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Providing Services for Students with Disabilities

Have you ever wondered how a blind student does library research, or is able to read journal articles? Or how they would use a computer? Or have you considered how a person whose disability limits their movement or hearing can get notes in class?

Richard Keller, the director for the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (OSSD) has thought about these questions, and what's more, he's providing solutions to TC students who need them. "There are between 180 and 200 students with disabilities in the College," Keller noted. The number of students with disabilities has gone up steadily since 1994 when there were only 40, which means there is an increased demand for services. One way that OSSD deals with that demand is to pay students to provide services for those who need them.

"For a student whose disability interferes with the ability to take notes in class, we find someone who can provide these services for that person and get paid for doing it," Keller explained.

OSSD also provides readers to those who need them. Readers will take textbook or journal articles and other publications and read the printed word onto an audiotape. "Journal articles represent state of the art of knowledge and many courses depend on them," Keller noted. "They are not available in alternative formats such as Braille, large print, or tape."

Reader services are not just for people with visual disabilities, said Keller. People with learning disabilities who have difficulty decoding the printed word may also use these services.

Research assistants are also available for people with disabilities who need help with library tasks. "Physically disabled people are sometimes unable to walk, reach or carry things," Keller added. "We need people to help perform those functions."

Visually impaired students also may need assistance finding library materials. Research assistants would pull the materials and copy them. The copies can then be brought to readers to be put on audiotape or scanned onto a disk to be used on accessible computer equipment.

A variety of accessible computer equipment is also available for use by students with disabilities. "The College has three desktop systems and two laptop systems that use adaptive technology," Keller said. They include programs such as a scanning/reading program, screen magnification programs, a voice recognition program, and text to speech synthesis. "The text to speech synthesizer translates the visuals (graphics, icons and words) into audio," Keller explained. Another computer will translate what is on the screen onto a strip of paper printed in Braille characters.

"Laptop computers mainly provide voice recognition, speech output and screen magnification," Keller noted. "They are important because they can be used for tests by students who require adaptive technology." In addition, the lap top computers can be networked into a lab that might not be set up with these programs.

Students who require assistance and those who wish to provide assistance should register at OSSD and pick up a description of the services that the office provides. Providers can identify services they are able to or interested in providing and students who need assistance can choose from that list. Students who require adaptive technology also need to register at OSSD to be sure the technology they need is available and to be instructed in how to use it. OSSD is located in the first floor lobby of Thorndike. There is easy access to the office from the parking lot for people with physical disabilities and from the designated accessible routes through the College.

For those students who want more than just assistance with their school work, support groups are also available. The Organization for Disability Studies is a group for people interested in disability studies at the College.

There is also a newsgroup available on the PINE system that can be subscribed to by students. He expects the group to provide information on College policy changes or the renovation of buildings and what areas should be avoided, as well as news, policy and procedures of interest to those with disabilities.

"All members of the community might consider subscribing," Keller said. "It will enrich their understanding of disability issues in general and specifically those at TC."

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