The college selection process involves several factors for graduating high school students. Issues surrounding academic programs, tuition, and location are often taken into account when students are making a decision about which college to attend. In addition to these variables, it is important that students with disabilities consider accommodations that colleges provide, including assistive technology (AT) devices and services. This Info Brief highlights differences between the availability of AT in the K-12 environment and college setting, poses questions related to AT that students should consider when selecting a college, and offers links to resources about AT and support networks of interest to prospective college students with disabilities.
AT in high school vs. college
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA, 2004) guides the educational practices of K-12 students with disabilities to help them maximize academic achievement. This legislation ensures that students with disabilities are provided with individualized services, including AT when appropriate, often at the expense of their local education agency. Legislations guiding the educational practices of students in college settings, however, are not as prescriptive. Under the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), colleges are only mandated to ensure nondiscrimination and reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities. Unfortunately, the distinction between legislation is unclear for many students with disabilities, who often enter higher education settings expecting to receive the same treatment as they did in the K-12 setting.2
In many cases, AT devices can enable students to perform tasks and participate in educational activities that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. As with other accommodations, the use and availability of AT devices and services differ from college to college. Although disability service providers at the college level may feel that students with disabilities could benefit academically from the use of AT, many students lack necessary training and accessibility to such devices.3
Questions to ask about AT resources
Students who rely on AT in high school will likely seek colleges that have satisfactory AT resources. Those with print-related disabilities will also appreciate colleges that privilege electronic over paper-based options since electronic-based resources offer more flexibility when accessing information in a suitable format. Given the importance of AT coupled with the variation of AT devices and services available among universities, it is imperative that prospective students have a clear understanding of the resources offered at potential colleges. In addition to speaking with college personnel, prospective students will want to talk with students who are enrolled at colleges of interest and rely on AT on campus. At a minimum, students should ask questions about the AT-related infrastructure, disability services, and school culture.
Below are some guiding questions that can help you get the information you need.
- Does the university have personnel dedicated to coordinating AT devices and services? If so what are the responsibilities and case loads of this staff?
- Does the university have AT labs? If so, how many are available throughout the campus? Where are they located?
- What are the hours of operation for the AT labs? Is 24-hour access available for students or are labs limited to certain hours?
- Do AT labs contain equipment that is responsive to my particular impairment?
- What is the university’s practice for repairing, maintaining, and updating equipment in the AT labs?
- Are accessible computer stations and AT devices available in general computer labs, such as those found in dormitories and in the library?
- Are applications used by the university such as course registration software, library databases, and class discussion boards compatible with common screen readers?
- Does the university have a process for assessing the AT needs of students inside and outside of the classroom?
- Are students permitted to check-out equipment from the AT lab? If so, what policies are involved in this process?
- Will the school order and fund AT at the request of a student?
- Are students permitted to take quizzes and exams independently with equipment in the AT lab?
- Does the university have a production team to make print-based materials available in electronic format? If so, what does this process involve? What is the general turn-around time?
- Does the university have a culture of communicating information electronically? Do professors use class discussion boards to post assignments, syllabi, course notes and presentations, and class updates? Do student organizations send out notices for events electronically? Does university administration communicate with the student body over email?
- Are professors provided training or information on services made available through the AT lab? Do professors interact with staff in the AT lab when students who rely on AT are enrolled in their course?
- Are professors encouraged to make print-based materials that they distribute in class available in advance to students who rely on AT to make the information accessible?
The Final Decision
Dozens of factors are involved with making a decision about selecting a college to attend. Ideally, students choose a college that is appropriate for reaching their long-term goals and compliments their interests. Due to the variations in legislation that impact secondary educational environments versus postsecondary educational environments, AT resources vary drastically at the college level. Therefore, while students who rely on AT resources should not necessarily base this important decision on which setting offers the most AT resources, the availability of such resources should be a critical variable to consider. A college’s AT infrastructure, services, and culture may impact whether or not course readings and other information are available in a timely manner, if a student can use computers in places such as a library or a student union, and if a student has the option of taking exams independently with AT.
The Web sites listed below provide information about available AT resources and support networks of interest to prospective and currently enrolled college students with disabilities:
AccessIT promotes the use of electronic and information technology (E&IT) for students and employees with disabilities in educational institutions at all academic levels. This Web site features the AccessIT Knowledge Base, a searchable, growing database of questions and answers regarding accessible E&IT. It is designed for educators, policy makers, librarians, technical support staff, and students and employees with disabilities and their advocates.
Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology (DO-IT) serves to increase the participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs and careers. It promotes the use of computer and networking technologies to increase independence, productivity, and participation in education and employment.
The HEATH Resource Center is the national clearinghouse on postsecondary education for individuals with disabilities. Support from the U.S. Department of Education enables the clearinghouse to serve as an information exchange about educational support services, policies, procedures, adaptations, and opportunities at American campuses, vocational-technical schools, and other postsecondary training entities.
NCSET (National Center on Secondary Education and Transition) coordinates national resources, offers technical assistance, and disseminates information related to secondary education and transition for youth with disabilities in order to create opportunities for youth to achieve successful futures.
AHEAD (Association of Higher Education And Disability) is a professional association committed to full participation of persons with disabilities in postsecondary education. The AHEAD Web site contains resources of interest to parents and service providers of students with disabilities.
This Infobrief is based on Overton, C. A. (2005). Beyond access: A case study of how technology impacts the educational engagement of college freshmen who are legally blind. Dissertation Abstracts International, 66(08), 2860A. (UMI No. 3186721)