CAC Approves Proposal for Assistive Technology Lab

May 09, 2019

Iowa State University’s Computation Advisory Committee (CAC) recently approved a $24,264 funding request to create a physical space on campus where students with disabilities will have access to assistive technology resources.

The project proposal for an assistive technology lab — spearheaded by university Digital Accessibility Coordinator Cyndi Wiley — was outlined during a CAC meeting on March 28, and requested committee financial support to create a location dedicated to accessibility resources, peer mentoring, and community building for Iowa State students with disabilities.

Since the early 1990s, CAC has overseen expenditures of the university’s student technology fee, and the committee’s approximately 20 faculty, staff, and student members approved providing funding for the assistive technology lab during its final meeting of the spring semester on April 18. The project received final approval from university President Wendy Wintersteen at the end of April.

“There is not currently a centralized physical space on campus for students with disabilities to work together using assistive technology, or a place for them to try out new technologies that can increase their course engagement,” Wiley said. “Digital accessibility is not only the production of course materials, websites, and communications in an accessible manner; it is a mindset related directly to the student experience. Fully experiencing content and materials using assistive technology is essential in supporting that mindset.”

The new assistive technology lab will be located in an approximately 200 square foot space on the first floor of Durham Center, previously used as a collaborative student work space. Information Technology Services (ITS) is providing the physical space and will also sponsor the furniture needed for the lab, allowing the $24,264 of start-up funds provided by CAC to be used to purchase assistive technology hardware and software, including speech-to-text and text-to-speech tools, a screen reader, a Braille display, and a screen magnifier.

“We’re a student-focused committee, and when we use the phrase ‘student-focused’ we mean all students on our campus,” said Alex Ramirez, CAC chair and associate professor in veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine. “This project is a great opportunity for CAC to contribute to resources for students with disabilities. Like the rest of our students, they need proper resources to learn, advance, and grow, and having an opportunity for our committee to support that mission is really exciting.”

The lab will be overseen by Wiley and staffed by two graduate students and an undergraduate student, whose positions will be sponsored by ITS as well. Students will be able to visit the lab for training opportunities and use the provided equipment for projects, with the possibility of a check out system being implemented in the future. 

Although the space is predominantly student-oriented, faculty members will also have the opportunity to use the lab to learn how to use assistive technology in the classroom and make their coursework digitally accessible. 

Work on the project is expected to be complete by fall 2019, and CAC funding will support the initiative for the next five years, at which point equipment upgrades will be needed. Based on the amount of use the assistive technology lab sees after its completion, Wiley plans to explore additional campus partnerships to potentially expand the space and resources it offers at a later date. 

“By supporting this project, CAC is reinforcing the university’s commitment to accessibility and inclusion, and ensuring students do not encounter barriers in their learning,” said Associate CIO David Popelka, who serves on the committee. “This project has the ability to become a significant campus-wide partnership to prioritize digital accessibility at Iowa State, and it all starts with a step.”