From learning about how people with brain injuries best work with PowerPoint slides, to finding out all the ways new technologies assist students and teachers, the staff members of the Disability Resource Center (DRC) at Truckee Meadows Community College keep reaching for understanding more about the world.
“We thrive when collaborating with folks, working together to break down barriers and talk about what best helps faculty and students,” said Jay Jorgenson, DRC Specialist.
The DRC serves between 400 to 600 students each semester, and needs to get everyone started quickly so they do not miss coursework. Students requesting accommodations meet with a DRC specialist to review their documentation and talk about the most appropriate accommodations.
“The generic accommodations that we often need to begin with might not fit specific individuals or programs, so in the DRC we’d like to find ways that will work for the faculty member and the student,” Jorgenson added. “What may be reasonable for one program or in some situations may not be the best for others.”
Assistive Technician Scott Weissman agrees.
“It’s all about opening up communication, so we can help find the tools to help,” he said. “There are smart pens that I can help with, showing their functionality to faculty members and students. Also, one of the new tools that Thomas Kerns has developed is a Canvas resource for faculty members. We also can troubleshoot situations that may come up with service animals in the classroom.”
Documentation Forms that are Needed
“Sometimes students will come up to a faculty member asking for an accommodation without paperwork, and that faculty member can refer them to the DRC—the DRC will do an intake, review documentation, and discuss what their needs may be,” Jorgenson said.
“The Center will determine the appropriate accommodation and issue them a letter that they bring with them to their professor,” he said. “If it doesn’t quite fit, we work together with the professor so the accommodation is reasonable and understood by everyone.”
New NSHE Policy Approved in September
A new policy was passed in September by the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE). It requires each campus to have an individual or committee to make sure the institutions build the best accessible facilities and courses.
“At TMCC, we have an ADA committee that meets twice a semester, and we’re actively seeking faculty representation to ensure that faculty concerns are addressed,” Jorgenson said. “Our goal is that all materials are accessible to all students, and ultimately faculty are on the front lines, creating content for their courses.”
Ten regular members participate on the ADA committee, and it’s also an open meeting, so additional instructors and professors may attend, share insights and express concerns. There are two online forms that the committee has compiled for faculty, which are available on DRC's website:
- Accessibility Issues and Concerns form
Anyone may use this form to report anything from cracks in the sidewalks, to overly-high signage, to non-accessible course materials.
- Course Accessibility Checklist
This form is useful for professors building courses, because the Curriculum Review Committee will evaluate new classes against the checklist during the approval process. “This checklist helps give alternatives and possible solutions for things that arise, like textbooks that come with software which may or may not be accessible,” Jorgenson said.
“Developing Accessible Content” is a New Resource
Assistive Technician Thomas Kearns has developed a new Canvas resource for faculty members, Developing Accessible Content. All faculty members have a Canvas login, whether they teach in person, online or both.
“Some of the content in the modules focus on a specific disability, so a faculty member can skip to the part he or she needs,” Jorgenson said. “Module six, UDOIT 101 is a real highlight, because you can use it as you’re building online course content. Then if a student comes in at the end of the first week, you don’t have to take the time to go back and rebuild everything.”
Executive Director of Retention and Support Services Joan Steinman agrees.
“It can be easier to start off with a course that has accessibility built in, and then the student is also right there with the content from the beginning, not getting behind,” she said.
Weissman added that Module 2 is helpful for in-person teaching, because it offers tips for making PowerPoints, PDFs, and web pages more accessible.
“Faculty may also be providing electronic versions of course materials to students, and these would then be accessible,” Weissman said. “Thomas also is available for one-to-one guidance or assistance on any of the modules.”
Video on Scan-To-Read Software
Another tool that is a resource for both faculty members and students is software that scans textbook pages and reads them back. A helpful video tutorial on scan-to-read software is posted on YouTube. For more information on the scan-to-read software, please contact Thomas Kearns.
Smart Pens Feature a Microphone and Speaker
Many people have smartphones, but most don’t know that smart pens are available, and that these nifty devices can perform some surprisingly helpful functions. The DRC has five smart pens for loan to students or faculty.
The pen has a chip in it, a microphone to record, and a tiny speaker for playback. The internal camera can read “buttons” on a writing notepad made with specialized paper printed with oversized dots.
“The intent is that a person can record the lecture and take as many, or as few notes as you want, and then navigate to any part of the lecture you want just by tapping on the notes taken, or the navigation buttons at the bottom of the notepad,” Weissman said. “Math would also be a great application for this technology because it’s a step-by-step skill.”
Software and a USB cord connect the pen to a computer. A math problem or lesson may also be recorded on the pen by an instructor, downloaded to the computer, and converted to a PDF file for emailing. The student can click on parts of the PDF description with the mouse and it will take him or her to that specific part of the recording.
“I can offer a one-to-one training to everyone who’d like to meet,” he added. “When there’s a visual with the audio, a student remembers better. Things stick better.”
Service Animals Are Used for Varied Tasks
Did you know the only two types of animals that are recognized as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are dogs and miniature ponies? Service animals may be used to support individuals with sensory disabilities such as blindness or deafness, or with other tasks, such as those who need a counterweight to stand from a seated position, or need to be warned of low blood sugar.
“True service animals don’t need documentation, but there is a gray area around emotional support animals,” Jorgenson said. “If the faculty suspects that an animal isn’t a true service animal, they can contact the DRC and the DRC will contact the student. Legitimate trainers, or trainers-in-training are allowed by discretion. We are here to help look into these situations.”
For more information, please contact the Disability Resource Center at 775-673-7277.