Ana and Astronomy: A Case Study on Accommodations for Writing Assignments

DO-IT Factsheet #213
http://www.washington.edu/doit/Faculty/articles?213

Background

My name is Ana. I'm an astronomy major, with a concentration in theory. I have quadriplegia (sometimes referred to in recent years as tetraplegia) and use a power wheelchair. I also have very limited functional use of my arms and hands.

Access Issue

Upper-division courses required more writing for exams and papers than my earlier courses. Some of the writing assignments were very long, and I had to find writing or typing assistants to help me. It was time-consuming and exhausting to locate and manage the typists. I often had to request time extensions on assignments; in my case, time extensions really didn't help that much, because I then fell more behind in other courses while trying to complete past due assignments. I did not want to take incomplete grades for a course, because the work for the incomplete course still had to be done the following quarter, in addition to my new courses.

Solutions

The assistive technology specialist in the computer center had already set me up with some assistive technology to make keyboarding easier (e.g., trackballs, mouth pointers) The assistive technology specialist suggested that I try using a speech recognition system as well. This system is a highly developed, user-friendly speech recognition, or speech-to-text, program that learns to recognize an individual user's speech patterns and stores vocabulary already input by the user. The longer you use the system, the more quickly and accurately it recognizes your speech and word use. What you speak appears on the monitor so you can follow the text; you can also enter verbal commands to operate the program. I was able to learn and master the system with about two weeks of training. My vocational rehabilitation counselor purchased the program for my home computer. This program understood a great deal of my vocabulary, especially for terms used in astronomy. As more terms were recognized, I could enter text faster. Over a short time, I was able to effectively use the system for all of my classes, essay exams, and papers.

Conclusion

This case study illustrates the following:

  1. Assistive technology can greatly reduce the need for assistance from other individuals to do academic tasks, maximizing the independence of the student.
  2. Students with disabilities, including severe disabilities like quadriplegia, can successfully pursue advanced scientific fields.
  3. Technological accommodations can be effectively transferred from undergraduate study to graduate study and later to employment.
  4. Technological solutions can increase productivity.