DO-IT News July 2005: All Articles

This page features all the articles from the DO-IT News July 2005 newsletter. This newsletter can also be viewed article by article on the DO-IT News July 2005 page.

Director's Digressions

Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

DO-IT was a trailblazer when, in 1992, we developed a gopher site (software to organize Internet files developed by the University of Minnesota) that linked to virtually every Internet resource related to disabilities. A relatively small group of people could access it because it was before the days when K-12 schools and homes routinely connected to the Internet. In fact, at that time all DO-IT Scholars were given email accounts on University of Washington systems because there was no such thing as an Internet Service Provider.

DO-IT has continued to stay on the cutting edge (trying to avoid the bleeding edge) of technology in its delivery of a rich set of resources that are accessible to people with disabilities. Let me take you on a quick tour of some of the websites that you can link to from DO-IT at

Technology and Universal Design

A rich set of tutorials, videos, publications, and resources related to access to computers, multimedia, web pages, online learning, telecommunications, and other information technologies for people with disabilities.


AccessIT promotes the procurement, development, and use of accessible information technology (IT) in educational institutions at all levels. The AccessIT Knowledge Base is a searchable collection of questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices regarding accessible IT, cosponsored by DO-IT and the University of Washington Center for Technology and Disability Studies.


AccessSTEM serves to increase the participation of people with disabilities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. The AccessSTEM searchable Knowledge Base includes information about universal design of instruction and electronic resources, strategies for making STEM classes and labs accessible to all students, and assistive technology for students with disabilities.


Making a successful transition to employment is the focus of AccessCAREERS. Its searchable Knowledge Base includes questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices related to career success for people with disabilities. Included are useful resources for students, K-12 educators, parents, mentors, and employers.

The Faculty Room

The Faculty Room is a place for postsecondary faculty and administrators to learn about how to create classroom environments and activities that maximize the learning of all students, including those with disabilities. Legal issues, universal design principles, and accommodation strategies are included in interactive, multimedia, and searchable resources.

The Conference Room

The Student Services Conference Room is a place for staff in postsecondary libraries; admissions, financial aid, and registration offices; computer labs; and other campus services. It includes a searchable database of frequently asked questions, promising practices, and tips on how to create accessible student service organizations.

The Board Room

The Board Room provides guidance to postsecondary administrators regarding policies and practices that maximize the learning and participation of all students.

The Student Lounge

The Student Lounge helps students with disabilities prepare for and succeed in postsecondary studies.

DO-IT at the Engineering Open House

Lisa Stewart, DO-IT staff
Picture of a student using a braille machine.
A student uses a Braille machine to type his name at the Engineering Open House.

Once again the University of Washington's Engineering Open House was a huge success, with over 7,500 parents, students, and teachers from around Washington and neighboring states in attendance! There were exhibits from every engineering department and program, as well as a number of outreach programs that help students increase their involvement in science, technology, engineering, and math. A few of the exciting hands-on activities available for students to try were a giant wind tunnel, robotic cars, a lesson in aerodynamics and paper science through the assembly of paper airplanes, and virtual technology stations.

DO-IT hosted both an informational booth and an AT (assistive technology) demonstration area where we were a big hit with our low-tech Braille machine and our more high-tech wheelchair computer game, screen-reading software demo, and head mouse solitaire game. We also hosted a pizza lunch that offered old and new Scholars and AccessSTEM participants and their families a chance to meet and get to know each other or just visit with friends.

The Engineering Open House continues to get better every year and is a great event that exposes students to the many dynamic fields available to them in engineering.


DO-IT Did It at CSUN

Scott Bellman

DO-IT staff traveled to Los Angeles to participate in the International Conference on Technology sponsored by California State University, Northridge (CSUN). This annual conference, in its nineteenth year, brought together 4,000 participants from all fifty states and over thirty countries.

DO-IT Director Sheryl Burgstahler and I presented a session called Preparing for College: An Online Tutorial. Carole Isakson presented a well-received poster session based on her research called Factors That Affect Literacy Development in Three Young Children Who Use ACC. Terry Thompson doubled up with two sessions—Electronic Documents and Structural Integrity and Universal Design and Web Accessibility: Unexpected Benefits.

In addition to the crowds at the presentations, DO-IT staff met with several hundred people in its exhibit. Most of them were educators and professionals interested in access—access to technology, public places, programs, employment, and more. Some were students and parents who had an interest in adaptive technology. They offered high praise for our useful printed, electronic, and video resources, and many will be staying connected with DO-IT for years to come!

DO-IT Participates in MESA Day

Valerie Sundby, DO-IT staff

On March 22, 2005, the Tacoma/Puget Sound chapter of Washington MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement) held their annual MESA Day at Pacific Lutheran University. Students and teachers from throughout the Puget Sound region competed in a variety of math, science, and engineering activities and events. Some events, such as the bridge building competition, were a culmination of the work that MESA students completed throughout the year. Others, such as the egg drop, were competitions that the students completed on the spot to test their ability to apply the engineering principles they had studied. The events were judged by professionals that included university faculty and staff, engineers, and computer programmers. Awards were handed out to the winning student teams in each activity. For more information about MESA, visit

DO-IT Hosts College Transition Fair

Debra Zawada, DO-IT staff

On March 24th, DO-IT and North Seattle Community College hosted the Fourth Annual Transition to College event for high school students with disabilities. Over 130 students attended from twenty area high schools. Following an inspirational keynote address, students were assigned groups which rotated between three sessions: Self-determination, Choosing a College, and Accessing Disability Services. The morning finale was a panel comprised of college students with disabilities. The seven students represented great diversity, from their colleges and areas of study to their disabilities and personal stories. However the common theme throughout was their clarity regarding the limitations of their disabilities and how college services help them reach their goals. Following a signature DO-IT pizza lunch, students had the opportunity to wander the College Fair and speak directly with the representatives from Disability Services.

We hope through this and similar events, students will be inspired, will understand the changes that must occur to succeed in a postsecondary environment, and will get a jump start on planning for their future. The laws that govern the systems are different, so student behaviors must change to meet new challenges. The transition to college is one small step in this critical process. The work done by the students and their parents and teachers on a daily basis, as the students learn to take charge, is the most important.

DO-IT Does Alaska!

Scott Bellman, DO-IT staff
Picture of Scott and Alex
DO-IT staff Scott Bellman visits with an AccessSTEM team member in Alaska.

In April, I visited Alaska to meet with project partners and recruit student participants for the Northwest Alliance for Access to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (AccessSTEM). I visited high schools and University of Alaska campuses in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

It was a whirlwind tour. I took four flights in three days and had about fifteen working meetings. I did manage to see a few sights, though—like a reindeer farm and the dripping remains of Fairbanks's annual ice sculptures. The students I met there were great. They had a variety of disabilities—Asperger's Syndrome, a learning disability, a hearing impairment, vision impairments, a seizure disorder, and quadriplegia. All of them were interested in science. There wasn't much of a time zone difference, but it was hard going to sleep with the sun still up at 11 PM!

My first meeting was with Ellen Nash at the King Career Center in Anchorage. Ellen introduced me to Dimond High School seniors Chris and Brandon. Both are interested in college and want to explore careers in computer technology. On the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) campus, I met with Kaela Parks (Disability Services Director) and high school student Alex. Alex is a freshman at Anchorage's West High School who was visiting the UAF campus to learn about different types of assistive technology. Alex has interests in audio engineering and technology in general. I also met with UAA college student Michelle, whom I am working with to set up an AccessSTEM paid internship to build her technical skills. Michelle is receiving an AA degree in telecommunications, electronics, and computer technology and would like to pursue a four-year degree.

Further north, in Fairbanks, I met with Mary Matthews, Disability Student Services Director, on the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) campus. Mary and I met with staff and faculty to discuss AccessSTEM and recruit mentors. We met with Dr. Denise Thorsen (an advisor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering), Richard Collins (natural sciences faculty member), and Patty Picha (career counselor at UAF Career Services).

The next meeting was a worksite visit with AccessSTEM intern John, a UAF student. John is assisting the North Star Borough Library (NSBL) with computer maintenance and repair. As he explains, "I update anti-virus software and Windows programs and I rebuild towers as needed and help with any other projects. I have learned how to get around in Windows XP and 2000. The AccessSTEM internship has given me a chance to work while I learn." John has received an Associates degree in information systems. He is legally blind.

UAF student and AccessSTEM participant Dennis Hochstetler is working in an internship with the Federal Weather Service/NOAA to set up a climatological database for lightening prediction. He stated, "The internship has given me the chance to actually do scientific research and gives me experience for working in employment that uses scientific procedures". The meeting included Dennis' Internship supervisor Eric Stevens, the NOAA Science and Operations officer.

I also visited Hutchinson High School student Daniel and his counselor Nina Tartakoff. Daniel has an interest in Marine Biology and underwater welding. They were invited by Mary to the UAF campus to hear about science programs including Marine Biology.

My final meeting was with UAF student Cole, who hopes to set up an AccessSTEM internship at the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, WA.

My Job at the UW Access Technology Lab

Carson Smith, DO-IT Ambassador

This quarter I started working at the University of Washington's Access Technology Lab part-time. My main job is to help convert two-dimensional graphics into a tactile rendering so people who are visually impaired can feel them. The process involves scanning the original image and manipulating it on the computer using Photoshop software, reducing it to its most basic elements. The image must be simplified because there is only so much that can be perceived through touch. We then print these images using a very expensive machine that only produces Braille dots (and makes lots of noise!). There are about three different textures that can be felt, putting a major constraint on what we can produce, especially when there are colors.

Currently I'm working on images for a student taking Spectral Mathematics. The whole procedure is very time-consuming, so we are working with the Computer Science Engineering School (CSE) on a project that might help to automate the process. Specifically, CSE is working on creating algorithms that simplify the image in a few seconds. Their ultimate goal is to be able to scan a book and have the computer turn all the pictures into readable tactile graphics. Stuart, '99 Scholar, is working on this project too. It is exciting to be part of this developing project, and it will be interesting to see what happens with the technology. I'll keep you posted!

A Lot to Think About at Brain Awareness Day

Lisa Stewart, DO-IT staff

Once again this year, DO-IT joined in the fun at Brain Awareness Day on March 22nd at the Health Sciences Building on the UW-Seattle campus. Surrounded by electronic brain-imaging devices, real human brains and spinal cords that could be touched and examined, and a number of other intriguing and thought-provoking displays, students, teachers, and parents were able to explore the mysteries of the brain and learn about many of the interesting and exciting fields of study in health sciences.

The DO-IT booth provided everyone with the opportunity to use a Perkins Braille machine to type their names, as well as a wealth of information about the many resources for students with disabilities in education and careers, particularly in the areas of science, math, engineering, and technology. Everyone had a good time, and students, teachers, parents, and staff alike all walked away with a bit more knowledge tucked away in and about their gray matter. Put a note on your calendar to join us next spring for this great educational event!

DO-IT Staff Profile

Gina Massimino
Picture of DO-IT Staff member Gina
DO-IT Staff member Gina

My name is Gina Massimino, and I have been working as a student assistant here at the DO-IT Center since July of 2004. I am currently in my third year at the University of Washington, and after finding out that my previous major, biochemistry, didn't suit my interest, I recently changed the focus of my studies to pursuing a double-major in psychology and public health. After I earn my Bachelor of Science, I am hoping to attend medical school. Much of my free time is spent playing intramural sports, snowboarding, traveling, and hanging out with the great friends that I have made during my college experience.

I was born in Auburn, Washington, where I have lived in the same house my entire life. I recently moved back to Auburn for the quarter in order to save enough money to fund my exchange program at the University of Western Australia for their winter semester starting in July; I am very excited about this upcoming adventure. I try to seek every opportunity that comes my way and invest everything I have to offer, because eventually you know that your hard work is going to pay off. Sometimes it just takes longer than you expect, but there is always something positive to learn from every experience!

DO-IT Scholar Profile

Phase II Scholar Amanda
A picture of Phase II Scholar Amanda  with one of her recent paintings.
Phase II Scholar Amanda with one of her recent paintings.

Hello, my name is Amanda and I go to Kamiakin High School in Kennewick, Washington, where I am a senior. This summer I will be a Phase II Scholar and can't wait to see all my friends at DO-IT again. For the last two years, I have been very involved in the world of art. I have recently been accepted to an art college but will be attending a community college this fall. One of my paintings won a local high school art show, so now I will go to Olympia, Washington, to compete in the state art show. I love to paint, read, and hang out with my friends and family. I am looking forward to this new phase in the DO-IT program.





Tech Tips: Sometimes It's the Computer's Fault!

Doug Hayman, DO-IT staff

Computer users often think that every problem with their computer must be the result of their own technical incompetence. While there are a number of user errors that lead to problems, some issues people face are out of their control. A challenge is how to distinguish between user error and things beyond your control.

Case in point: Years ago I went to install a voice modem and accompanying software for a user with limited use of her hands. I inserted the CD-ROM, which brought up a screen with multiple icons to choose from, one of which clearly said "Install Voice Modem Software." I clicked it, waited for the installation to finish, and rebooted as instructed.

Upon restarting and opening the software, it didn't come up with a title indicating that it was voice modem software, but merely modem software. I assumed that I had rushed the install and picked the wrong icon.

I uninstalled the software and reinstalled, carefully choosing the voice modem icon. Once again I had no voice modem software installed upon completion of the install process. Then, unlike many new users, I said to myself, "What if the menu on this install CD is wrong?" So I chose the non voice modem option, and—you guessed it—that option installed the voice modem software properly.

This wasn't a cheap, low-budget, no-name modem and installer. It was the leading maker of modems at the time. The computer doesn't make mistakes per se, but computers are made by imperfect humans. Both hardware and software are prone to errors in their creation.

If Random Access Memory (RAM) chips are manufactured with a physical flaw, they can cause errors in whatever process the computer is involved in where memory this used. The user could reinstall the operating system and all other applications and still have problematic use of the computer; and, if the hardware only impacted occasional processes, the user might have no idea why problems popped up from time to time.

Memory is usually tested upon manufacture and should be tested prior to installation as a sub-component in a computer. Some bad RAM chips do get through and into a consumer's machine. Oddly enough, there are software programs that will do diagnostic testing of a computer, including the memory chips, but if that testing software utilizes the memory to test the memory it is akin to self-diagnosis of a cognitive deficit.

Memory errors should be considered when other diagnostic steps have proved unsuccessful. Most computer problems are the result of flaws in software. Although firms do software testing to try and rid their programs of bugs, testing to find them all is too costly, consequently, consumers are put in the position of being unwitting software testers for products that have been rushed to market. (I've got it on good word from an industry insider that one well-known word processing program shipped to retailers with 10,000 known bugs.)

Numerous forums on the Internet are invaluable to the end user scratching her head wondering why the program is acting up. Others who have been there before you can share what they were able to do to work around problems or, in some cases, let you know that there isn't currently a way to do what you're trying. This can make it possible for you to stop pounding your head against the wall and answer the question, "Am I crazy or is this program messed up?"

The Thread: Making the Outdoors Accessible to Everyone

Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

A DO-IT Ambassador recently posed the following question in our Internet discussion forum. I will share with you some of the responses so that you can get a flavor of the rich conversations the DO-IT community has online.

When you're trying to find your way around a trail out in the country, how do you keep from getting separated from the rest of your team? I am taking a class on water and the environment as part of my lab science. My instructor has planned some outdoor trips for the students. For example, next month he is planning to take the students on a weekend trip. I am trying to determine what kinds of accommodations to request so I can find my way around the territory without having to worry about getting separated from the other students. Thanks in advance for your recommendations.

DO-IT Mentor: You might be able to pick up a few pointers from Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to successfully summit Mount Everest (not to mention all the other highest peaks on each of the seven continents). A couple things I know about his backcountry technique are that he uses long trekking poles to feel the terrain ahead and follows bear bells attached to a leader's pack. I'm sure there's much more in his book, Touch the Top of the World: A Blind Man's Journey to Climb Farther Than the Eye Can See.

Original Ambassador: I think that verbal instructions would be more effective than bells for me. The reason for this is that I will need to know what is coming up in either direction. For example, I will need someone to tell me if I am getting off the trail or whether there are rocks, roots, etc., to watch out for. I hope the instructor can accommodate that. Thanks again.

DO-IT Mentor: I went on field trips for my biology class when I was an undergraduate, and a blind student in our class used a similar technique. There was a trail without many plants on it, so it was easy for the student to tell when they had gone off the trail. Everyone also had a partner (not just the disabled students), so that helped.

DO-IT Ambassador: The key is to modify, based on your ability level. Your instructor should be able to accommodate you. But think. . . what will help you most? A partner? Bells for sound? Think about it. I am an outdoor recreation graduate. I spent many classes on piggy back and knee-pads, without a wheelchair. Also if people with visual impairments can ski, a hike should be doable.

DO-IT Mentor: You may also want to contact Wilderness Inquiry at They are an outdoor adventure travel company that does not discriminate on the basis of ability. I'm sure they've taken people with visual impairments backpacking and will have lots of ideas.

DO-IT Mentor: I've seen a few articles and news stories in which echolocation has been utilized by outdoor enthusiasts who are blind. In one video it showed two young men cycling down the street on mountain bikes; another had one man in the backyard making a clicking sound and then pretty accurately describing his immediate surroundings of a tree above, a garage next to him, and the interviewer. I see that the book Touch the Top of the World is available on Bookshare at if you happen to have a membership.

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More About DO-IT

DO-IT News is published at the University of Washington with input from DO-IT staff, Pals, Scholars, Ambassadors, and Mentors. DO-IT is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and the State of Washington.

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for DO-IT is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. DO-IT is a collaboration of UW Information Technology and the Colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Washington.

Grants and gifts fund DO-IT publications, videos, and programs to support the academic and career success of people with disabilities. Contribute today by sending a check to DO-IT, Box 354842, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-4842.

Your gift is tax deductible as specified in IRS regulations. Pursuant to RCW 19.09, the University of Washington is registered as a charitable organization with the Secretary of State, state of Washington. For more information call the Office of the Secretary of State, 1-800-322-4483.

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