Assistive Technology Lab receives beneficial upgrades

Feb. 09, 2015

April Wefler
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The Assistive Technology Lab in El Pomar Center 215 is changing.

Alterations include technology updates, the first major update since 2004. Mike Belding, associate director of Computing Services, said there might have been unofficial upgrades between now and then.

The AT Lab was opened along with the El Pomar Center in 2001, but many students are unaware of its existence.

“This lab has been underused because I think a lot of the students weren’t trained on some of the software or they don’t know that it’s available to them,” said Leyna Bencomo, assistive technology specialist.

“I actually did not know that we had one,” said Brenden Lynch, a senior English literature major. Lynch frequently uses a motorized scooter to get around campus and is now interested in visiting the lab.

“I’m hoping to do more training with students so they can see what they can use, which should help improve their grades and their retention,” Bencomo said.

The lab is also working on Alternate Media Production, in which a printed book is turned into an electronic version, which then becomes a PDF for blind people to read with a screen reader.

The money for the changes came from the student technology fee.

“When this building opened, I think Disability Services had some equipment [which is] pretty much what you see now,” Belding said.

Now the AT Lab has equipment such as tables that can go higher or lower for students in wheelchairs, Ergotron arms that can be adjusted to help a student see a document better and programs like Read&Write Gold, which allows users to highlight sections in a book, create a new document and translate passages into 50 languages.

Cynthia Barram, senior English major, uses Read&Write Gold to take text from a paper or webpage and have the program read aloud to her.

“It helps because it makes reading things a little faster than it normally would be on my own,” she said.

One flaw in the program, according to Barram, is that she has to limit the text to under 100 pages or the program will glitch and have to start over.

Barram uses Dragon Dictation in the lab, which translates speech to text, when she writes larger papers.

She said she was a little disappointed with the lab updates because she was hoping the new monitors would have webcams like the other library computers. She is otherwise happy about the upgrades.

“I’m glad somebody is paying attention to the lab as a whole and making sure stuff is getting updated because we hadn’t gotten any new software in a long time,” said Barram.

Bencomo said her personal mission is to introduce the software to all areas of campus.

“As long as they could put earbuds on, they could sit out in the library and use a screen reader to read aloud what they’re reading on the screen,” Bencomo said.

“There’s no reason to segregate them into a special area and they can work with their fellow students easier and just feel like they’re part of the general populace, which they are,” she said.

The lab functions like a permanently reserved group study room.

“If they want to write a paper, they’re going to speak aloud, and it’s better if they have a place where it’s not going to disturb other people,” said Bencomo.

Belding said that he also wants the assistive technology available in all of the classrooms and is hoping to get a concurrent license to allow the technology onto other parts of campus in the next six months.

Barram and Michela Jean Amore, a junior English major, are fans of the idea.

“When I’m at the lab and just working with Cynthia, sometimes if a program doesn’t work or needs more study space, all group spaces are full, sometimes we’ll use the adaptive lab for that,” Amore said.

“Sometimes if a lot of people use the lab, it can be difficult [if] I need to dictate something and someone else is using the screen reader,” Barram said.

“Having different options on campus is just a really good idea. It’s the same room over and over so it would be nice if the technology was available in different labs because you would be able to vary it up.”

“It would be nice to be in Columbine as well; you wouldn’t have to run all the way across campus,” she added.

Bencomo said she hopes that there can be two labs in the future, which depends on how much students use the AT Lab.