Postsecondary Students with Learning Disabilities: Barriers to Accessing Education-Based Information Technology

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND

Students with learning disabilities are the largest group of students with disabilities on most college campuses, but efforts to develop guidelines and standards regarding the accessibility of education-based information technology have been focused primarily on persons with sensory impairments (Bryant & Seay, 1998). Relatively little research has been done to determine the nature and extent of barriers that students with learning disabilities may face in accessing education-based information technology. Without more detailed information about such barriers, it is difficult to know how to best meet the needs of students with learning disabilities in educational settings, where effective use of information technology is essential. Increasingly, students with learning disabilities are using assistive technology to help them in accessing information technology (Bryant & Bryant, 1999). There may be a variety of reasons, however, that make it difficult for students with learning disabilities to obtain and use assistive technology, and the presence of assistive technology in and of itself does not guarantee that these students will have access to information technology.

The primary goal of this research project was to identify barriers encountered by students with learning disabilities when attempting to access education-based information technology. A secondary goal was to examine the impact of an intervention, which combined training in the use of assistive technology with training in self-advocacy skills, on these students' ability to effectively access information technology and compensate for any barriers experienced. An additional purpose was to disseminate findings through conference presentations and journal articles in order to increase awareness of barriers among those who are responsible for designing and using websites in educational settings.

SELECTION OF PARTICIPANTS

Participants were selected from a network of state colleges and universities served by the Regents Center for Learning Disorders (RCLD) at Georgia State University. This is one of three Centers funded by the Board of Regents to provide psychological assessment services to students enrolled in the state university system, as well as consultation to university staff on appropriate accommodations and services for students with disabilities that impact learning.

The disability services providers at the 14 institutions served by the RCLD were contacted and asked to provide information about this project to students with learning disabilities who were registered with their offices. The disability service providers were given an explanation of the study to share with interested students, who then completed applications, which were submitted to us for review. Students indicated on their application the nature of their learning disability, and whether they had any concomitant disabilities, such as ADHD or psychological disorder. Fifteen participants were selected in order to create a diverse pool based on age, sex, ethnicity, class standing (e.g., freshman), type of learning disability, and whether they attended a two-year or four-year institution. One student dropped out after the first workshop. Fourteen students completed the study and received $1000 for their consistent participation over the 12-week period.

STUDY DESIGN

Over the course of the study, the students participated in the following assessments and interventions:

Pre- and Post-Tests

The pre- and post-tests were administered on-line during weeks 2 and 12 of the project. The tests given were the Technology and Internet Assessment (TIA) which is "designed to determine strengths and weaknesses related to a basic understanding of computer, Internet, and information technology skills," (TIA User's Manual) and the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI) whose purpose is to assess "students' awareness about and use of learning and study strategies related to skill, will and self-regulation components of strategic learning" (LASSI User's Manual). …