Wednesday, October 1, 2014

From the dorm room to classrooms: USU students experience assistive technology

How two students at Utah State University are embracing college with the help assistive technology.

By: Bennett Purser

As most students graduate high school with ambitions of college, those with intellectual disabilities have fewer options to make the transition from high school to higher education or a career. But at Utah State University, a college education for these students is becoming a reality with the new program Aggies Elevated and its use of assistive technology. 

Aggies Elevated, a unit of the Center for Persons with Disabilities and the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services, at Utah State UniversityA fully inclusive, two-year post-secondary education certificate program,
Aggies Elevated is one of fewer than 250 such programs in the country to bring a college experience, and the necessary devices, 
to students transitioning from high school special education services. Housed in the Center for Persons with Disabilities, a unit of the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services, the program is the only of its kind in the state of Utah.

But for Natalie and Amity, two of the eight students in the program, assistive technology devices are impacting everything from their dorm room to their classroom, making the adjustment a lot easier. Along with learning to live away from home, attending class, joining clubs and watching college football, their iPads have become part of their daily campus routine.

Natalie, who hopes to study in the arts, has not only utilized her new iPad for creative purposes, but uses its innovative educational features. While reading “Frankestein” by Mary Shelley, the required reading for all USU incoming freshman, Natalie said listening to the audio book on her iPad helped her to grasp the content. 
Natalie uses her iPad to make digital art
Natalie using her iPad to make digital art.

“It does flip the page by itself, it highlights the words and that’s actually how I understand Frankenstein,” she said. “It was actually a really great listen.”

She also frequents the iPad’s ‘speech to text function,’ while taking notes during lectures. This allows her to vocally record information thats translated into text and saved automatically for studying.

Amity, who struggled with navigating from class to class, created a virtual map of her route with the help of a Go-Pro camera. Now she watches videos of her destinations on her iPad as she makes her daily treks across campus. 

She also uses an app that assists with making sure she accomplishes all of her daily priorities. By setting alarms to remind her to do her homework, even to turn it in, her iPad helps her to remember all the small details. 

“I have really bad short term memory loss, so the only way I can get anything to click or make sense is by a checklist,” she said. “So if I’m making my bed, I have sheets and then covers, and the pillow.”

Amity paying her guitar at a student picnic
Amity playing her guitar at student picnic.
Uploaded to the app are photos of Amity performing all of her morning steps, from making her bed, to grabbing her backpack and breakfast before she leaves her dorm room, there’s a checklist for everything. 

With a passion for music, Amity is also an avid writer, and guitar and piano player. She’s turned to her new iPad to record music and videos of her performances.

As Natalie and Amity continue their first semester, they’re engaged in all the great aspects of college. From joining clubs and discovering their interests, and certainly their education, they’re doing it all with assistive technology.

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