Computer Fair Makes Access A High Priority

Bob Roseth

The following article is reprinted with permission from the June 3, 1993, issue of University Week.

Sheryl Burgstahler and Rodney Lewis, a DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology) participant, speak at a UW Computer Fair program
Sheryl Burgstahler, left, and Rodney Lewis, a DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology) participant, were co-speakers at a UW Computer Fair program.

How do you make an ongoing, popular event more accessible and useful to persons with disabilities?

One answer is provided by Sheryl Burgstahler, assistant director of Information Systems, who coordinates the annual UW Computer Fair, which brings more than 15,000 people to the campus.

The fair, which features presentations and demonstrations of the latest in computer equipment, software and support materials, is not primarily a disability-related event. However, Computing and Communications has made vigorous efforts to ensure that the event is accessible to persons with disabilities and is publicized to disability-related groups; moreover, the fair includes presentations and demonstrations that deal with the use of computers by individuals with disabilities.

"Each year, a greater number of individuals with disabilities attend the fair, largely because of the efforts we make to include activities of special interest to them, to make the event accessible, and to publicize it widely," says Burgstahler. "Through the fair, I also think we have increased the general level of awareness about adaptive technology available to help individuals attain the maximum possible involvement in academic programs, careers and other activities."

Publicity for the fair included 70,000 brochures that were mailed to individuals. Both the brochure and the show guide contained information on disability related activities and access issues. News releases contained special mention of activities for those interested in computer access issues for individuals with disabilities.

Special brochures highlighting disability-related activities were distributed to targeted mailing lists of special education teachers, disabled students, and support organizations and services. Braille and large print versions were sent to low vision and blind students on campus and to organizations that support individuals with visual impairments.

The UW Computer Fair is housed in the HUB, a facility that is wheelchair accessible. Rest rooms and telephones can be used by individuals in wheelchairs, and telephone devices for the disabled (TDDs) are available in public areas. Parking for individuals with disabilities is near the HUB entrance.

For vision-impaired individuals, Braille and large print brochures and show guides were available upon request. For hearing impaired persons, sign language interpreters were available and, for disability-related presentations, were provided without prior request.

The fair has traditionally included several disability-related seminars. Previous fairs have included presentations on adaptive technology, voice input systems, alternative keyboards and signage.

"We have encouraged presenters to address disability issues even when their primary topic is not specifically related to disability."

This year's fair included a presentation on a UW project funded by the National Science Foundation which makes extensive use of computers, adaptive technology and the Internet to recruit individuals with disabilities into science, engineering and mathematics. Known as DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology), the project was presented in part by a speaker with a mobility impairment, who discussed how technology helped him achieve greater independence in academic studies and communication.

The DO-IT presentation's handouts were available in standard print, large print and Braille; a sign-language interpreter was provided.

"Besides making the presentation more accessible to persons with disabilities, having these services available without special request serves to increase the general awareness of accessibility issues," Burgstahler says.

In addition to the presentation, DO-IT sponsored a booth at which UW students with disabilities demonstrated adaptive technology. Literature at the booth was available in standard print, large print and Braille.

On month before the fair, the 160 exhibitors were sent a survey asking if they distributed special products for individuals with disabilities, and if they provided documentation in alternative formats. This information was summarized and distributed from the DO-IT booth.

"We believe that efforts similar to those used at the computer fair can make an event more accessible and attractive to individuals with disabilities," Burgstahler says.

Additional information is available from Burgstahler, 3-0622, or Email