Assistive Tech: Resources Available at the Weingarten Center
To help the Penn community better understand assistive technology and the resources we have at Weingarten, we’re launching this Assistive Tech series. This first article provides an overview of what assistive technology is and how it is used by students with disabilities.
What is Assistive Technology?
In a broad sense, Assistive Technology is any device, software, or hardware that helps people with disabilities work around challenges so they can learn, communicate, and simply function better. Here at the Weingarten Center, we use assistive technology to help students with disabilities work around their weaknesses while also playing to their strengths. Most importantly, assistive technology ensures our students have equal access.
Assistive Technology Software
The most utilized assistive technology software at our center are screen readers, screen magnifiers, text-to-speech, and speech recognition.
Screen readers allow people with visual impairments to navigate computers by reading the contents of their screen out loud to them. These include: JAWS, NVDA, and Apple VoiceOver.
Screen magnifiers allow people with low vision to navigate computers by enlarging the contents of their screen. Examples include: ZoomText and Mac Zoom
Text-to-speech assists people with learning disabilities and other print disabilities by reading text out loud to them and usually has a visual guided reading feature. Examples include: Read&Write, Mac Speech, and NaturalReader. Read&Write is available through SDS and is our most popular assistive technology
Speech recognition software allows people to interface their computers though voice and speak to type. Dragon and Mac Voice Control are the two most popular speech recognition software.
Assistive Technology Hardware
The most common hardware found at the Weingarten Center are electronic magnifiers, smartpens, refreshable braille displays, and assisitive listening systems.
Electronic magnifiers magnify paper, books, and even far away objects.
Smartpens are note-taking devices that record audio as your write. They are our most popular assistive technology hardware.
Refreshable braille displays can display text from a computer or tablet by raising dots through holes in a flat surface that create braille characters.
Assistive Listening Systems are audio amplifiers that can connect to a cochlear implant bring sound directly into the ear.
If you have any questions or wish to learn more about assistive technology, please reach out to the Associate Director for Assistive Technology, Amrou Ibrahim.
Accessible Online Teaching in the New Year
How can faculty proactively consider the needs of all students in their course design? Before the start of the Spring 2021 semester, Aaron Spector, Director of Student Disabilities Services at the Weingarten Center, spoke on a panel about accessible online teaching hosted by Davy Knittle and Adam Sax, graduate fellows at the Center for Teaching and Learning. The panel, moderated by Dr. Heather Love, Professor of English, featured Dr. Aimi Hamraie, a professor at Vanderbilt University, and Dr. Claire Mullaney (SAS ’18), a professor at Clemson University. The panelists shared perspectives and tips for accessible online teaching with faculty and teaching assistants in English and Comparative Literature. The recorded presentation is available to all who have an interest in how inclusive online teaching can reach and support students learning under an array of adverse conditions during the pandemic.
Staff at Student Disabilities Services and the Center for Teaching and Learning are available for support with accessible teaching strategies. Check out CTL’s resources and strategies for Preparing to Teach Online and contact SDS at firstname.lastname@example.org.