Assistive Technology Initiative Helps Individuals with Disabilities

Posted: March 19, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Catherine Ferraro

When the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) adopted a new project that would provide forms of assistive technology to individuals with disabilities, Mason responded by hiring a new Information Technology Accessibility Coordinator for the Assistive Technology Initiative (ATI), a program developed in 1998.

The ATI, in collaboration between Office of Disability Services and Helen A. Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities, provides assistive technology assessments to Mason students, faculty and staff with disabilities.

Assistive technology is any item that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of an individual with a disability. Examples of assistive technology include software that provides a visual representation of outlines information for individuals with learning disabilities or screen reading software for individuals with a vision impairment.

ATI, a project funded by the Office of Equity and Diversity Services (OEDS), trains clients in the use of the adaptive technology, provides technical assistance and training to university employees on keeping technology accessible and manages the production of accessible text.

“At Mason we try to make everything as accessible and easy to use as possible for people with or without a disability,” says Kara Zirkle, IT Accessibility Coordinator in ATI. “With the new initiative we hope to create a more universal environment at Mason that does not single out a person who has a disability, and open up an area for them to advance in their education.”

One of the services that ATI provides is accessible text to students, faculty and staff with print disabilities. Some of the documents provided by the Alternative Text include Braille exams, digitally formatted textbooks, large print handouts and digitally formatted course handouts. A high-speed scanner is used to convert hard copy documents into digital formats.

ATI also offers software services to individuals with mobility, cognitive, visual and hearing impairments. Some of these services include ZoomText, a screen magnifier, JAWS, a screen reader, WYNN, a scan and read program and Premier AT Suite, which is provided throughout campus.

ATI provides assistive technology labs in the libraries on the Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William Campuses. The Helen A. Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities, a partner of the ATI, also provides an assistive technology lab in Thompson Hall on the Fairfax Campus. The lab is used for the Mason LIFE Program, as well as for other classroom needs.

For more information about ATI, contact Kara Zirkle at 703-993-9815.

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