Windows on Computing

Rodney Lewis

This article appeared in the Winter/Spring 1995 issue of Computing & Communications.

Most scholars in the UW DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) Program consider electronic mail to be the best thing about the Internet. (In fact, sometimes email is considered the best thing about the Internet for anyone.) For students with disabilities, not only does email enable them to communicate with their DO-IT cohorts, the DO-IT staff, online mentors who have disabilities, and professors they met during the summer study, it also provides them with the means for interacting at the same level as anyone else, disabled or not.

Email gives mobility-impaired students an opportunity to write letters without having to deal with such physical things as envelopes and stamps. It gives students with speech difficulties the chance to speak with people who either can't or won't give the time or effort needed to understand their speech. It gives individuals who are deaf an alternative to in-person and phone communication, and those who are blind and have voice output on their computers an alternative to having someone read them hard copy correspondence.

Before their two-week summer study, DO-IT scholars are provided with computers, adaptive technologies, modems, software, and Internet accounts and are trained to use email on Pine. As their participation continues, the students are regularly sent "lessons" through email to teach them how to gain resources, particularly science-related ones. After a few such lessons, most scholars have learned to find resources on their own.

Additionally, many lively email "conversations," not limited to the scientific subjects at hand, take place among the participants. Before the August 1994 session, for example, discussions abounded on everything from the Clipper Chip to how to get a college scholarship.

Email has also opened many new social channels for the DO-IT scholars. The family-like atmosphere begun in the DO-IT summer study can flourish with the use of email, enabling the students to develop social bonds and special friendships, even though they may live three hundred or a thousand miles away from each other.