ARC provides assistive technology for student use

Blair Hanley Frank

While some consumers celebrated the launch of Apple’s iPad 2 by purchasing one for themselves, Whitman’s Academic Resource Center (ARC) had other plans.  They recently purchased a pair of iPad 2s for student use on March 11.

Along with the iPads, the Academic Resource Center has a number of different gadgets on hand to lend out to students who need them. They range from a Livescribe “smartpen,” which links recorded audio to written text in special notebooks, to an Intel Reader, which can read text back to the user based on a photo taken by the onboard camera. All of them fall under the umbrella of “assistive technology,” or technology that allows people with learning differences or disabilities to more easily perform actions that would be difficult for them.

Mary Claire Gegen, the ARC's Resources Coordinator, shows off a Smart Pen an Amazon Kindle, two of the tools available for students. Photo Credit: Ben Lerchin

Mary Claire Gegen, program coordinator for the ARC, said that the technology helps to provide equal opportunities to those who need the extra advantage.

“Our philosophy with regards to technology is that it puts students on an equal playing field with other students,” she said.

Senior Natalie Tamburello, an intern at the ARC, agrees.

“We’re just all trying to fit within this society that school creates, and some of us need to do different things in order to do that.”

According to Juli Dunn, director of academic resources, the ARC provides disability support services to about 10 percent of the student body, in addition to other services such as tutoring, pre-major advising, and coordinating the Student Academic Adviser (SA) program.

While spending nearly 1,200 dollars on a pair of iPads may seem hefty, Dunn says the variety of uses for the iPads will save the college money.

“The iPad is actually an incredibly cost efficient way for our office to let students sample similar hardware –– Livescribe pen, sound amplifier, Intel Reader, AlphaSmart –– and software –– Dragon Dictation, ReadHear, RFB&D, SpeakIt, phonetic spellers –– on their own terms.”

For many, assistive technology is what helps them get their work done. Tamburello, who is dyslexic, said assistive technology plays a major part in her schooling.

“I mainly use text-to-speech software, and I’ve been using that since high school,” Tamburello said. “It helps me with my processing of language, because reading is such a strenuous process for me.”

MiKayla Briere, a first-year who uses a wheelchair, will be using the iPads as a means of making her geology field trips more accessible. Once Briere reaches the farthest she can travel, another student carrying an iPad and a wireless broadband modem will move forward from there.

“We’ll establish a connection between the two of us and then we can video chat, so I can see the outcrop up close and personal,” she said.

The iPads have proven popular. Since the ARC purchased them, they haven’t spent much time in the office due to demand.

“There was this realization that the iPads aren’t going to be home very often,” said Dunn.

Any student can check out assistive hardware from the ARC, but priority is given to students with a documented need. For those who don’t know what technology would help them most, Tamburello suggests meeting with someone in the ARC.

“You can have a meeting with Mary Claire or Juli and figure out what’s best for you,” she said.

The ARC remains committed to providing students with the best technology possible in the future, as well.

“Keeping up on the new technology is a job in and of itself,” Dunn said. “We want students to continue to use the equipment we have and any emerging technology that pops up on the horizon in such a way that it help them, and in turn us, realize the mission for the Academic Resource Center.”