John Chaides / Courier
Mike Sauter speaks about Kurzweil, a computer program that reads out textbooks, at a Global Accessibility Awareness Day event held by Pasadena City College’s Disabled Student Programs and Services (DSPS) and Veterans Resources Center in the DSPS office on Thursday, May 17, 2018.
Hosted by Disabled Student Programs and Services (DSP&S) and the Veterans Resource Center, students gathered within the D-building in celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) last Thursday morning to spread awareness of helpful digital accommodations for disabled students.
Students who were a part of DSP&S, including some members of Students Unlimited, a club that specializes in giving support to those with disabilities, gathered to learn through presentations about the many technologies that exist to aid them throughout their time at PCC.
The focus of GAAD has been to promote awareness about digital tools that exist to help people with disabilities. Shaping future technologies to be accessible towards not only people with disabilities but rather everyone within an academic system is the result the event hopes to achieve. Alex Marositz, PCC’s assistive technology specialist, gave an example of why this matters.
“Imagine you use a wheelchair to get around and need to get groceries,” Marositz said. “You need to get out, navigate to a bus stop, hope that it has an accessibility lift, and assuming it does, arrive to [your destination]. Some items are too high to reach so you ask for help, and if you have too many items then you need more help to figure out how to carry it back to the bus stop, hope for a lift again and then navigate home.”
What appears to be a simple task turns into a hassle and, as Marositz puts it, a “whole day of activities becomes wasted due to a shopping trip.” The ability to shop online could put an end to this but available technologies must also be more easily accessible for this to be a reality.
PCC already has a large assortment of software and hardware to navigate around digital needs. Marositz mentioned one software “Jaws,” which is a screen reader designed to aid those who are visually-impaired or blind. Just press “alt+ctrl+j” and it will be brought up on any campus desktop.
Though ideas were pitched around in regards to what specific technologies could aid specific disorders, the presentations focused on two programs primarily: Kurzweil 3000 and Sonocent. Both were presented by Mike Sauter, an alternate media specialist for Saddleback College who has had plenty of experience explaining software geared toward those with disabilities.
“Student perspectives on what they need may be different than what even our perspectives as professionals think,” Sauter said. “A lot of the time, we come from assumptions…but what they actually need is different.”
The Kurzweil 3000 software allows students to input their textbooks and the software will scan the pages and make them more legible and less distracting to read. Sauter demonstrated how it can read aloud the text as well as highlight what’s being said so that the reader can follow. One can take notes on the side and even dictate words that might not be understood.
As for Sonocent, Sauter explained how there is a larger focus towards lectures given in class. For those who have trouble focusing or keeping up with a professor’s speech, this software can record these events and allow for students to categorize parts into however they deem fit. After that, a student may add their own text or even images to go along with it. All of this can also be read aloud and converted into an audiobook for on-the-go needs as well.
Though students at PCC are able to gain access to these technologies, the bigger issue, according to students and alumni, stands with awareness. Roger Martinez, a student and president of Students Unlimited, commented towards this.
“When I first came to PCC, I did not know about any resources provided to me, and I didn’t learn until a couple years in,” Martinez said.
Eventually, he hit a roadblock that forced him to find help and so he started looking into clubs.
“We all have struggles and we all come from different communities, but we all had one thing in common which was a barrier that comes with education,” Martinez said.
“I have to say, I found out through word of mouth,” Philbert Tjong, vice-president of Students Unlimited, said. “I mean, it took a while to really get acclimated to everything. Just knowing the computers themselves, that took a lot too.”
Though DSP&S has helped to smooth this transition over for these students, to some it failed to create that community aspect that students desired. Daphna Patel, an alumna who founded Students Unlimited back when she was in PCC, had her experiences to attest to this.
“I had started Students Unlimited because I needed a community, I needed support, and even though I had DSPS, I still didn’t know much about it,” Patel said. “You would go in and out, seeing other students but there wasn’t any talking or anything. You would want to ask but then would fear for being rude.”
Students expressed that this “fear” was a common trait at points in their lives. Martinez summed this up through past experiences.
“Coming from a public educational system, I was in ‘RSP’ which was ‘real special students’ and some made fun of us by calling us ‘really stupid people,’” Martinez said. “There was a stigma that followed it, so coming into a new school I didn’t take advantage [of resources] because of that, because of something that we all have to acknowledge and embrace.”
Given that there are not only technological limits but stigmas that exist, Students Unlimited and DSP&S have stressed that accessibility needs to be made apparent if PCC is to be taken seriously as a sanctuary for disabled students. For any who wish to show support, Global Accessibility Awareness Day is on May 17 annually.