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Adaptive Technology FAQ

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Q. ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY: What is adaptive technology?

A. Adaptive technology is typically used to describe hardware or software that is used to help individuals with disabilities use computers. Examples of adaptive technology include screen reading software, screen magnification software, alternative keyboards, and joysticks. Adaptive technology can be high-tech (e.g., a Braille printer) or low-tech (e.g., large-print key labels), and involve hardware, software, or a combination of both. For an overview of adaptive technology, consult the video and publication entitled Working Together: People with Disabilities and Computer Technology.

Q. COMPUTING FACILITIES: Our computing lab is wheelchair accessible. Is that enough?

A. Once wheelchair users enter the computing facility, they will still need to access the computers. Often students with disabilities cannot use standard input and output methods (such as keyboards, monitors, and printers). Adaptive hardware and software provides access to computers and computing resources for individuals with disabilities. Adaptive technology, however, does not guarantee access to all computing resources. Some students still face barriers to accessing the World Wide Web and other software. Refer to other sections of The Faculty Room to learn more about accessible computer labs, Web pages and universal design. For an overview of how to create accessible computer lab, consult the publication and video entitled Equal Access: Computer Labs.

Q. BLINDNESS: What technology can blind students use to access computers, and what accommodations do they need for computer-based assignments or labs?

A. Students who are unable to read print of any size use screen reader software, which makes text on the screen accessible through speech or Braille output. In other words, text that appears on the screen, including the labels of icons, buttons, and menu items, is either spoken by a speech synthesizer or displayed in Braille on a built-in or external Braille display. Screen reading software also provides alternative methods for performing mouse functions since standard operation of a mouse requires eye-hand coordination. If an activity uses standard, off-the-shelf software or an accessible Web site and does not require that the students view or create graphics, most students will be able to fully participate in the activity as long as the necessary screen reader and speech or Braille output devices are installed on the computers they are to use. If inaccessible software or Web sites are to be used, work with the student to develop reasonable accommodations. One possible accommodation is to allow the student to work with a partner who can describe or read what appears on the screen and is not accessible with speech output. To be prepared for students with disabilities that might attend your class in the future, employ universal design principles to assure that your computers, facilities and World Wide Web pages are accessible to students with a wide range of abilities and disabilities.

Q. LEARNING DISABILITIES: Do students with learning disabilities need adaptive computer technology accommodations?

A. Many students with learning disabilities benefit from adaptive technology accommodations to support reading, writing, mathematics and organizational skills. Needs vary greatly among individual students. For example, some students with learning disabilities may simply use built-in highlighting and spelling /grammar checker features as an accommodation. Other individuals may benefit from phonetic spelling software, which can render phonetic spelling into correctly spelled words. For some students with dyslexia (reading disabilities), screen reading software with speech output can present audio text. Speech recognition products can help students dictate assignments or term papers as well as navigate the Internet using voice commands. For an overview of how computers can assist individuals with learning disabilities, consult the publication and video entitled Working Together: Computers and People with Learning Disabilities.

Q. TEST TAKING: A student in my course needs computer accommodations for test taking. Isn't that an unfair advantage over other students?

A. If the student has a documented disability, is registered with the disabled student services office and requires adaptive technology to access the course materials which includes exams, adaptive computer use is an accommodation, not an advantage. The student and disability student services staff should work with you to assist with setting up the test accommodations, determining the test location, and providing a test proctor if needed.

For answers to more questions, search the Knowledge Base.