Breakout Session

Assistive Technologies and Universal Design

Track: Learning Innovations

Friday, November 30th, 9:20am – 10:15am

Accessibility has become increasingly important in higher education. Our presentation will cover two major aspects of accessibility in higher education. The first part will focus on showcasing assistive technologies that students with physical and learning disabilities can use for their coursework. We’ll discuss the jellybean controller, JAWS screen reading software, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and the LiveScribe pen. The second part will focus on universal design for course materials. We’ll talk about the pedagogical and technical aspects of better designing documents so that they can be read by screen readers, designing to improve retention for students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia and ADD/ADHD, and how UD improves the experience of non-disabled students as well.


Arthur Bath
Instructional Designer
Rutgers University

Bio / Expertise:
Art Bath is an instructional designer at Rutgers’s Office of Instructional and Research Technology. He’s currently heading up the department’s effort to promote universal course material design among faculty.


Gayle Stein
Associate Director for Instructional Technology
Rutgers University

Bio / Expertise:
Gayle Stein is the Associate Director for Instructional Technology within the Office of Information Technology at Rutgers University. She holds a Ph.D. in Communication and Information Studies from Rutgers, an MLS from Rutgers, an MS in Nutrition from the New York Medical College, and a BS in Chemistry and Biology from Union College. Gayle is a University Senator and an adjunct faculty member in Rutgers’ Library and Information studies department where she teaches privacy and policy development, IT project management, IT for librarians, management of technological organizations, and disruptive IT and change management courses. Gayle leads the Rutgers instructional technology group which provides faculty support for technology in teaching and learning, Sakai, video services, applications of ePortfolios for student learning and assessment, and assistance for faculty and students with learning and motor disabilities.

Presentation Content:

Summary Statement:
We will showcase some assistive technologies and show how they are used. We will also speak about universal course material design and how using best practices benefits all students.

Description of activity, project, or solution:
Rutgers’s OIRT has been working to develop resources for faculty to help them understand disabilities and how they affect a student’s learning, help them comply with Section 508 laws on making course materials accessible, and provide them with technical assistance in doing so. In our presentation, we will familiarize the audience with a variety of technologies that disabled students use for their coursework. This will help them understand the difficulties that disabled students run into on more mundane activities. We will use videos to demonstrate the jellybean switch, which allows a person with motor difficulties to navigate a computer with the use of a single button. We will demonstrate JAWS, a screen reader for the blind and visually impaired. And we will show the LiveScribe pen, which is a tool for note taking, information processing, and assisted memorizing—an excellent tool for students with learning disabilities. Once the tone has been established and the audience is in the mindset of the disabled student, we will introduce the methods by which faculty and content creators can better design their course materials. We’ll briefly show the technical aspects of better designing a Word document, a PPT presentation, a webpage, charts, and graphs, but we’ll spend more of the time expanding on the pedagogical aspects of universal design—how designing with disabled students in mind actually benefits all of the students in a class.

Though still in its early phases, our research into accessibility laws and best practices has been very promising. It’s quite easy to accommodate for disabled students. The biggest roadblocks to a content creator are the understanding of the disabilities themselves, understanding how they impact learning, and getting started with universal design. Once the creator can get into the mindset of the disabled student, the small time investment in updating or creating new materials is actually trivial. We hope to spark the interest of other institutions and faculty members to participate in this movement toward universal design.

Importance or relevance to other institutions:
By seeing how Rutgers has been developing its accessibility resources, hopefully staff and faculty members from other institutions will learn how disabilities affect students and what technologies can help level the playing field. We would hope that they also discover that it is very easy to accommodate disabled students by designing course materials according to best practices. Our accessibility research is relevant to every higher education institution, as laws governing course materials’ accessibility are evolving and being enforced more firmly.


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