Oct. 6, 2008
UI receives grant to increase accessibility for disabled college students
The University of Iowa will use a recent grant to design technological adaptations so more students with disabilities can readily access Web sites, digital text and other tools in pursuit of a college education.
The UI College of Education's Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research received a one-year, $117,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to develop technology that will make higher education more accessible for people with a variety of disabilities.
Dennis Maki (photo, left), director of ICATER and grant principal investigator, said that one in 11 college students in the United States has a disability, whether a cognitive disability such as autism, a learning disability such as dyslexia or a physical disability such as cerebral palsy. The adapted technologies will help those students succeed in college, and open doors to many more.
"The goal is to give college students with disabilities a quality and accessible education," Maki said, who is also a professor and chair of the Department of Counseling, Rehabilitation and Student Development in the UI College of Education. "This will be done by developing comprehensive training materials and professional development opportunities designed specifically for postsecondary administrators and educators."
Maki said experts at other institutions are looking to the UI as a model of how institutions of higher education can support and integrate students with disabilities.
All materials and training programs will be easily replicable, available free online and disseminated nationally.
Maki is working closely with ICATER coordinator James R. Stachowiak (photo, right) to ensure the success of the grant. 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, and conducts and supports research examining the effectiveness of various devices in education, living and work.
"While higher education institutions usually make accommodations for students with disabilities, the law does not require them to provide the extent of services that students receive in kindergarten through 12th grade," Stachowiak said. "This will build on a lot of the services and expertise that ICATER already provides."
An estimated 705 students with disabilities are attending the UI in 2008, according to Mike Venzon with the UI Student Disability Services office. This includes students with sensory, mobility, health, psychological and learning disabilities. A newly launched UI College of Education program, Realizing Educational and Career Hope (REACH), has enrolled 18 UI students with different disabilities for this fall, making this grant even more relevant, Stachowiak said.
The project will begin with a needs assessment at the UI and the collection of data from other U.S. colleges and universities. The assessment will measure the attitudes and beliefs of postsecondary administrators, faculty, staff and students toward - and experience with -- the following: teaching students with disabilities; making classes accessible; students' perceptions of faculty attitudes toward and practices of providing accommodations; and perceptions of accessibility-based resources on campus.
This project is important, Stachowiak said, because research has shown that many faculty and staff have stereotypes and misconceptions about what it takes to teach students with disabilities at the college level.
"This includes some faculty thinking that if they provide accommodations, it will provide an unfair advantage for the students or that it will be too time consuming and cumbersome for them to implement, but that's not the case," Stachowiak said.
Research has also shown that students with disabilities are less likely to pursue postsecondary education, and those that do are less likely to complete a degree program. An American Community Survey conducted in 2006 notes that 733,739 individuals with disabilities between the ages of 18 to 34 are enrolled in college of graduate school compared to more than 15 million individuals in the general population.
As a result more students with disabilities are dropping out of college or taking longer to graduate, said Stachowiak, adding that the trend must be reversed.
"This means there's a significant portion of our population that isn't getting the same college experience and opportunities that everyone else is getting. It's simply not available to them," Stachowiak said. "And there's some simple things that this grant will enable us to do to help open those doors to students with disabilities and make a profound difference in their lives."
For more information on ICATER, visit http://www.education.uiowa.edu/icater/.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500
MEDIA CONTACTS: Dennis Maki, ICATER, 319-335-5284, firstname.lastname@example.org; James R. Stachowiak, ICATER, 319-335-5280, email@example.com, Lois J. Gray, University News Services, 319-384-0077, firstname.lastname@example.org