By JESSICA HENDRIKS
If you have trouble with reading, writing, processing, mobility, vision and/or hearing, there are assistive technologies here for you.
These technologies and programs include but are not limited to Windows accessibility options, Mac accessibility options, Dragon Naturally Speaking, Windows Speech Recognition, Built-in dictation for Mac, Kurzweil 3000, ZoomText, Inspiration, OneNote, LiveScribe Smart Pens, FM systems, laptops and mobile apps of various kinds.
The first step to getting assistive technology or programs is to make an appointment with a disability counsellor to talk about your needs.
From there, if the counsellor thinks assistive technology will benefit you, you will be referred to Jim McEwen, assistive technologist at the Welland and Niagara-on-the-Lake campuses.
“I have the privilege to help students discover, learn, acquire and implement technology that can assist them in being successful at college,” says McEwen.
“Typically, when I meet with the student we will discuss their challenges and I will assess their need. During this process any of the following programs, technologies and devices may be implemented. Depending on the need, sometimes we will completely come up with solutions that are ‘outside of the box’,” he explains.
If you are receiving OSAP [Ontario Student Assistance Program] funds, you can apply for the Ontario Bursary for Students with Disabilities for funding towards these technologies. McEwen also works with students one on one to find any other options that might be available for funding.
Students will have to pay if they do not find funding where they are eligible.
Another consideration might be to rent a selection of the technologies from the school library. Both campuses loan LiveScribe pens, FM systems, and laptops with Dragon, Kurzweil, and Inspiration downloaded on them. By request, ZoomText can be loaded onto the college’s computers.
Read and Write will become available for all students to download on their computers for free, reportedly this term.
“Read and Write covers a lot of accommodation areas and I have found that it often meets the needs of many students,” says McEwen.
According to Text Help’s website, Read and Write reads webpages and documents aloud, helps users understand unfamiliar words with texts and pictures, helps develop writing skills with word prediction, and helps students research and study.
Sarah Hirniak, a Recreation and Leisure Services student, uses various programs and devices, such as Dragon and a tablet to help her at school, as well as in her personal life.
She says assistive technologies help her be more independent. Without it, she would have to rely on others to scribe and help her study. Assignments would also take longer.
“Ask for what you need and don’t be afraid to ask for advocacy if necessary,” says Hirniak, as she recalls a few times where advocacy was necessary and action needed to be taken.
“Remember that the devices do not make you ‘better’ than the other students and you are not ‘cheating’. It is levelling the playing field so you can do the work your classmates are doing at the same quality.”
Faith Iannandrea, a Pre-Health Sciences student, also uses a few assistive technologies and has a important message for other students.
“It is OK to ask for help. Speak up because there is a lot of things available that you can use.”
Assistive technologies are only part of the solution though.
“By using accommodations and AT [assistive technologies], the hope is that students will be able to meet their full potential at Niagara College and in life,” says McEwen. “Technology alone is rarely the solution. If a student has the mindset of growth, and is willing to use the technologies, accommodations and the assistance available to them in various areas of the college, in my experience, these students are often very successful.”