As a student with a visual impairment and neurological condition, one of the top things I looked for in a college was a strong disability services department that was knowledgeable about assistive technology. I’m very lucky that my college has an entire assistive technology department that is filled with knowledgeable assistive technology specialists that can help me with solving even the most challenging accessibility-related problems. Today, I will be sharing what every student needs to know about college assistive technology specialists, and how they can help students to be successful.
WHAT IS AN ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY SPECIALIST?
An assistive technology specialist is someone that provides assistance for technology equipment for people with disabilities and provides services for people with disabilities to help address access needs. The exact duties of an assistive technology specialist may vary depending on their location and job title, however many colleges have at least one assistive technology specialist available to help support students with disabilities with completing academic tasks.
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HOW TO GET REFERRED FOR ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY SERVICES
In order to get referred for assistive technology services in college, students typically need to have a Disability Services file that provides background about their disability and shares classroom accommodations. Shortly after getting my file approved, I contacted my college’s assistive technology specialist and set up an intake meeting with them so I could talk about my access needs. I had actually met the assistive technology specialist before I even applied to my college, so I felt comfortable contacting them myself. If that hadn’t been the case, I would have asked Disability Services for them to send a referral.
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ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY ASSESSMENTS
Some assistive technology specialists provide eligible students and staff with assistive technology assessments, which are designed to provide students with effective assistive technology recommendations for completing certain tasks. For example, I had an assistive technology assessment to determine the best video magnifier for looking at assignments in class, and the assistive technologist provided their recommendation for an appropriate device. While they were not able to purchase the device for me, they did give me resources for how to get it at a free or discounted rate through my state’s department for vision impairment, and also told me where to access video magnifiers on campus.
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REQUESTING ACCESSIBLE TEXTBOOKS/CLASSROOM MATERIALS
While I am usually successful at finding digital copies of textbooks online, every now and then I come across a textbook or required course material that is in an inaccessible format. Luckily, my college’s assistive technology department can convert books into an accessible format of my choice if I provide them with a copy of the book and the receipt. They can also make accessible copies of classroom materials as needed in my format of choice- I typically use large print digital copies.
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USING ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY LABS
Many colleges have small assistive technology labs or accessible devices in campus libraries that students can use. At my college, students have to request a code to get into the lab from the assistive technology specialist, and the inside of the lab is filled with video magnifiers, computers with accessibility software, scanners, and similar technology. Many computers in my college classrooms also have accessibility software like screen readers and screen magnification tools pre-installed so students don’t need to use a specific computer to get accessible information.
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ACCESSING UNIVERSITY-PROVIDED SOFTWARE
My college provides free copies of software that can be used for assistive technology, such as dictation programs, screen magnification tools, and access to applications such as Microsoft Office. College assistive technology specialists can assist with teaching students how to access these apps and how to configure accessibility settings for their own preferences, though may not be able to provide detailed support on specialty applications.
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TROUBLESHOOTING ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY
Once upon a time, I was trying to take a test that was displaying strangely when I used the secure browser’s zoom feature. I sat down with my professor and the college assistive technology specialist to figure out what was going on, and we were able to figure out what the issue was and come up with a better alternative for test-taking. I would not have been able to come up with this solution by myself, so I was very happy with the results.
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ANSWERING ACCESSIBILITY-RELATED QUESTIONS
How can I navigate around construction? Is there a way to watch classroom lectures with captions? Are there any good large print calculator apps I can download? These are all questions I have asked my college assistive technology specialist in the span of a week, as I know I can go to them whenever I have an accessibility-related question about campus or accessing materials in my classes. This is especially helpful when reporting accessibility issues and barriers that may pop up on campus.
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I am incredibly grateful for the awesome assistive technology specialists at my college, and they are the top reason that I chose to attend this college. I love having access to people who can help me with navigating different accessibility issues and that can provide my professors with resources on how to help me to be successful in the classroom, and I have gotten to learn a lot of awesome things from them. I hope this post on college assistive technology specialists is helpful for other students with disabilities that will be attending college in the future!