Deep in the heart of the D Building can be found a technology oasis for disabled students at PCC.The Disabled Student Programs & Services Assistive Technology Center in room D208 has all the latest adaptive computer technology for students who have visual, hearing, physical, or learning impairments.
Regina Fernandez, Alternate Media Specialist, runs the center. She and several other teacher specialists are available by appointment to assess student needs and teach them how to use the specialized equipment and software.
The center uses software that can scan and read aloud text of all kinds, software that can help those with difficulty typing by predicting word choices as they write, and talking calculators for help with math homework. These are just a few of the software programs available at the center.
Assistive technology is “any device, piece of equipment, or system that helps individuals use their strengths to work around their disabilities”, according to the DSPS department.
When a student applies to PCC some will be referred to DSPS during college orientation. Many disabled students have been receiving specialized help in high school so they may already be familiar with assistive technology, but others are not.
Lisa Costa, a member of the DSPS intake staff, interviews each student asking them about their college goals, what kind of educational accommodations they need, and introduces the student to what PCC has to offer.
The center houses 14 computer workstations. The department has assistants who are available to train students in the software programs. “We always start with where the student’s skills are,” Fernandez said.
For example, if a student doesn’t have full use of their hands the center will train him or her to use speech recognition software like “MS Speech” or “Dragon Naturally Speaking” so they can write their compositions by speaking them.
Teacher Specialist Mark Secada has also developed adapted keyboards and a specialized computer mouse. Some disabled students, like those with cerebral palsy, have trouble with the fine motor skills needed to click a regular size mouse.
The extra large adaptive mouse requires a smaller range of motion and can be operated with a hand click instead of a fingertip click, thus making it possible for those lacking fine motor skills to navigate the computer via mouse.
For visually impaired students, the center can get permission from textbook publishers to make one large print copy of each textbook. The students need to make this request before the semester begins so they can be copied before classes start.
Fernandez has a personal connection to disabled students. Her 18-year-old son is autistic.
“Twelve years ago when [my son] was six, I knew that despite all the speech therapy and occupational therapy he wasn’t developing the oral-motor plan to speak effectively” she said. “Because I have an engineering background, I was quite comfortable programming PC based devices. I looked at different augmentive communication devices and worked with certified speech-language pathologists to try different devices. [These] professionals taught me. That was my informal introduction into assistive technology.”
This is what got her interested in working with the disabled. She has been with PCC for three years.
Thai Dang, age 21, has a visual impairment called Cone-Rod Dystrophy. “The center part of my vision is gone. I have to use my peripheral vision to see things,” said Dang. One program he uses is “Zoomtext”, a screen magnification program that enlarges “Microsoft Office” programs and web pages. It also reads the title bar of each webpage aloud to help the student confirm the page they have traveled to.
Dang is planning on transferring to CSULA to study social work.
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