By Scott Bigelow
Support for disabled students at UNC Pembroke just took a leap into the future.
UNC Pembroke's Office of Disability Support Services (DSS) has received a grant to enhance accessibility to computer software that supports disabled students. The grant is valued at $19,200 and allows for a package of software to be installed on any computer on campus.
The grant from Premier Assistive Technology Company is called "Breaking Down Barriers to Assistive Technology." The software performs functions such as enlarging computer text, reading textbooks and reformatting text documents into audio files.
Dr. Roger Brown hailed the grant as a major step for the University's support for disabled students.
"Disability Support Services at UNC Pembroke under Mary Helen Walker's leadership are serving our students extremely well," Dr. Brown said. "We are proud of our proactive and positive approach to making higher education accessible to every qualified student who desires it. The grant will help ensure that we employ the latest technology on their behalf."
The Office of Disability Support Services (DSS) serves approximately 500 UNCP students, including more than 40 visually-impaired students. Accommodations Coordinator Misty Sykes applied for the grant.
"This is a significant upgrade of our resources for students with disabilities," Sykes said. "I am very impressed with this software."
Besides upgrading current software, students with disabilities are able to perform tasks that were previously unavailable to them, Sykes said.
"For the first time, we have a talking calculator and a talking dictionary," she said. "And for the first time, audio files can be converted to popular formats that do not require the use of a computer to hear."
"Also for the first time, we have a program that can read PDF files," Sykes said. "There were so many documents on the Internet that were not accessible to the disabled."
Premier Assistive Technology's online tutorial program will save DSS time and money.
"The free online tutorial is fast and easy. I did it in one night," Sykes said.
"Before we received this software, students made appointments to get help, and it took many hours of tutorials."
DSS Director Mary Helen Walker said the new software would increase the productivity of her staff. Disabled students will be the primary beneficiaries.
"Accessibility of services and helping the disabled to become more independent is the bottom line in our office," Walker said. "This grant is a breakthrough for us."
The grant allows UNCP to run assistive technology programs on as many personal computers as needed. Currently, assistive technology software is on four computers in DSS's office, five in UNCP's 24-hour computer lab and 20 computers scattered across campus. The grant also allows for full technical support and free upgrades for one year.