
presents issues and suggestions of accommodations related to the use

As increasing numbers of people with disabilities pursue educational
opportunities that require computer use, the accessibility of
COMPUTING FACILITIES becomes even more critical. To put it simply,
computer labs need to be accessible to all users.  Students with
disabilities need equal access to:
* Building/facilities
* Lab staff
* Physical space and printed materials
* Computers and software
* Electronic resources

Are your students able to:
* get to the facility and maneuver within it?
* access materials and electronic resources?
* make use of the equipment and software?

Although YOU as a faculty member are not necessarily responsible for
these facilities, your awareness of what facilities exist and their
accessibility at your institution will enable you to consider
appropriate accommodations for your students.

The following are BASIC RECOMMENDATIONS toward implementing universal
design and increasing accessibility for all users in the computer lab.
Are these recommendations implemented in the computer lab(s) on your

* Place printed resources so that a wheelchair user can reach them.
* Provide at least one adjustable workstation.
* Provide key guards and wrist rests.
* Have a trackball, joystick, or other mouse alternative available.
* Have lab signs with high contrast and large print.
* Have key documents available in large print or Braille formats for
those with visual impairments.
* Have screen reading software and a speech output system available.
* Have Braille conversion software and a Braille printer to provide
output for patrons who are blind.
* Have large-print keytop labels, screen enlargement software, and a
large monitor at least 17 inches available.
* Make a statement in key documents about your commitment to access
and procedures for requesting disability accommodations.
* Have staff who are familiar with the adaptive technology and trained
in disability issues.

NOTE: For more detailed recommendations, go to the COMPUTER LABS web
page listed in the "WEB ADDRESSES for additional READINGS" at the end
of this lesson.
Computers are essential tools in all academic studies. They can
enhance the independence, productivity, and capabilities of people
with disabilities.  Computers can benefit people with low vision,
blindness, speech and hearing impairments, learning disabilities, and
mobility and health impairments. Each of these impairments poses
challenges to accessing and using a standard computer and electronic
resources. For example, a student who is blind is unable to read a
computer screen display or standard printouts. A student with a spinal
cord injury may not have the motor control and finger dexterity
required to use a standard mouse and keyboard.

Access to computers for students with disabilities involves two major
ISSUES: access to the COMPUTERS themselves and access to electronic
RESOURCES such as word processors, spreadsheets, and the World Wide

ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY is defined as any item, piece of equipment, or
software that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional
abilities of individuals with disabilities. ADAPTIVE HARDWARE AND
SOFTWARE can facilitate computer access for people with
disabilities. Solutions may involve simple, READILY AVAILABLE
adjustments such as using built-in access devices on standard
computers, or they may require UNIQUE combinations of software and
hardware such as those needed for voice or Braille output.

Many accommodations require ADVANCE PLANNING with the student and
disabled student services counselor. Often an adaptive technology
SPECIALIST is available on campus who can make recommendations and set
up the special software. While it is unlikely that YOU as a faculty
member will be directly responsible for setting up such
accommodations, it is helpful to UNDERSTAND the computer access issues
facing students with disabilities and hardware solutions and the
software for providing access to computers and electronic resources.

Following are examples of ACCOMMODATIONS, organized by TYPE OF

Most individuals who are blind can use a standard keyboard. Viewing
standard screen displays and printed documents are
problematic. Specialized voice and Braille output devices can
translate text into synthesized voice and Braille output,
respectively. Following are EXAMPLES of computer input, output, and
documentation accommodations for individuals who are BLIND:

* Locator dots on the keyboard for commonly used keys.

* Speech output
* Refreshable Braille displays that allow line-by-line translation of
a screen into a Braille display area
* Braille embossers.

* Braille embossers
* Scanners with optical character recognition that can read printed
material and store it electronically where it can be read using speech
output or Braille.

Most students with low vision can use standard keyboards. Special
equipment or the use of built-in computer features can help modify
screen displays and printer output. Following are EXAMPLES of computer
input, output, and documentation accommodations for individuals who

* Large-print key labels and home row indicators.

* Large monitors and anti-glare screens
* Screen enlarger software
* Color and contrast adjustments
* Speech output systems.

* Scanners with optical character recognition
* Large-print or ASCII versions of documentation.

Students with learning disabilities generally do not have difficulty
accessing standard computer equipment. The availability of specialized
software and technology has provided a range of products suitable for
educational accommodations that support reading, writing, and
organizational skills.  Following are examples of computer input,
output, and documentation accommodations for individuals who have

* Word processors with grammar and spell checkers
* Word processors with outlining and highlighting capabilities
* Word prediction software
* Phonetic Spelling software which can render phonetic spelling into
correctly spelled words
* Speech recognition products can help students dictate assignments or
term papers as well as navigate the Internet using voice commands
* Concept mapping software allows for visual representations of ideas
and concepts. This software can be used as a structure for starting
and organizing poetry, term papers, resumes, schedules, and computer

* Enlarged screen displays
* Alternative color contrasts
* Speech output
* Reading systems incorporating OCR and speech output.

* Enlarged characters
* Speech output.

SPEECH and HEARING Impairments
Hearing and speech disorders alone generally do not interfere with
computer access. E-mail can be used to facilitate communication
between students and instructors. Following are examples of computer
input, output, and documentation accommodations for individuals who
have SPEECH and HEARING impairments:

* Students with speech or hearing impairments generally do not have
difficulty accessing a standard computer.

* Alternatives to audio output can be provided. For example, a
computer that uses a tone to indicate an error can be programmed to
flash the screen using options in the operating system.
* Communication devices can act as a substitute for voices and provide
a compensatory tool for students who cannot communicate verbally. This
can allow them to engage in discussions and ask questions.

* Individuals with speech or hearing impairments generally do not have
difficulty with standard screen displays or written documentation.

It is important to assure the student who uses a wheelchair or who has
a mobility impairment that he can access the computer
workstation. Using the standard mouse and keyboard for input can be
difficult or impossible due to impaired upper extremity
function. While standard screen displays are often not difficult to
read, software and screen modifications may be necessary to facilitate
input accommodations. Following are examples of computer input,
output, and documentation accommodations for individuals who have

* Accessible on/off switches
* Flexible positioning or mounting of keyboards, monitors, etc. 
* Software utilities that consolidate multiple or sequential keystrokes
* Mouth sticks, head sticks, or other pointing devices
* Key guards
* Modified keyboards (e.g., expanded, mini, or one-handed)
* Trackballs or other input devices provide an alternative to a mouse
* Keyboard emulation with specialized switches that allow the use of
scanning or Morse code input
* Speech input
* Word prediction software.

* Speech output
* General assistance may be needed to access printed materials.

* Individuals with mobility impairments generally do not have difficulty
with standard screen displays or written documentation. 

HEALTH Impairments
In general, health impairments should not interfere with computer
access, unless the health impairment involves a neuromuscular or
orthopedic component. In these cases, access issues and accommodations
would be similar to those presented for individuals with physical
disabilities.  Health impairments and/or medication side effects may
impact other factors such as endurance, concentration, and memory;
thus accommodations similar to those listed for students with learning
disabilities may be helpful.

In general, psychiatric or mental health impairments should not
interfere with computer access. However, medication side effects may
impact other factors such as endurance, concentration, and memory that
can impact learning. Accommodations similar to those listed for
students with LEARNING disabilities may be helpful.

The World Wide Web has rapidly become the dominant Internet tool,
combining hypertext and multimedia to provide a network of
educational, governmental, and commercial resources. The Web has
mushroomed in popularity because it is such a powerful and versatile
medium. Much of its power comes from the fact that it presents
information in a variety of formats while it also organizes that
information through hypertext links.

Because of the multimedia nature of the Web combined with the poor
design of some Web sites, many Internet surfers cannot use the full
range of resources this revolutionary tool provides. Some visitors:

* Cannot see graphics because of visual impairments
* Cannot hear audio because of hearing impairments 
* Use slow connections and modems or older equipment that cannot
download large files
* Have difficulty navigating sites that are poorly organized with
unclear directions because they have learning disabilities, speak
English as a second language, or are younger than the average user.

A person with a MOBILITY impairment may NOT be able to use a mouse and
relies on the keyboard for Web browsing. Some people use adaptive
technology with their computer to access the Web. A person who is
blind may use a SPEECH OUTPUT SYSTEM to read aloud text that is
presented on the screen; this system may be composed of screen reading
software and a voice synthesizer. She would NOT be able to use a
Braille output system, and although special keyboards exist, most
people who are blind use standard keyboards and become TOUCH TYPISTS.

To create resources that can be used by the widest spectrum of
potential visitors rather than an idealized "average," Web page
DESIGNERS should apply "universal design" principles. They should
consider the special needs of individuals with disabilities, older
persons, people for whom English is a second language, and those using
outdated hardware and software.  Following UNIVERSAL DESIGN principles
in creating a Web resource ensures that all Internet users can get to
the information at a Web site regardless of their abilities, their
disabilities, or the limitations of their equipment and software.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) develops the common protocols used
on the Web to ensure interoperability and promote universal access. As
Tim Berners-Lee, Director of the W3C puts it: "The power of the Web is
in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an
essential aspect."

The W3C's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has proposed GUIDELINES
for all Web authors. The following suggestions are based on the WAI
guidelines for Web content. Follow these guidelines when developing
and revising your Web pages to ensure that they are accessible to a
diverse audience.

1. General Page Design
Designing a well-organized Web site helps visitors navigate through
the information presented
* Maintain a simple, consistent page layout throughout your site 
* Keep backgrounds simple. Make sure there is enough contrast 
* Use standard HTML 
* Design large buttons
* Caption video and transcribe other audio
* Make links descriptive so that they are understood out of context 
* Include a note about accessibility.

2. Graphical Features
People who are blind cannot view the graphical features of your Web
site.  Many people with visual impairments use speech output programs
with nonstandard browsers (such as pwWebSpeak or Lynx) or graphical
browsers with the feature that loads images turned off. Include TEXT
ALTERNATIVES to make the content in graphical features accessible.

3. Use of Special Features
* Use TABLES and FRAMES sparingly and consider alternatives. 
* Provide alternatives for FORMS and DATABASES.
* Provide alternatives for content in APPLETS and PLUG-INS.

4. Web Pages Test
TEST your Web site with a variety of Web browsers, and always test
your pages with at least one text-based browser. This way you will see
your Web resources from the many perspectives of your users. Also view
the RESOURCES at your site using a variety of computer platforms,
monitor sizes, and screen resolutions. Make use of an ACCESSIBILITY
VALIDATION SITE, such as Bobby ( that
performs usability diagnostics on your pages and points out elements
that could be inaccessible. Testing your site is especially important
if you use HTML authoring software to write your pages as many of
these programs do not automatically include ALT attributes and other
accessibility features. Revise your HTML to make your site accessible.

NOTE: For more details, go to the WEB PAGES web page listed in the
"WEB ADDRESSES for additional READINGS" at the end of this lesson.


It is unlikely that YOU as a faculty member are directly responsible
for setting up COMPUTER LABS or creating ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY
accommodations. However, it is possible that you will create WEB
PAGES, or have already created them.  In order to help your students,
it is important for you to be AWARE of the many computer access issues
facing students with disabilities and the hardware and the software
solutions for providing access to computers and electronic resources.

The examples of issues and accommodations presented can serve as a
reference to help you recognize options when you encounter a student
with a disability in your existing courses, and to assist you in the
PLANNING and DESIGN stages of creating a new course.  Incorporating
universal design principles into the course from the beginning reduces
the need for accommodations later.


Send an email message to the group, answering the following question:

What are some specific design features your department might employ
when setting up a new computer lab to make it accessible to all

Your email SUBJECT line should read: Accommodations 10: ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY. 

You can read answers to frequently asked questions, explore case
studies, or access additional resources for computer labs at:

for adaptive technology at:

and for Web pages at:

(c) 2001 DO-IT. Permission is granted to copy material in this email
for educational, non-commercial purposes provided the source is
acknowledged. Contact DO-IT at: 1-206-685-3648, or