Some are great talkers but terrible writers – always responding in class, leading discussions, know the answers cold and can tell you almost verbatim what you said in a previous class. What they may not do is write beyond a 4th grade level!
Assistive technology can be cheap and low-tech – a tape recorder.
Using a tape recorder, the student does a rough draft aloud. When the ideas are all exhausted, the tape is rewound, played back with pauses to copy onto either paper or a computer file, and then revised.
Using voice input software, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking, the student voiceprints the computer file and then speaks into a microphone that picks up his/her words and turns them into text. This is also great for students who are blind or who have limited or no use of their hands. They can put in specialized vocabularies, use a thesaurus feature, or use voice output as well with many of these systems.
A few students need print to be very large when they read and when they write for the text/material to make sense. Font adjustment on a computer or use of a sharpie and more paper when handwriting helps.
Warning: Some students are terrible with hand-eye coordination and cannot type. Using a computer for them is a nightmare.
Some students who are blind know Braille. Fewer and fewer students who are blind are being trained in its use; most are using tapes and voice software instead.
How do we know if someone who is blind can spell or use punctuation? We don’t. If they lost their sight when they were very young or never had it, they may not be able to know how a word is spelled other than just memorizing. If people have not been taught to cope, we have to use their dictation skills as compensation.
Do we want to know what they would say on a topic or hear their story, or do we need them to physically do all of the work needed to produce that work? What is the goal?
Students who are deaf are often at the worst disadvantage. English may truly be perceived as a second language, especially if they are fluent in American Sign Language – ASL. It is a shorthand language with no tense, no articles, little discrimination between an adverb/adjective conceptually, and a terrible syntax. It is the preferred language for many, but to earn a degree, they must write in standard English. Some sign while they write. Some have learned to highlight text on computers to create a visual memory.
As faculty and staff who work with students on improving their writing, we face challenges that were never even an option 60 years ago. Students with disabilities did not come to college – at least not here. Common sense, frank, nonjudgmental discussions are needed to improve communication between all of us. We need to include the students with disabilities in that group.
Allied Health Concerns
Martha Smith, Project Director of the Oregon Health & Science University’s Health Science Faculty Education Project came to Buffalo in April 2002 to meet with the faculty, especially with practicum or field placement coordinators and advisors, in allied health in the areas just east of Rochester to the Pennsylvania border. Her e-mail address at OHSU is: firstname.lastname@example.org and has newsletters, faculty partner trainers with expertise in a variety of allied health careers, and other free, downloadable resources.
One of the most exciting dimensions of that grant’s work is the volume of research done on admission standards for students entering a major or program of study – the “technical standards” that have been designed to measure what skills and competencies are needed for anyone entering a major or program. The other component that mirrors that research is the exhaustive work on the essential functions – the skills that must be in place for each student about to graduate from a program, and if they can be done with or without accommodations.
The technical standards and essential function models were designed for students in allied health, but the process is duplicable for other majors as well.