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University of Iowa News Release

 

Oct. 18, 2006

Assistive Technology Center Holds Grand Opening Oct. 20

School presents many challenges for students. Grasping a new mathematical concept, reading a book filled with unfamiliar vocabulary words or writing a paper on a science experiment can test the brain and the will.

But for students with physical disabilities, learning is only half the battle. Simply viewing a computer screen, typing on a keyboard or turning the pages of a book can prove monumental obstacles to getting a good education.

The new Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research (ICATER), housed in the University of Iowa College of Education, is working to level the playing field so students of all abilities can succeed in school. Nor is ICATER limited to helping students. Through training, education and research, ICATER also seeks to assist educators, parents and education professionals in achieving full access and participation in their communities.

On Friday, Oct. 20, ICATER will hold its grand opening to showcase a lab featuring some the latest assistive technologies, share information and resources and answer questions. The event, which is open to the public, kicks off at 2:30 p.m. with a tour of the labs in room N186 of the E.F. Lindquist Center, at the corner of Madison and Burlington streets (for a map, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/%7Emaps/l/lc1.htm).

A panel discussion on assistive technologies experiences follows at 3 p.m., remarks will be made at 4:15 p.m. and a reception will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the Jones Commons.

Coordinator James R. Stachowiak said ICATER is the only program of its kind in a college of education within the Big Ten. ICATER provides hands-on assistive technology training to College of Education students and faculty, but also conducts and supports research examining the effectiveness of various devices in education, living and work.

Stachowiak said College of Education Dean Sandra Damico launched an initiative in March 2005 to ensure that all students attending the college are given at least minimal training in assistive technologies. 

"Many teachers encounter situations in class where assistive technology may be helpful but they don't know where to begin," Stachowiak said. "So it's important that future teachers and educators know how the technologies work and are able to identify students who may benefit from their use."

For instance, he said, in a class in the college called "Technology in the Classroom," ICATER staff give a lecture and assignment to produce a digital movie for the students' online ePortfolios. Instead of simply making a movie about any subject, students learn how to use some assistive technology and demonstrate it on the video.

Stachowiak said ICATER also wants to serve the wider Iowa community and is prepared to provide training and education to schools across the state through in-service programs, demonstrations or hands-on learning experiences.

In the area of research, ICATER is considering collaborating with the Iowa Testing Programs in the college to address issues related to assessment and accessibility. ICATER also is exploring how assistive technologies developed for students with disabilities may actually have benefits for all students.

He said some of the technology available through ICATER is fairly high-tech, like the HeadMouse Extreme. A camera mounted on top of the computer uses infrared to track the movements of a small sticker on the user's forehead, and relays the movements to the cursor. Other technology if fairly low-tech, including simple switches that serve as power buttons or mouse controls.

"There's software called Kurzweil 3000 that scans documents and reads it aloud to you," Stachowiak said, adding that the program also allows users to organize information, highlight words and adjust the read-back rate. "We've found that students who hear subject matter read to them retain it better than if they had simply read it to themselves."

And while there are some labs across campus equipped with assistive technologies, he said ICATER is the only lab dedicated to the service, with five specially equipped computers.

Stachowiak said heading up ICATER has been a fulfilling experience, personally and professionally.

"When I was doing my biomedical engineering degree, one area I looked at was rehabilitative engineering," he said. "I thought it was a great way to use engineering to directly help people in need. When I had an internship in the hospital, I'd see a lot of people with spinal cord injuries the day after the accident and they'd think, 'This is it. What am I going to do now?' When they were introduced to assistive technologies, they saw they could do many things they could do before their accidents."

For more information on ICATER, visit www.education.uiowa.edu/icater

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Stephen J. Pradarelli, 319-384-0007, stephen-pradarelli@uiowa.edu