Adaptive Technology Centre provides a safe place for students

The Centre offers several software programs to assist students with disabilities

Software like Kerzwell 3000
Image by: Christine Blais
Software like Kerzwell 3000

A small haven of technology in Stauffer Library aims to put students registered with Disability Services on an equal playing field with their peers.

The Adaptive Technology Centre, located just inside the entrance of Stauffer, contains a computer lab with eight computers, each with programs designed to help students with disabilities ranging from learning disorders and ADD to physical disabilities. Every student registered with disability services gets a card that allows them access to the lab.

Adaptive technologies specialist Andrew Ashby said the facility is visited by about 100 of the nearly 800 students registered with disability services. Many students come on a regular basis, he added. “We probably have one or two dozen regulars who are here probably every day,” he said.

Ashby said the most used program is Kerzwell 3000, which allows students to scan textbooks and course notes and have them read out loud by the computer.

“It assists students who have different kinds of learning disabilities,” he said, citing dyslexia, difficulty reading and difficulty processing information quickly or effectively as reasons a student might find the program helpful.

“Also, some students with ADD can use it,” he said, “because with some students, having something read to them can help them maintain focus a little longer rather than reading it to themselves.” Each computer in the lab is equipped with a scanner and the centre also has a high speed scanning room.

“It becomes effective if students have a coursepack or loose papers. They can scan 60 pages, both sides in a minute,” he said. “They can save that as a pdf document and open it in Kerzwell.”

Another commonly used program at the centre is Inspiration. It helps students get their brainstormed ideas down quickly.

“It is a program designed around the concept of mindmapping. Students can use it to brainstorm their ideas or come up with an essay structure before they write,” Ashby said, adding that students can create a visual map or a word hierarchy version, both of which are exportable to Microsoft Word.

Ashby said the Livescribe Smartpen is a useful in-class tool for students. By using the pen and the special paper that goes with it, students can record their lectures and take notes while the pen syncs the two together. After class, students can tap the pen on their notes and the pen will play back the part of the lecture that was being recorded as they wrote the word they clicked on. According to their website, the Livescribe Smartpen is available at retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy and Staples starting from $129.95.

“That’s kind of neat because again a lot of students have difficulty hearing what’s being said and taking notes at the same time,” Ashby said. “It takes some of the pressure off to know it’s being recorded.”

Students with both physical and learning disabilities can benefit from a program called Dragon Naturally Speaking, Ashby said.

“That is a voice to text software, so basically the user uses a headset and they talk to the computer, so where it becomes advantageous is with physical disabilities, limited use of hands or arms,” he said. “The other thing you can do with it is dictate right into Microsoft Word so students with learning disabilities, poor spelling or ADD are able to get things out on the page quickly.”

He said the centre provides services that many students would not have access to otherwise, as the technology is quite expensive.

“Software like Kerzwell costs anywhere from $1,000 to $1,400,” he said.

The Centre is funded by donors, the AMS and Accessbility Queen’s, but funding remains an ongoing problem.

Ashby said being a person with a disability himself, the thing that strikes him about the Centre is its inclusiveness. The technology itself is also of vital importance to students with disabilities, he added.

“Technology isn’t a magic bullet. It doesn’t solve problems for everyone, but it can definitely be a game changer in the difference between doing poorly and doing well,” he said. “If they’re in Arts and Science where there’s a lot of reading, without the assistance of Kerzwell to help them read it would be very, very difficult for them to do well.”

Adaptive Technology Centre Co-ordinator Michele Chittenden said in addition to taking advantage of the computer lab and study rooms, many students simply enjoy the welcoming environment of the Centre. “They also use it as a place to rest between classes,” she said. “We did a survey and we asked the students what they thought and it was overwhelmingly positive. It was a non-judgemental place, they could be themselves here. The word ‘safe’ came up a lot.” Chittenden said the Centre has been around since 1991 and moved into its current home in room 120 of Stauffer in 2006. It has been a model for other schools and has won several awards including the the Canadian Association of College and University Libraries (CACUL) Innovation Achievement Award in 1994.

“Queen’s was the first university in Canada to have a centre like this in the library,” she said. “There’s so much negativity out there, but it’s nice to know that Queen’s has something to be proud of.”

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