a hand on a laptop

Managing College Classes with Assistive Technology

After graduating from the Burlington County Special Services District in Westampton, N.J., Travis Diller wanted to try college.  He enrolled in Rowan College at Burlington County and gave it a go.  

As a wheelchair user, Travis said he was prepared for the mobility challenges he would be facing. Before starting classes at the Mount Laurel campus, Travis and a friend went to survey the classroom and facilities.  The elevator in the building was not working the day he arrived.  So, he sent his friend upstairs with an iPhone and they used FaceTime to complete the mission.  Everything checked out and by the time the semester started, the elevator had been repaired.

In the wintertime, when the button you push to make the doors swing open is iced over and frozen solid, Travis says he’s not shy about asking for help.  He thinks an electronic eye that opens the door for all students would be a better solution.

Travis, who has cerebral palsy, found keeping up with his assignments physically was challenging.  “I type with one finger,” explained Travis.  During his first semester completing writing assignments was difficult. “When I would write an essay, my brain would be going a million miles an hour but my finger was hunting and pecking. I would be up until 2 a.m. typing,” he said.

Travis contacted the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS) to see if they could offer any help with his plan for attending college.  When DVRS recommended an assistive technology evaluation, Travis worked with Advancing Opportunities’ Assistive Technology Specialist Kristen Russell. After discussing Travis’ goals and abilities, Kristen had him try different tools and types of software to see what worked best for him.

To say Travis has an entirely different outlook on studying after the evaluation would be an understatement.  “The things you can do with technology today are just amazing,” he said.

One of the tools Kristen recommended for Travis was Dragon Naturally Speaking, a speech recognition tool that allows users to dictate to a computer.  The more Travis uses Dragon, the more accurate it gets.  With Dragon, he said he can knock out an essay for class in about an hour.  “I wish I had thought about technology sooner,” he said.

Travis has a scribe who takes notes for him in class.  The scribe uses an Echo Smartpen, which records audio of the lecture. The written notes are made on special paper that syncs to the recording.  Travis can listen to specific parts of a lecture by tapping a spot in the notes.  The pen also allows Travis to upload the notes and recording from a class to a computer or his laptop.  

Another of the tools Kristen recommended was a custom workspace in his home.  It features a desk that is tall enough for Travis to drive up to in his wheelchair. It’s also got plenty of room for his laptop and desktop. He likes the many built-in slots to keep the cords and wires from getting in his way.  He said being able to work comfortably from his wheelchair makes a huge difference.

The key to succeeding is keeping an optimistic mind, said Travis.  He encountered his share of naysayers when he announced his plan to attend college.  He is currently studying Human Services and hopes to have a career counseling adolescents. “I like listening to people and my friends tell me I give good advice.”  

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