Technology opens blind students’ eyes to academics at University of Denver

Blind people are finding they can use computers, smart phones and other technology as tools to accommodate their disability and participate in the learning environment.

Universities across the U.S. are working to support those with disabilities by equipping programs with new technologies and disability specialists.

At the University of Denver (DU), students with limited to no sight are using this technology to improve their ability to learn and integrate into classroom environments. DU’s Disability Services Program provides counselors and specialists who help guide blind students through classrooms with the use of technology.

Dave Thomas, counselor and technology specialist at DU’s Disability Services Program, sends an email to a blind student to check in.

Dave Thomas, a counselor in the program and technology specialist, said he has observed students thrive in the program.

“Technology nowadays can be extremely helpful in terms of making higher education more accessible to students with any kind of disability,” he said.

Thomas said he had usable vision as a child, but it slowly deteriorated as he grew older. His office is equipped with the very technology he helps students learn to use, such as VoiceOver. VoiceOver is a screen-access technology that reads over 170 words per minute to blind users. Other similar technologies include JAWS and Window Eyes.

PhD student Jesse Workman said he uses software such as VoiceOver to help him study philosophy, religious studies and cultural theory. He said the technology allows him to take notes in the classroom just as other students do.

“The computer is a regular computer; it doesn’t have any special software on it,” he said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with braille or with software that is not fully accessible by a sighted or blind user.”

This is because VoiceOver often comes as a standard application on Apple computers, and works to provide visual references to enable blind and sighted users to work together. For example, if blind and sighted students are assigned to work on a class project together, VoiceOver and other technologies like it make it possible.

According to Robert Dyson, a coordinator for the Colorado Center for the Blind, when a person loses their vision they also lose their self-confidence.

“You lose all that you’ve really known about life,” he said.

The Colorado Center for the Blind has programs that train people how to use technology in the classroom and in their desired career fields.

“Students are learning how to use the computers – the basic computers and the talking software such as JAWS [and] Window Eyes, which really give a blind person the ability to use a computer in any way that a sighted person can,” said Dyson.

Dyson said Apple’s iPhone also provides blind people a way to communicate with the world in the same way a sighted person can.

“Students use that for texting [and] surfing the Internet,” said Dyson. “They get a lot of information for research and paper writing with the iPhone.”

Jesse Workman, PhD student at DU, shows how he uses technology to read his notes from a tablet computer.

Dyson said if blind students are willing to work hard and gain the skills they need, the technology will equip them with a venue to be successful.

“There’s no reason at all that you can’t be competitive with your sighted classmates,” said Dyson. “It’s just a matter of knowing the alternatives because you’re not going to be able to do things exactly the same way as the sighted students.”

Thomas said universities need to provide blind students with access to the technology they need to participate in the classroom. He also said it’s just as important for professors to engage in teaching methods that will allow blind students to plan ahead.

“It will be very helpful for the professor to make decisions about what reading material is going to be used at least two or three weeks in advance so that the student … can have the amount of time that’s necessary to render that reading material in an electronic format,” said Thomas.

Workman agreed.

Technology is there, “to help [students] overcome the obstacles the disability places in their path so that they can have an equivalence of opportunity to learn,” said Workman.

 

 

One Response to Technology opens blind students’ eyes to academics at University of Denver

  • Carly Moore
    Carly Moore says:

    I first of all love this choice of topic, its really unique and interesting. I love the video and how you used a different range of shots. I also like the pictures you have in your written story and links. I also like the fact that you included a lot of metaphors and cool symbolism for the blind and loss of sight. I also light the term “sighted” people. It just shows the fact that we take it for granted.
    Great Job! 🙂

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