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.
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).
Assistive Technology Evaluation
During weeks 2 through 4, each student received a comprehensive assistive technology assessment to determine individual technology needs. The students were evaluated either by Tools for Life, a service of the Georgia Department of Labor, or directly by a Vocational Rehabilitation counselor from the Georgia Division of Rehabilitative Services. The assistive technology evaluator generated an assessment report for each student that described areas of concern and included recommendations for assistive technology software and equipment. Additional recommendations were given for other aids (e.g., personal digital assistants, hand-held spellers, electronic dictionaries), self-advocacy training, and referral to other relevant support services.
Three 7-hour workshops, described below, were presented during weeks 1, 7, and 12.
Workshop 1: The students were given an introduction to the project and its purposes, and the plan for the twelve weeks. A consultant in self-advocacy and assistive technology from Tools for Life presented on the nature of learning disabilities and led activities designed to promote self-advocacy skills. Through discussion, the students identified ways in which they are expected to use information technology in college. They divided into four focus groups led by facilitators to describe the barriers they encounter in accessing commonly used tools, such as web courses, chat rooms, e-mail, library services, and course registration. They also shared helpful hints in overcoming these barriers.
Workshop 2: The consultant from Tools for Life provided an introduction to assistive technology. Another consultant specializing in assistive technology provided hands-on instruction in using the accessibility features in the Windows and Microsoft Word environment. A variety of Internet sites offering freeware and shareware was also provided. Three hours were devoted to hands-on training in the use of a popular screen reader. All students had the use of a screen reader for the remainder of the project.
Workshop 3: The Tools for Life consultant continued to work with the students on self-advocacy. One of the project leaders did a presentation on identifying specific learning problems and developing strategies to compensate for them. Students had the opportunity to discuss their particular academic difficulties and suggested strategies were offered. Students were also told how to access remedial services, if they were interested. A representative from the Georgia Division of Rehabilitation Services, Vocational Rehabilitation presented on the scope of services, and the benefits afforded to students who qualify as clients. For example, clients may have the cost of a psychological evaluation and/or assistive technology evaluation covered and have essential software and equipment purchased for them. Students learned how to access VR services and had an opportunity to individually ask questions.
To maximize the exposure to activities that would provide a way to identify barriers, project instruction was given in the on-line environment, using WebCT (Web Course Tool). Twelve assignments were given, which were divided into the following three categories: extensive reading, extensive reading with interactive components, and interactive with very little reading.
Technology and Internet Assessment (TIA) http://www.hhpublishing.com An assessment designed to determine strengths and weaknesses related to a basic understanding of computers, the Internet, and information technology skills.
Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI) http://www.hhpublishing.com An assessment designed to gather information about learning and study practices and attitudes.
The On-line Netskills Interactive Course (TONIC) http://www.netskills.ac.uk An on-line introductory computer course, which is self-paced, with quizzes designed for beginners to learn about the Internet and determine their areas of strength and weakness.
Site A Tutorial http://www.usg.edu/Site A/skills/unit05/index.phtml An on-line tutorial for a virtual library and search engine, providing access to multiple databases, periodicals and scholarly journals, encyclopedias, business directories, and government publications.
Assistive Technology http://atto.buffalo.edu/registered/ATBasics.php A site which provides information on assistive technology applications that help students with disabilities learn.
Self Advocacy/Study Skills http://www.trentu.ca/academic/acadskills/sfs/unit_listing.htm An on-line course providing training modules on Self-Advocacy; Planning for the Future; Time Management; Stress Management; Reading, Listening, and Note-taking Study Skills; Writing Skills; Language Skills; Oral Presentations; and Test-Taking Skills.
Extensive Reading with Interactive Components
Web CT Tutorial http://www.cbc2.org/distance/tutorial/content2.htm A tutorial designed to provide skills in the use of WebCT.
Frog Dissection http://curry.edschool.virginia.edu/go/frog/Frog2/Dissection/Setup/setup1.html An activity designed to be used as practice before, or instead of an actual dissection; contains images, movies, text, and interactive exercises.
Interactive with Little Reading
Exposure to selected interactive sites for the purpose of experiencing a variety of education-based information technology. The activities included video, sound, movies (flash plugins, movie players such as Quicktime), on-line quizzes, clicking and dragging, etc.
Based on the feedback given after each assignment, the barriers identified by students were categorized into three areas:
* Technical Barriers (computer-related and knowledge-related)
* Design Barriers (readability level, ease of understanding, ease of navigation, etc.)
* Intrapersonal Barriers (factors unique to a particular student)
* Technical Barriers-Computer-Related
* Insufficient Computer Memory. When asked to listen to audio clips or to view video clips, students reported that the audio and video were hard to understand, muffled, choppy, and of poor quality. It is likely these problems occurred because of insufficient computer memory.
Because of the memory demands of the assistive technology software, when students were asked to load a popular screen reader, at least six students had problems. Even those who were able to successfully load the software found that it would not operate up to speed. This was caused, most likely, by the fact that the computer specifications did not meet the software's minimum requirements for optimum performance. One student alluded to the fact that a screen reader, which is used to remove barriers, may become a barrier itself, if it doesn't load properly, it's difficult to use, or the computer is not adequate to run it smoothly.
Proper Players Not Loaded to Enable Audio and Video Clips. When asked to listen to audio clips or to view video clips, students sometimes reported that the audio and video were not working, and they were not sure why. They had to solicit help from others to configure their computers properly to play the audio and video clips.
Campus Computer Lab Restrictions. Some students working on campus computers (dorm and lab computers) found that they had no access to sound or video because of lab restrictions. They were also not permitted to load or upgrade necessary plugins when needed.
Malfunctions. Students reported software and hardware malfunctions. The students were given demo program CDs for a popular screen reader. The CDs did not load properly, and were not able to be used. Among the problems they reported were CD players necessary to load software were malfunctioning and computers were in the shop for repairs.
Technical Barriers-Knowledge Related
Reading Portable Document Format (PDF) Files. Although all the pdf files used in the assignments were accessible to screen readers, most students were unable to access them with a screen reader until they were given explicit instructions. Even when pdf files are created in a format that can be read with a screen reader, accessing them is still a cumbersome, multi-step process with which most students were unfamiliar.
"It Just Won't Work." For many students, when something didn't work, they had no strategies to deal with the problem. Often problems they encountered were not something they could control, such as a site being temporarily unavailable, but their lack of technical knowledge did not allow them to identify those problems. They reacted as though everything that went wrong was their fault. Even when the difficulty involved something they could control, their comments were very general, such as "my video didn't work, so I asked a friend for help;" or "Sound wouldn't work. Maybe it's the PC;" "I don't know how to get the narration or video to work." More technically knowledgeable students usually provided additional information indicating they understood the nature of the problem, such as "My video didn't work well, because my computer has insufficient memory." "The audio was a bit muffled, but I imagine that it was the fact that high fidelity audio is hard over narrow bandwidth."
Application of Operating System Conventions. Some students weren't aware of common universal procedures, such as using "click and drag" to re-size something. Some students had difficulty determining when or whether they needed to log in. Some students were stymied by broken links, incomplete web addresses, or servers being down.
Cyber Communication. Students were required to interact on-line in five ways: e-mail, discussion groups, logins, and completing questionnaires and quizzes. Very few problems were demonstrated in e-mail and discussion groups, although one student did not discover that they existed until the last week. Some students asked for clarification via messages posted to the discussion group versus messages sent by e-mail, unsure if their e-mail messages, addressed (only) to the group leader, could be read by everyone.
Login Procedures. Some students had difficulty because they didn't understand or couldn't follow the login instructions. In fact, occasionally, students tried to login when there was no way or need to login.
The design barriers encompassed issues dealing with site appearance; interaction; user friendliness, including ease of understanding and ease of navigation; and readability level. It is from the assignments with extensive reading that we obtained the most knowledge about significant design barriers. For this reason, the design barriers narrative will focus mainly on comments from sites anonymously designated as (A), (B), (C), and (D). For sites (A) and (B), the comments were uniformly and strongly negative. For the (C) and (D) sites, the comments were primarily positive.
Site Appearance (color and font size and type). The majority of sites used in the study had an average font size (10 or 12), a typical font style (Times, Arial, Verdana) and black text. Most sites used a background color of white, some occasionally incorporating color into the design to increase visual interest. Student feedback indicated that the typical use of color and font size didn't present a barrier. Although one student strongly and consistently objected to a white background, most comments were in favor of, or neutral regarding the use of color, font sizes and types. The assistive technology evaluations for six of the students, however, indicated that they had reported experiencing fatigue when reading black text on a white background.
Interactivity. Although the four sites, (A), (B), (C), and (D), did not provide interactivity, students had an overwhelmingly positive response to those that did. Most students felt that interaction was enhancing and tended to keep their attention. Many felt that it was helpful to have audio and video options, and they felt they benefited from being able to re-play the audio as often as they wished. Regarding the two sites that received negative responses, students commented that having interaction would have improved the experience. On a few occasions, some students said the interaction was distracting.
User-Friendliness. (Ease of navigation, language, ease of understanding, etc.). Regarding the two sites for which significant barriers were identified, students' comments related to ease of navigation indicated that they would have too many windows open and get lost in the site, or they didn't know how to get to the information that they needed. They complained of having too much information on a page, and they sometimes couldn't find their place in a site if they came back later. Some students reported that they found the pop up ads on sites to be very distracting, and complained that they would lose time re-focusing on the content they were reading. "Disorientation is one of the major issues in hypermedia learning," according to Muhammet Demirbilek in a presentation at Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education, Atlanta, GA March 4, 2004.
Comments related to language and ease of understanding indicated that some students had difficulty understanding the vocabulary. They gave comments such as, "concepts were confusing," "language was unclear," "language was too technical," and "directions were bad."
This is in contrast to the comments related to user friendliness on the highly rated sites. When describing these two sites, students offered comments such as "the information was presented in small short pieces so I didn't have to read, process, worry about what was coming next, and get overwhelmed as I usually do," and "the level of comprehension wasn't too high so that I might have been completely lost." One student commented that the print option noted on some sites was very useful. These sites had a statement indicating how to obtain a printer-friendly version.
Reading Portable Document Format (PDF) Files. Not all pdf files are created in a format that can be read by a screen reader.
Readability Level. Because many of the students reported having reading disabilities, the readability level of the sites was determined using the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Scale. The readability levels for the four sites are listed below:
Assignment Grade Level (A) 11.9 (B) 10.0 (C) 12.0 (D) 8.7
It is evident from the students' comments that readability level per se does not determine if a site is rated positively or negatively, as the highly rated (C) site had the highest readability grade level of all four sites. The two highly rated sites, however, were specifically designed for professionals working with students with disabilities, including learning disabilities, and seemed to be sensitive to some of the barriers students with learning disabilities might face.
Based on the students' comments, a number of intrapersonal factors seemed to influence their experience and degree of success. Several of these factors were assessed by the Learning and Study Strategies Assessment (LASSI), which gathers information about learning and study practices and attitudes.
Poor Concentration. Students with attention/concentration difficulties were sometimes unable to remember or find their passwords, or even remember if a password was necessary. Many students complained that all-day workshops were too long, and some cited their attentional difficulties as a reason why shorter workshops would be better. Although average scores for Concentration on the LASSI improved significantly from pre-test to post-test, all but one student continued to score in the below-average range. The LASSI Advisor/Counselor Report suggests that low scoring students need to learn to monitor their level of concentration and develop techniques to redirect attention.
Anxiety and Frustration. Some students were much more easily frustrated than others, and one reported being in tears when something wasn't working. Eleven students' scores on the LASSI indicated they needed to improve their techniques for coping with anxiety and reducing worry.
Lack of Motivation. Some students with learning disabilities may be less motivated and less persistent because of the amount of failure they have experienced. They may become discouraged. A low level of motivation was noted in the LASSI scores of all but one student. The LASSI Advisor/Counselor Report suggests that students who score low on this scale need to accept more responsibility for their academic outcomes and learn how to set and use goals.
Poor Time Management. It was apparent that a number of students had difficulty incorporating the project assignments into their schedule because of poor time management. Some students needed frequent prodding via e-mail to complete their assignments. The pre- and post-test scores of all but four students were below average. The LASSI Advisor/Counselor Report suggests that students who score low on this scale need to develop effective scheduling and monitoring techniques and learn to avoid procrastination.
Deficits in Auditory and Visual Skills and Memory. One of the most common problems for students was logging in. Students sometimes forgot their passwords or forgot whether a password was necessary for a site. There were students who disclosed poor visual memory or attentional problems who had difficulty accurately typing in a password, and needed to be able to cut and paste the password in from another location, which was not always possible: "I kept typing in the wrong things. I saw the wrong letters and numbers. That's where my disability comes into play." Those with auditory comprehension or memory deficits may have derived less benefit from an audio component in assignments, or from screen reading software.
Poor Reading/Writing Skills. For students who had more difficulty with reading, the greater the amount of reading required, the more problems and frustration they reported: "I had to read the question 5 times to get the meaning."
Ten of the 14 students erroneously tried to retake the 2 online pre-tests, even though the post-tests seemed to be clearly explained and marked. Problems in the areas of reading comprehension, memory, and/or semantic concepts may underlie these errors. Students' comments included "first administration, second administration. Which one am I doing? I did the first, I hope I'm right," or "I was not given an ID, so I gave myself one."
Student feedback during our focus groups indicated that some students were reluctant to participate in chat rooms because the pace of interaction was too fast, and the topic would change before they could read a posting and add a comment. They also were self-conscious about their spelling errors. They preferred the discussion format, which we used, and did well in this as they could read and post their comments or questions at their own pace, and even spell check them first if they chose.
IMPACT OF INTERVENTION
The Technical and Internet Assessment (TIA) has 8 scales, Use of Technology, Specific Computer Skills, Acquisition of Technical Knowledge, Basic Internet Knowledge, Internet Information Skills, Adapting to Technological Change, Impact of Technology, and Ethics in Technology. The students' pre- and post-test scores on the TIA were compared using paired samples t-tests to determine changes over the three months of the study. The Composite TIA scores increased an average of 16.71 points, which is significant at the p < .01 level. Scores on 5 of the 8 scales also increased significantly: Use of Technology, Acquisition of Technical Knowledge, Basic Internet Knowledge, Adapting to Technological Change, and Ethics in Technology. The improvement in their scores supports the idea that students would benefit from additional training in computer- and internet-related skills.
The LASSI assesses study skills and attitudes by measuring the following: Anxiety, Attitude, Concentration, Information Processing, Motivation, Self-testing, Selecting the Main Idea, Study Aids, Time Management, and Test Strategies. It yields ten subtest scores and a composite score. These scores are expressed as percentiles with reference to a "national norm group of college students" (LASSI user's manual).
The students' pre- and post-test scores on the LASSI were compared using paired samples t-tests to determine changes over the three months of the study. The Composite LASSI scores increased an average of 13.07 points, which is significant at the p < .05 level. Significant increases were found on three of the LASSI subtests: Concentration, Selecting Main Ideas, and Study Aids Skills. These increases support the idea that students would benefit from well-designed training in strategies related to academic success.
In speculating on the reasons for these changes, the use of Assistive Technology may have helped students improve their Concentration. The increase in Study Aids Skills makes sense as they had been exposed to assistive technology and other strategies in relation to studying and learning. One might have expected Motivation and Attitude to improve, and perhaps Anxiety in relation to academic performance to decrease, but apparently that was not the case.
A goal of the project was to examine the impact of an intervention combining training in the use of assistive technology with training in self-advocacy. Feedback was solicited throughout the 12-weeks of participation, and during the final workshop the impact of intervention was assessed through a project evaluation form. The students felt that they learned more about their disabilities, about technology in general, and about a variety of assistive technology solutions available to students with learning disabilities.
Overall, the students felt that their participation proved to be enlightening, productive and beneficial. This was supported by the fact that many of them volunteered to help train other students if a similar course were offered. They also expressed pleasure in being part of a research project designed to help others with learning disabilities.
Self-Advocacy. The topic of self-advocacy was addressed through presentations by skilled trainers, information provided by a representative from Vocational Rehabilitation, and homework assignments on self-advocacy. The opportunity to interact with professionals in the field, and with students having problems similar to theirs, allowed the students to gain new knowledge. They were especially inspired because one of the workshop leaders was a person with a significant reading and written expression disability.
In an effort to maintain communication with the instructors and each other in order to further develop their self-advocacy skills and continue to gain knowledge and build confidence, the students asked if the WebCT course could be continued. Because the course could not be continued, the students took the initiative to exchange e-mail addresses in order to maintain contact with one another. Some student comments follow:
* "I have a better understanding of my learning disability now."
* "Great leaders taught me a lot about myself and things that can help me in the future."
* "It was really nice to be surrounded by a group of people who understood LDs and I didn't have to explain myself."
* "I think you are doing excellent and ground-breaking work that will improve the lives of others in more ways than you can imagine, and I was excited to be a part of the process."
Assistive Technology. Student comments clearly indicated that they were eager to share their new knowledge about assistive technology, because it had removed barriers for them that had impeded their academic success. They wanted others to have the same opportunity. Their comments addressed how the use of the screen reader allowed them to complete reading assignments more quickly, with improved reading comprehension, and a new level of independence and enhanced success:
* "It made reading more fun."
* " My brother is in law school. I told him about the software and how helpful it is. My parents are going to purchase it for him."
* "I find the software immensely helpful. It has allowed me to complete assignments faster than I had ever been able to."
* "It helped with comprehension because "I didn't have to re-read it so many times."
* "It allowed me to process the info that I was reading much faster. I only wish that I had had it as an undergraduate. I wouldn't have had to read assignments aloud which made me feel stupid.
* "At age 37, I just wrote my first paper independently, using AT. I usually have to call my mother every few paragraphs to get her help."
* "I got an A on my history paper. I was able to do all my research online using a screen reader."
Computer Literacy. One of the unplanned benefits of the project was the increase in the students' computer skills and their level of confidence in using computers in the many ways expected of college students. This is supported by the significant increases in their TIA scores:
* "It exposed me to technology that I didn't even know existed."
* "I feel like I gained a lot of confidence in working with computers. I got extra knowledge that is useful on the Internet."
It is recognized that a collaborative effort is necessary to effectively impact access to information technology for students with learning disabilities. Based on the information obtained as a result of this study, and utilizing a combination of the efforts of web designers, college administrators, K-12 program planners, and the students themselves, a number of solutions are proposed.
Website/Webcourse Designer Solutions
For faculty, when designing a site and choosing assignments for a course:
* Make sure that any sites that are assigned to students are universally-designed and compatible with assistive technology.
* Consider readability level and the amount of text needed to be read. Provide a glossary of terms. Present material in smaller segments.
* Provide clear and detailed instructions for the assignment and for navigating the site.
* Provide alternative methods for accessing material by choosing sites that allow a multi-modality, interactive approach.
* Keep the design simple (not too many open windows, uncluttered, few pop-ups) to avoid disorientation and distraction.
* All pdf files should be saved in a format that can be read by a screen reader.
* Encourage students to demonstrate their creativity (which may increase their motivation) by allowing a variety of ways to meet course objectives. Provide a printer-friendly version.
University Administrative Solutions
Offer a computer literacy course, including assistive technology, for any student who does not have adequate skills. Ideally, students should come into the postsecondary system with wide experience in using computers and information technology as a tool, but students may not receive this training at the middle and high school level. Further, students do not routinely get computer training in college, and it is apparently assumed that they are already computer literate or will learn on their own.
Explicit training in computer skills would be valuable, as it would increase students' success in accessing information technology. It would also allow students to recognize problems they can solve and those they can't. Many of the computer problems encountered could possibly have been eliminated, given a higher level of technical knowledge. A higher technical skill level might have also alleviated frustration and misunderstanding of tasks.
Including a component on organizing an internet search, and teaching memory and organizational strategies specific to accessing information technology may help to overcome deficits in these same areas. Offer an overview of assistive technology, and arrange for assessment and training for those who would benefit.
K-12 Administrative Solutions
Promote the use of appropriate assistive technology at an early age. Beginning in third and fourth grade, when students are no longer reading simply to practice reading, but are expected to read to learn, students with reading disabilities begin to fall behind in vocabulary and general knowledge because good readers have exponentially more exposure to print. Students with language and learning disabilities are often not being trained to use assistive technology to help them close the gap. Although intensive instruction in reading should continue, the use of a screen reader can help in overcoming poor reading ability and attentional problems. There is some evidence that students with reading disabilities may improve their reading by simultaneously hearing and seeing words (Elkind, 1993, 1996). For some students, the highlighting of the text as it is read aloud serves as a cue and keeps them on task. When a student can devote less attention to the mechanics of reading, more attention can be devoted to comprehending the content.
In the area of written language, training in the use of assistive technology can enable a child to enjoy the writing process, rather than dreading it. Again, children should continue to receive instruction in all aspects of written expression, but once they are expected to be able to write paragraphs and whole pages, the use of assistive technology may dramatically improve the quality of their output.
Students need to become active learners and participants in all aspects of their education. They need to develop self-advocacy skills at an early age, and participate in their IEP meetings in middle school and high school. When they are given an opportunity to use assistive technologies, they will have to devote the time and attention necessary to become proficient in its use. They must take advantage of any training in study skills offered, and develop their computer literacy skills. In order to enter college on an equal footing with non-disabled students, students with learning disabilities should have developed a high level of computer literacy and be able to use the appropriate assistive technologies.
FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR RESEARCH
Although we found qualitative as well as quantitative changes following our intervention, additional research is necessary to look at the individual components of the intervention to see which are effective for which problems with which pattern of learning disabilities. For example, we are unable to answer the question as to why scores increased on some subtests of the LASSI and TIA, but not on others. The pattern of changes across students also could not be explained by the current design. Although it appears that students benefited from work on self-advocacy, it is not clear how this was effective. In order to look at these variables more empirically, a controlled study would be needed, with some students receiving intervention, and others receiving a typical "best practices" level of services, rather than organized intervention. Additional information regarding each student's profile of strengths and weaknesses, as determined by a thorough psychological evaluation, would be helpful in looking at response to intervention.
CASE #1: Andrew
Gender: Male Age: 21 Ethnicity: White GPA: 3.7 Institution: 4-year Class Standing: Junior Major: Exercise Science
Andrew's self-reported diagnosis was a learning disability that affects his reading comprehension, written expression, and math reasoning. He also reported a diagnosis of ADHD. He indicated that his most significant difficulties were in math reasoning.
Technology and Internet Assessment
Andrew reported that, although he owns a computer, he has never taken a computer training course. He has more than four years' computer experience. Andrew's TIA pre-and post-test scores placed him at Level 4 (the highest level is Level 6), which is High Intermediate Basic Education.
A review of Andrew's performance and his e-mail comments indicated that he was good at self-advocacy. When Andrew encountered technical difficulties in the course, he usually understood the nature of the difficulty and tried other approaches if it was something he could control. He readily attempted strategies to overcome problems, but he didn't hesitate to request help when needed. He seemed to have clear goals and a positive attitude.
Technical. Andrew had to seek help when loading the player to view a video. He also was unable to load the screen reader software on his home computer, thereby requiring him to use a school computer.
Design. Andrew's feedback following each assignment indicated that the font sizes were acceptable, except that he perceived them as too small on Site B and one of the interactive assignments with little reading, where the font sizes were actually typical.
Andrew said that the information was usually presented in a manner that was clear, easy to understand, and easy to follow. Sometimes he felt that assignments had too much information on a page. He most consistently gave negative comments on Site B, which he was unable to complete, saying that it was too long, too hard, and too much reading. He didn't have difficulty with Site A, as he was already familiar with it.
Intrapersonal. Andrew found it difficult to sit still, read long passages of text, and stay focused. He lost a required password for one site. This correlates with Andrew's LASSI score on Concentration, which was at the 1st percentile.
Although his reading disability is mild, his attention may be better when less effort is directed to the reading process. To assist with reading and concentration, Andrew was provided with screen reading software. After using the screen reader, he stated that it was "great for reading long excerpts that are reading tedious." The screen reader may also assist Andrew with recognizing some technical words when they are spoken that he might not recognize in writing, which will also aid reading comprehension.
Andrew consistently gave positive comments for websites with interactive components. He stated that he was a visual learner and therefore liked "video mediated learning." It would be helpful to Andrew to have visual support for his learning.
Because of his math disability, the assistive technology evaluator recommended that Andrew investigate programs/technology that could help specifically with medical calculations required in his exercise science courses.
CASE #2: Carlyle Gender: Male Age: 32 Ethnicity: White GPA: 2.0 Institution: 4-year Research Class Standing: Senior Major: Exercise Science
Carlyle self-reported a diagnosis of a learning disability that affects his reading comprehension and auditory processing.
Technology and Internet Assessment
Carlyle reported that he does not own a computer and that he has taken a computer training course. He has less than a year's computer experience. Carlyle's TIA pre-and post-test scores placed him at Level 4, which is High Intermediate Basic Education.
A review of Carlyle's performance and his email comments indicated that he has strength in visual learning. It was also evident that he is very creative and enjoys using his imagination. When he encountered technical difficulties, he usually understood the nature of the problem, and was able to recognize whether it was something he could control. He was able to complete all assignments without asking for help.
Technical. Although hands-on training was given on the screen reading software (which included information on controlling pitch, speed, and volume), in a post-workshop assignment using the screen reader, Carlyle commented, "Being that my learning disability has to do with reading difficulties and comprehension, the only chief complaint about it [the screen readers software] is that I have to read at my own pace. Unless I totally missed how to control the speed of the screen reader, I couldn't comprehend at their pace and had to read it again until I understood." His lack of adequate information on using the screen reader led to a less-than-satisfactory experience with it, making his limited understanding of the technology a barrier.
Design. Carlyle said that the information was usually presented in a manner that was clear, easy to understand, and easy to follow, except on Sites A and B, and a site with reading and interaction. On Site B, he specifically stated that the language was too technical. He also stated that, on particular assignments, he found pop-ups to be annoying.
Intrapersonal. Carlyle described himself as a visual learner, and said that, even if he had printed material read to him, he would need the text in front of him to help his comprehension. He reported some trouble with visual tracking, such as losing his place on the page, but indicated that it happened only when he was fatigued.
Throughout the project, Carlyle was at risk of being dismissed as his assignments were always late, and he constantly made promises to turn them in, but didn't follow through. He did not appear to be engaged during the workshops, and seems to have missed important information that was presented. On the LASSI, although his scores on attitude, motivation, and time management increased, they remained below the 50th percentile.
Carlyle's composite score on the LASSI increased 18 points, but only his post-test scores in Selecting Main Ideas and Anxiety were above the 50th percentile. Additional training in study skills and strategies could help Carlyle become a stronger student. Because many of Carlyle's barriers centered around reading comprehension, with more difficulty on longer, more complex texts, solutions proposed for Carlyle included the use of screen reading software. Because a screen reader highlights the words or lines of text while being read, this may be helpful for his reported visual tracking difficulties. A screen reader, however, may not be entirely effective for Carlyle because his auditory processing problems may interfere with his listening comprehension. Because of his auditory processing problems, an audiological evaluation was recommended by the assistive technology evaluator.
Carlyle found the interactivity of a site helpful, and on video viewing, he found that the auditory input helped his comprehension. The addition of interactive components to his assignments may facilitate his learning.
CASE #3: William Gender: Male Age: 20 Ethnicity: Black GPA: 2.5 Institution: 2-year Class Standing: Sophomore Major: Mass Communications
Self Reported Diagnosis
William self-reported a diagnosis of a learning disability that affects his math performance. He also reported diagnoses of dyspraxia and Asperger's Syndrome.
Technology and Internet Assessment
William reported that he owns a computer and has had more than four years computer experience. He has never taken a computer training course. William's TIA pre-test scores placed him at Level 5, which is Low Adult Secondary Education. His post-test score increased by one level, placing him at Level 6, (the highest level) which is High Adult Secondary Education.
William described himself as being computer literate and said that he enjoys computers. Evident in any discussion with William was his high level of computer literacy. In one assignment, he states, "the use of audio was very nice.... It was a bit muffled, but I imagine it was the fact that high fidelity audio is hard over narrow bandwidth." When William encountered difficulties doing his assignments, he usually understood the nature of the problem, and was able to recognize whether it was something he could control. His e-mail comments and feedback indicated a positive attitude about learning new information, especially in the area of computer software.
Technical. No technical barriers were identified.
Design. William's feedback following each assignment indicated that the font size was acceptable for all but three of the twelve assignments, where he found the text to be too small. He agreed that color made the sites attractive.
He found that information was presented clearly, except on Site B, and was easy to follow, except on Sites B and C, which he found hard to understand. He was able to complete all assignments without help, except Site B, which he did not complete. He found pop-up ads to be annoying and distracting.
Intrapersonal. William had trouble with login procedures, and other issues that may have been a result of misunderstanding directions. Perhaps the social cognitive deficits related to Aspergers resulted in his lack of awareness that he was permitted to complete assignments on the weekends, and although as a part of WebCT, emails and group discussions were being held, he wasn't aware of the discussions or even of the fact that there was a discussion component or internal e-mail capability as part of WebCT. Attentional and organizational difficulties may explain his report that he lost his screen reader demo disk. In relation to these problems, William showed some improvement in his concentration score.
He indicated that he has trouble remembering appointments and tasks, and suggested that he needs something that rings to remind him. He also reported that his "illegible handwriting," due to his dyspraxia, often lowers his scores on in-class tests. The results of his assistive technology evaluation indicated that he needed assistance in math, in compensating for poor handwriting, and in social skills related to his diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome. Specifically, he described feeling uncomfortable and awkward in new environments and when talking to other individuals. He said he is shy and will not often approach those with whom he does not have an established relationship, which relates to his ability to self-advocate.
At the conclusion of the project, William stated that he would have liked additional help with social and math skills. The training in self-advocacy, and the opportunity to interact in a small group with other students with learning disabilities seems to have been beneficial. His disability services coordinator commented to one of the instructors, "What have you done to William? He's become a different person." Apparently, William had taken the initiative to seek information regarding scholarships, and was observed talking with other students, which was unusual for him.
Although William reported no difficulties with reading (only with math), he enjoyed using the screen reader. Using the screen reader for his assignments may have aided him in maintaining his attention. It was suggested that William use a personal organizer with an audible or vibrating reminder to help him keep on schedule. Because of his learning disability in math, William would benefit from math accommodations and was referred to another agency to explore assistive technology in this area.
CASE #4: Marcella Gender: Female Age: 25 Ethnicity: White GPA: 2.4 Institution: 4-year Class Standing: Sophomore Major: Biology
Marcella self-reported a diagnosis of a learning disability that affects her reading, written expression, and math. She also reported that she is "deaf" in her right ear, has a diagnosis of ADHD, has test anxiety, and has difficulty with oral expression and listening comprehension.
Technology and Internet Assessment
Marcella reported that she owns a computer, has taken a computer training course, and has more than four years' computer experience. Both Marcella's TIA pre-and post-test scores placed her at Level 5 (the highest level is Level 6), which is Low Adult Secondary Education.
Marcella's strengths include her above-average computer literacy and her enjoyment in using her imagination and creativity. She was persistent even when assignments were difficult. When Marcella encountered technical difficulties in completing her assignments, she usually understood the nature of the problem, and could determine whether it was something she could control.
Technical. Marcella was unable to load the screen reader software on her personal computer. She attributed this to the fact that she did not have enough computer memory.
Design. Marcella generally reported font sizes to be acceptable, except on three assignments where she felt the sizes were too small. She agreed that the colors made the presentations attractive for half of the assignments, but on half the assignments, she found the use of color distracting.
Marcella is included in the group that had difficulty on Sites A and B. She found the information difficult to follow and hard to understand, and was not able to complete the assignments without help.
Intrapersonal. Marcella's difficulties centered mainly around reading comprehension. In her assistive technology evaluation, she reported experiencing difficulty with long and unfamiliar words and struggling with long passages of text. She also had trouble reading the newspaper and menus, describing some of the layouts as being "too busy," making it difficult for her to follow the lines of text. Similarly she had trouble with visual tracking and experienced fatigue when reading black text on a white background. Although she described herself as having a "photographic" memory, she indicated that information gets "mixed-up" when she is expected to remember a large amount of data.
These problems directly impact Marcella's ability to read electronic information. Coupled with an underlying language processing problem described in her assistive technology evaluation report, her performance may be impacted in all academic areas.
The assistive technology evaluator recommended a number of technologies for Marcella, including a screen reader, which she had not used before. She found that the screen reader allowed her to read one time with comprehension, rather than having to re-read several times before comprehending. She reported that the audio input helped her on all her assignments and that the visual plus audio input helped her keep her focus. Because a screen reader highlights the words or lines of text while being read, this may be helpful for her reported visual tracking difficulties.
In addition to the screen reading software, the use of a writing program such as Inspiration, could help her in organizing her thoughts for written assignments. Because of her attentional and language processing problems, she may benefit from the use of an assistive listening device in the classroom and other settings.
As Marcella reported that participating in the study really helped her in coping with her disability, further training in self-advocacy as recommended by the assistive technology evaluator, would be beneficial.
Marcella should seek a speech-language evaluation to determine her language strengths and weaknesses and whether she might benefit from language therapy. The assistive technology evaluator recommended that she receive a full audiological evaluation, including consideration of auditory training.
CASE #5: Joseph Gender: Male Age: 23 Ethnicity: Hispanic GPA: 3.34 Institution: 4-year Research Class Standing: Senior Major: Management
Joseph self-reported a diagnosis of a learning disability that affects his reading and written expression, as well as math.
Technology and Internet Assessment
Joseph reported that he owns a computer, has taken a computer training course, and has more than four years computer experience. Joseph's TIA pre-test scores placed him at Level 5 (the highest level is Level 6), which is Low Adult Secondary Education, Of the 14 students, Joseph is the only student whose post-test score dropped, placing him in Level 4 which is High Intermediate Basic Education.
A review of Joseph's performance and his e-mail comments indicated that he had strengths in his persistence, even when assignments were difficult or tedious. When Joseph encountered technical difficulties, he usually understood the nature of the problem and recognized whether it was something he could control. He was willing to ask for help when needed, and he had a generally positive approach to learning. He commented that "I learned a lot about myself and the LD community." He found the project beneficial enough that he would like his younger brother to be able to participate in the same kind of project. "All the workshops and assignments are going to be beneficial to me the rest of my life."
Technical. No technical barriers were identified.
Design. Text size was acceptable on most assignments, but Joseph reported that it was too small on three assignments. He felt that the colors made the presentation attractive on all assignments except for Site B, where he found the color to be distracting.
Joseph is included in the group that had difficulty on Site A and Site B ("too technical"). He found the information was difficult to follow and hard to understand. For the Site A assignment, he had to ask for help.
Intrapersonal. Joseph indicated difficulty with reading comprehension. He admitted to avoiding reading tasks and often losing interest in long passages of text, especially computer text. He indicated some trouble with visual tracking, confusing lines of text on a page. Pop-ups were distracting, and sometimes too much information on a page was a problem.
Joseph was provided with screen reading software to help with reading decoding and comprehension. Joseph's scores on the LASSI increased considerably in the areas of Attitude, Motivation, and Study Aid Skills, which, combined with the screen reader may result in greater success in completing long reading assignments. The screen reading software includes word prediction and an online dictionary to help with unfamiliar words, and will provide support on his written work as well. Because a screen reader highlights the words or lines of text while being read, this may be helpful for his reported visual tracking difficulties. The use of a hand-held speller will help him when he has written assignments in class. He found that the interactivity of a site enhanced the experience in all cases, so adding visual and audio components should be helpful to his learning and his motivation.
CASE #6: Kristen Gender: Female Age: 36 Ethnicity: White GPA: 4.0 Institution: 4-year Research Class Standing: Post-Baccalaureate Major: Psychology
Kristen self-reported a diagnosis of a learning disability which affects her reading, written expression and math. She reported additional diagnoses of ADHD, CAPD, and Bipolar Disorder.
Technology and Internet Assessment
Kristen reported that she owns a computer, has a Master's degree in computer science, and has had more than four years computer experience. Kristen's TIA pre- and post-test scores placed her at Level 6 (the highest level), which is High Adult Secondary Education. In spite of her initial high level of competency, her post-test composite score increased by 15 points, which indicates that additional training in computer skills was still beneficial.
One of Kristen's strengths was her strong computer skills. She was very committed to the project and provided extensive feedback. She was able to very specifically identify things that helped or deterred her, and when she encountered technical difficulties she understood the nature of the difficulty and was able to determine whether or not it was something she could control. When she reported having problems accessing certain pages, she was able to determine that the problem was with her firewall and additional security level issues.
Technical. No technical barriers were identified.
Design. Kristen felt that font size was acceptable for all assignments. On several of the assignments, when colors were used for the background, she found this to be distracting. Kristen is included in the group that had difficulty on Sites A and B. She found the information hard to understand. Because the language was at such a high level, it was difficult for her to comprehend. Sometimes she felt that too much information was presented on a page. She was pleased that the information on Site C was presented in clear language. She reported that sometimes web pages had so many hyperlinks that navigating became difficult. "I have the tendency to repeat areas that I have already covered."
After viewing sites with audio clips, Kristen suggested that interaction in the form of audio clips would have been helpful on other sites. Although she made positive comments about interaction, she also felt that improvements were needed. For example, she suggested that the on-line frog dissection should have a video that shows the dissection from start to finish. "It helps for me to have the whole picture before I break it down in to parts. I can't always connect the parts as they are being presented. It would have helped to have a diagram that could be printed to follow along."
Intrapersonal. A review of Kristen's performance and e-mail comments indicated that her multiple learning disabilities and psychological disabilities interact when accessing electronic information. She wrote, "One thing terrible about my LD is trying to make the intangible tangible. The voicing of words helped tremendously-but print is sometimes more reassuring." She would have liked the sites with extensive reading to have printable versions. She also felt that one assignment (the frog dissection) would have been more meaningful with a printable diagram to follow along, as it would have provided an added dimension to the tutorial. She says, "Dimensions are important to me when learning because they tap into the different ways I process."
To assist Kristen with her reading disability, the use of a screen reader was recommended. It will also help support reading comprehension. After using the software, Kristen felt that having a screen reader made reading easier. She reported that the screen reader "has helped tremendously in school." It allowed her to be much more independent.
A writing program such as Inspiration could facilitate the organization of her written expression, and the use of an assistive listening device might aid her listening comprehension in the classroom and other settings.
CASE #7: Edward Gender: Male Age: 21 Ethnicity: White GPA: 4.0 Institution: 2-year Class Standing: Freshman Major: not known
Edward self-reported a diagnosis of learning disabilities in reading and written expression. No concomitant diagnoses were reported.
Technology and Internet Assessment
Edward reported that he owns a computer and has had three to four years of computer experience. He has also taken a computer training course. Edward's pre- and post-test scores placed him at Level 3 (the highest level is Level 6), which is Low Intermediate Basic Education.
A review of Edward's performance and his feedback on the assignments indicated that he has strengths in his persistence in overcoming many obstacles. He maintained a positive attitude in spite of frustration, and was willing to ask for help from friends when necessary. Although most assignments were difficult for Edward, and he required considerable help and guidance, he reported enjoying learning new information and skills, as well as the opportunity to be creative and imaginative.
Technical. Edward's level of technical knowledge proved to be a barrier. He had difficulty with most assignments; the assignments that were rated as difficult, as well as the interactive assignments that most students enjoyed and understood. Of all the assignments, there were only two on which he did not need help. Problems identified included: he didn't know how to interpret a message such as "the requested activity cannot be found;" he didn't know how to configure his computer to play a video; and he lost his login information, so he was unable to login for the post-test. He reported that he was having trouble accessing a quiz because he didn't know the password, when in fact, no password was needed.
Design. A review of Edward's feedback following each assignment indicated that the font size was acceptable, except on one site, which he reported was too small. Most often, he felt that the colors enhanced the experience.
Edward found information difficult to understand on the assignments that were rated positively for reading comfort (Sites C and D), as well as the ones that were rated negatively (Sites A and B). He found that interaction enhanced all assignments, except on one assignment, where he found the interaction to be distracting.
Intrapersonal. Edward reported having a primary diagnosis of dyslexia and that his difficulties centered mainly around reading comprehension. During the assistive technology evaluation, he said that he experienced difficulty with long and unfamiliar words and struggled with long passages of text. It is easier for him to have information read to him. He had trouble with visual tracking and experienced fatigue when reading black text on a white background. He found it hard to keep up with notes during lectures, and had difficulty organizing his thoughts when writing under time pressure, such as for a test. In keeping with observations regarding Edward's positive attitude, persistence, and efforts to help himself, Edward's pre-and post-scores for Attitude, Time Management, Information Processing, Self-Testing, and Study Aids were well above the 50th percentile.
Screen reading software was recommended and provided for Edward. Because a screen reader highlights the words or lines of text while being read, this may be helpful for his reported visual tracking difficulties and well as his reading deficits. Edward found the software very helpful. For example, he reported that he got on A on his history report, because he was able to do all of his research online with the help of his screen reader.
An AlphaSmart 3000 portable keyboard to use in taking notes in class was recommended. Edward would also benefit from more computer training and additional strategy training in using Internet resources. Participation in this workshop improved his computer skills and lessened his frustration, and he reported enjoyment in learning new information. Additional work in self-advocacy would help Edward be more confident in his abilities, and more comfortable requesting necessary accommodations. The addition of audio and video components to his assignments would be beneficial for Edward.
CASE #8: Anne Gender: Female Age: 26 Ethnicity: Multiracial GPA: 2.44 Institution: 2-year Class Standing: Sophomore Major: Art
Anne self-reported a diagnosis of learning disabilities impacting math, reading, and written expression. She reported no concomitant diagnoses.
Technology and Internet Assessment
Anne reported that she owns a computer and has one to two years of computer experience. She has taken a computer training course. Anne's pre-test TIA scores placed her at Level 2 (the highest level is Level 6), which is Beginning Basic Education. Anne's post-test score increased by one level, placing her at Level 3, which is Low Intermediate Basic Education. All of her post-test subscale scores demonstrated improvement, particularly her Acquisition of Technical Knowledge score which increased from 25 to 60.
A review of Anne's performance and her e-mail comments indicated strengths in interpersonal skills, and a willingness to ask for help. She was very eager to learn, although many assignments were difficult for her.
Technical. Many of Anne's barriers related to her lack of technical knowledge. Because of her low level of computer literacy, she was usually not able to determine when technical difficulties she encountered were outside her control. She thought that she needed help on the WebCT tutorial because she received a message saying that there was an error with the tutorial and to try again later.
Design. She had difficulty when she was required to read long assignments, particularly if there was a lot of information on a page. She indicated that numerous sites had too much information on the page, so she seemed more bothered by this than most students. She was a part of the group that had difficulty on Sites A and B. She required only a little help on Sites C and D, and a lot of help on Sites A and B, and another site with extensive reading.
Intrapersonal. Anne's composite score on the LASSI increased 40 points. Specifically, her level of motivation increased from the first percentile to the 35th percentile, perhaps reflecting her success in improving her technical skills, as demonstrated on the TIA, and her success in using a screen reader.
The assistive technology evaluator described Anne as very open and willing to answer questions. He reported that Anne was worried about not being able to complete the necessary course work at her school due to her disability. She would like to improve her web research skills as well as her reading, writing, and math skills. She reported having a short attention span and being easily distracted. Her attention span affects her learning as she becomes bored and often loses interest in her studies. She became very frustrated when she encountered obstacles and reported crying at times. She reported difficulty in expressing her thoughts to others.
Anne reported to the assistive technology evaluator that she had a diagnosis relating to anxiety and depression, which was affecting her reading and math skills. Her academic difficulties center around reading comprehension, as well as word recognition and phonics. She experiences difficulty with long and unfamiliar words and struggles with long passages of text. She indicated that she has trouble with visual tracking and experiences fatigue when reading black text on a white background. She often must re-read passages in order to comprehend, and has others assist with her reading assignments.
Anne made very significant gains in study skills and strategies; additional training would help Anne become a stronger student. Additional work in self-advocacy could improve her confidence in her abilities, and her willingness to request necessary accommodations. Specific training in computer skills and Internet research would benefit her and probably reduce her frustration when she encounters barriers.
A screen reader was recommended and provided for Anne. She found that this made reading easier. Because a screen reader highlights the words or lines of text while being read, it may be helpful for her reported visual tracking difficulties. The use of a hand-held speller and a PDA were also recommended by the assistive technology evaluator.
In addition to the screen reading software, the use of a writing program, such as Inspiration, could help her in organizing her thoughts for written assignments. Anne appears to have language-processing problems that are impacting her academic performance in all areas. She should seek a speech-language evaluation to determine her language strengths and weaknesses and whether she might benefit from language therapy.
CASE #9: Heidi Gender: Female Age: 27 Ethnicity: White GPA: 3.7 Institution: 4-year Research Class Standing: Post-Baccalaureate Major: Psychology
Heidi self-reported learning disabilities in math, reading, and written expression. She reported a concomitant diagnosis of ADHD.
Technology and Internet Assessment
Heidi reported that she owns a computer and has more than four years of computer experience. She has never taken a computer training course. Heidi's pre-test scores placed her at Level 2 (the highest level is Level 6), which is Beginning Basic Education, Heidi's post-test score increased by one level, placing her at Level 3, which is Low Intermediate Basic Education.
A review of Heidi's performance and e-mail comments indicated that she had strengths in her willingness to provide us with extensive feedback about her experience with the assignments. She was able to ask for help when she needed it.
Technical. Many of Heidi's difficulties were related to her lack of technical knowledge and experience. For example, she didn't understand the difference between email and a discussion group within the WebCT environment. She initially had a difficult time posting messages and said, "I have a serious problem organizing things in my head that I can't manipulate physically or make a list/drawing of so that I can see it."
She wasn't able to login for the post-test because she didn't have her password and student numbers. In the WebCT tutorial, she could not access all of the training modules. When she asked someone for help, she was still unsuccessful. She then became frustrated. The pages that she was able to access made her anxious because there was so much information on each page. She reported that she has a hard time keeping a lot of information in her head at one time, especially when she has to apply and use the information.
Design. Three sites had too much information on each page. On Site C, she reported reading and understanding almost simultaneously because the information was presented in short pieces, and she wasn't as overwhelmed as she typically is. She was pleased that the site was designed with people with disabilities in mind. It was easy for her to follow and it didn't make her "feel stupid." On one assignment with interaction and extensive reading, waiting for a page to download made things disjointed, and she was easily distracted. She found it easier to read blue text on Site B, rather than the usual black. She didn't like Site A, in part because she couldn't get a "good feel" for where she was on the site. It was her opinion that audio input on Site A in addition to the visual would have helped her comprehension and attention.
Intrapersonal. Heidi's score on Anxiety on the LASSI remained very low, indicating that she needs to develop techniques to cope with anxiety regarding academic work, so that attention can be focused on the task at hand. Heidi stated, on one assignment, that when she was able to calm down and read the information, she found that it was not as bad as she had feared.
The assistive technology evaluator described Heidi as being open and willing to answer questions. He stated that Heidi described herself as an adequate reader, but lengthy text passages and computer text, which are common requirements in her course of study, caused her the most difficulty. She indicated having trouble with visual tracking and would commonly lose her place on a text page if she did not use a device to keep her place. She indicated that it would be helpful to have material read to her, but that she would also need to have the information in front of her to really absorb the meaning. She said that she has trouble with higher order math, and has found tutoring to be helpful, as well as using a graphing calculator and graphic representations of abstract ideas. Her ability to take notes is limited by a painful shoulder.
Heidi was given screen reading software, which she initially liked and stated that she would continue to use. Because a screen reader highlights the words or lines of text while being read, it may be helpful for her reported visual tracking difficulties. Her lack of technical expertise, however, was a limiting factor in that she later reported that she was having problems with her screen reader, and determined that, if it were to constantly give her problems, it might be more trouble than it was worth. So, her lack of technical knowledge and experience could prevent her from using an assistive technology solution that could be helpful to her. Training to increase her technical skills would assist in overcoming this obstacle.
CASE #10: Harold Gender: Male Age: 35 Ethnicity: White GPA: 2.3 Institution: 4-year Class Standing: Junior Major: History
Self Reported Diagnosis
Harold's self-reported diagnosis was a learning disability that affects his reading and written expression and his math reasoning. He also reported a diagnosis of ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type.
Technology and Internet Assessment
Harold reported that he owns a computer. He has taken a computer training course, and has more than four years computer experience. His pre-test scores on the TIA placed him at Level 4 (the highest level is Level 6), which is High Intermediate Basic Education. His post-test score increased by 35 points placing him at Level 5, Low Adult Secondary Education.
A review of Harold's performance and e-mail communication indicated that he had strengths in his persistence and in his willingness to ask for help. When Harold encountered technical difficulties, he usually understood the nature of the problem, and he also was able to recognize whether it was something that he could or could not control.
Technical. No technical barriers were identified.
Design. For Harold, font sizes were usually acceptable. He reported that information was presented clearly, and was easy for him to follow, except on the Site A assignment, which he needed help to complete. On most assignments, Harold had difficulty with the white background because he prefers a black background. (See Intrapersonal.)
Intrapersonal. For Harold, a variety of intrapersonal issues were identified. Harold reported difficulty with reading comprehension and speed. During his assistive technology evaluation, he said that he experienced difficulty with long and unfamiliar words and struggled with long passages of text. Therefore, on the heavy reading assignments, he stated that they were too long, and difficult to understand. He had trouble with visual tracking and experienced fatigue when reading black text on a white background.
Perhaps because of attention and memory problems, Harold sometimes had difficulty keeping his place in a site. He couldn't tell if he had been to a specific place or not. He wanted the website to highlight places he had visited previously, so he could recognize them as completed. For sites that required a log in, it was easiest for Harold to be able to cut the password from somewhere, and paste it to the website. It was hard for him to remember his password and type it in correctly.
Screen reading software was recommended and provided for Harold. It should enable him to complete reading assignments more quickly, and support reading comprehension, word recognition, and defining unfamiliar words. Because a screen reader highlights the words or lines of text while being read, it may be helpful for his reported visual tracking difficulties. Harold did find that using the screen reader on reading assignments made the assignments easier to read. He was encouraged to explore some of the standard settings on the computer in the accessibility features. For example, he may experience less fatigue if he changes the contrast of the display to white on black or another combination. There are Microsoft Word templates that could be used to provide structure for written assignments, or he could use a program such as Inspiration. The use of an AlphaSmart 3000 portable writing keyboard could help him take notes in class. A PDA and digital recorder would help him remember tasks and stay on schedule.
CASE #11: Cherell Gender: Female Age: 19 Ethnicity: White GPA: 3.3 Institution: 4-year Class Standing: Sophomore Major: Music
Cherell self-reported learning disabilities impacting reading and written expression. She reported concomitant diagnoses of ADD and test anxiety.
Technology and Internet Assessment
Cherell reported that she owns a computer, has also taken a computer training course, and has more than four years of computer experience. Cherell's score moved from Level 3 to Level 4 on the TIA, which is High Intermediate Basic Education.
A review of Cherell's performance and her feedback following assignments indicated that Cherell was willing to ask for help. On the TIA, she demonstrated the ability to gain new technical knowledge. Although she said that she dislikes science, she found that the on-screen dissection made it more interesting. She has better than average typing skills.
Technical. Many of Cherell's problems related to her lack of technical knowledge. She didn't understand how to e-mail the results of a computer assignment to the instructor. When websites had a message that they weren't in working order, she didn't understand what that meant and thought it was her error. She had problems logging in on most assignments. A problem outside her control was that a block on dorm computers prevented her from watching any videos. She had to go to a campus lab for video assignments.
Design. Cherell found the font size acceptable on five of the twelve assignments; on the others she felt it was too small. On four of the assignments, she reported that the colors were distracting and made it hard to read. On Sites A and B, she said that the information was hard to understand, and there was too much information presented on one page. She was unable to complete either of the site assignments, even with assistance.
Intrapersonal. Problems related to her learning disability and personal characteristics were that she "despises reading, and does as little reading as possible." She claimed that assignments with lots of information and detail made her tired, and made her eyes hurt. Technical words were confusing to her. Her comments regarding the Site B assignment, which she couldn't finish, were that she "didn't understand a word," because "it was like reading a different language." She found it "too tedious." For Site A, she said she completed the tutorial, but then didn't seem to understand the research assignment, which required the application of the knowledge acquired in the tutorial.
The assistive technology evaluator said that Cherell reported she often does not comprehend what she reads. She indicated some trouble with visual tracking and loses her place on the page. She has difficulty with spelling, and has trouble organizing her thought and activities. She finds it hard to keep up with notes in class.
A screen reader was recommended and provided for Cherell, which she found helped with comprehension. Because a screen reader highlights the words or lines of text while being read, it may be helpful for her reported visual tracking difficulties. She should explore some of the standard settings on the computer in the accessibility features. For example, she may experience less fatigue if she changes the contrast of the display to make colors less distracting. There are Microsoft Word templates that could be used to provide structure for written assignments, or she could use a program such as Inspiration which includes word prediction to help with spelling, and organizing her thoughts. A hand-held speller will be useful for in-class writing assignments. An AlphaSmart 3000 keyboard could help her take notes in class.
CASE #12: Thomas Gender: Male Age: 26 Ethnicity: White GPA: 3.6 Institution: 4-year Research Class Standing: Senior Major: not known
Thomas self-reported learning disabilities in math, reading, and written expression. He reported no concomitant diagnoses.
Technology and Internet Assessment
Thomas reported that he owns a computer and has more than four years of computer experience. He has never taken a computer training course. Thomas's scores on the TIA increased from Level 2 to Level 4 (Level 6 is the highest.)
Thomas demonstrated insight into his difficulties, and enjoyed being creative. He reported that he liked being a part of the project, and particularly enjoyed meeting people with similar problems and the LD professionals leading the workshops.
Technical. Thomas required the assistance of a friend to configure his computer in order to present videos.
Design. On three of the extensive reading assignments, Thomas reported that the information was hard to understand and difficult to follow, with too much information being presented on one page. He needed help on Site B, because he found the language too technical. He enjoyed the interactive aspects of assignments.
Intrapersonal. Thomas felt that the language on some assignments was like a foreign language, and made him feel like he was "back in France." He said he loved the Arrange A Room assignment, because he'd always wanted to design things in a particular order but couldn't. He reported that "I don't have mental images in my mind's eye. Most people can do that task in their mind, but I can't."
Screen reading software was recommended and provided for Thomas, which he reported was very helpful. Given his difficulties with written expression, a program such as Inspiration, which includes word prediction and organizing tools, should be useful. Textbooks on tape and/or a scanner and a tape recorder and/or a note taker in classes would be appropriate accommodations given his diagnosis. The use of an Alphasmart 3000 keyboard would be useful in taking notes in class.
Because Thomas says he "sees nothing" (no mental images) when he reads, he might benefit from language therapy, using a therapy approach, such as "Visualizing and Verbalizing."
CASE #13: Marcus Gender: Male Age: 19 Ethnicity: White GPA: 3.75 Institution: 4-year Class Standing: Freshman Major: not known
Marcus self-reported learning disabilities impacting reading and written expression. He reported no concomitant diagnoses.
Technology and Internet Assessment
Marcus reported that he owns a computer and has more than four years of computer experience. He has never taken a computer training course. Marcus's pre- and post-test scores placed him at Level 4 (the highest level is Level 6), which is High Intermediate Basic Education.
Technical. Marcus is very proficient in his use of a computer and feels very comfortable using it. When he had computer-related problems, such as an incomplete web address or a message that a pdf file was unavailable, he understood the nature of the problem and was able to correct it. Marcus demonstrated confidence in his computer skills, although he was only at a Level 4 and did not improve his scores. He was able to complete assignments and solve problems independently. He reported that most of the assignments were easy, and he thought a number of the interactive assignments were fun.
Design. Based on Marcus's feedback on the assignments, text size was acceptable on all assignments. He reported that color did not make any difference to him, except when viewing the video and on another site, where he said the color made the presentations attractive and easy to read. He found the information on all assignments was presented clearly using words that he could understand, and all information presented was easy to follow, except for Site B where he reported there was too much information on a page. He complained that Sites B and C had too much reading. He completed all assignments without asking for help.
Intrapersonal. Marcus reported problems when assignments required a great deal of reading. During the assistive technology evaluation, Marcus stated that he would like to improve his reading and writing. Although he did not report a diagnosis of ADHD, he stated that his attention span did affect his learning. He becomes distracted easily and has trouble remembering information. He noted that interaction helped to keep his attention.
His problems reportedly center mainly on reading comprehension. He experiences difficulty with long and unfamiliar words and struggles with long passages of text. He has trouble reading the newspaper, and avoids reading for the most part. He often re-reads passages and has others assist in his reading assignments.
The use of screen reading software was proposed as a solution to some of Marcus' reading difficulties. He found that, in general, the screen reading software was useful, but it was not successful in reading equations. The screen reading software he was given includes voice recognition and word prediction capabilities, which also support him in doing written work. If this is not sufficient, he might find that a written expression program such as Inspiration would be helpful.
CASE #14: Beverly Gender: Female Age: 20 Ethnicity: White GPA: 3.1 Institution: 4-year Class Standing: Junior Major: Early Childhood Education
Beverly's self-reported diagnosis was a learning disability that moderately affects her reading. She also reported a diagnosis ADHD.
Technology and Internet Assessment
Beverly reported that she owns a computer and has more than four years computer experience. She has also taken a computer training course. Beverly's TIA composite score increased from Level 4 to Level 5, which is Low Adult Secondary Education.
When Beverly encountered a computer problem, she usually understood the nature of the problem and was able to determine whether it was
something she could correct. Beverly showed strength in her technical knowledge, and in her ability to increase that knowledge. She reported better than average typing ability. In the self-advocacy site, she realized that "it is very important that you understand what you CAN do, not always focusing on what you CANNOT do." She said that the self-advocacy site helped her understand what she needed to do for herself.
Technical. Although Beverly's test scores placed her at a proficient level, she sometimes was not able to recognize the nature of the problem as she might be expected to, given her level of technical knowledge. For example, when a tutorial would not come up because of an incomplete web address, she was unable to resolve this problem, as other students did. She stated that WebCT at her school had email, and wondered if we could set the email up in our WebCT course. Email was already set up. When using the screen reader software, the rate of speech was erratic, which she blamed on the software. She did not recognize that her computer did not have sufficient memory to allow the software to function properly. Beverly encountered barriers when attempting to access video and other interactive components on the computers in her dorm, and in her school's computer lab, as she was not allowed to download a specific player.
Design. Beverly found the font size to be acceptable on all assignments. She agreed that the colors made the presentations attractive for most of the assignments. On one highly animated and very colorful assignment, Beverly found the colors distracting.
Beverly is included in the group that had difficulty on Sites A and B. She found the information difficult to follow and hard to understand. She needed help on Site B, and was unable to complete Site A. She had eight different windows open, and became disoriented. She felt that the site would have been more helpful with an interactive component, as she is a visual learner. On the sites that stated that they were designed for the population with disabilities, Beverly recognized that the reading was easier for her. She stated, "The assignment was very easy to read. The level of comprehension wasn't too high so that I might become completely lost." "The text was rewritten in a easy way to understand. Usually text is at a high level of reading and I have difficulty comprehending."
Intrapersonal. Beverly's primary problems were in reading comprehension and written expression, particularly spelling. She reported that she was frustrated and felt stupid when trying to take the quizzes after each assignment. On assignments with heavy reading, there was no way to highlight the information she had to read, so she tried taking notes, but that became too time-consuming. Beverly has found that she can read for enjoyment if she chooses mostly children's books. She reported that she is a visual learner, but that she has some difficulty with visual tracking. She enjoyed the interactive components of assignments, and felt that it enhanced her learning.
On the LASSI, Beverly's composite score increased nine points, with her strongest gains being in Concentration, Time Management, and Motivation.
To assist with reading and comprehension, Beverly was provided with screen reading software. Because a screen reader highlights the words or lines of text while being read, it may be helpful for her reported visual tracking difficulties. After using the software, Beverly stated that the "screen reader was immensely helpful!" Because of her difficulty with taking notes in class and with spelling, the use of a hand-held speller for in-class assignments and an AlphaSmart 3000 keyboard would be helpful. Adding interactive components to her assignments may make learning more successful.
Technology and Internet Assessment (TIA) Literacy Levels
Literacy Levels are based on the National Reporting System's (http://www.nrsweb.org/) method of measurement for Adult Basic Education. TIA Literacy Levels are to be used as a guide in assisting students/clients to attain higher levels of computer literacy.
Level 1: Beginning ABE Literacy
Individual has no knowledge of computers or other technology.
Level 2: Beginning Basic Education
Individual has minimal knowledge of and experience with using computers and related technology.
Level 3: Low Intermediate Basic Education
Individual can use simple computer programs and perform a sequence of routine tasks given direction using technology.
Level 4: High Intermediate Basic Education
Individual can learn or work with basic computer software, such as word processing to produce own texts; can follow simple instructions for using technology.
Level 5: Low Adult Secondary Education
Individual is proficient using computers and can use most common computer applications; can understand the impact of using different technologies; can interpret the appropriate use of new software and technology.
Level 6: High Adult Secondary Education
Individual is able to use common software and learn new software applications; can define the purpose of new technology and software and select appropriate technology; can adapt use of software of technology to new situations and can instruct others, in written or oral form on software and technology use.
APPENDIX B Study Design: Research Participants Gender Age LD Diagnosis ADHD Female 19 Reading, written expression X Female 20 Reading X Female 25 Reading, written expression, math X Female 26 Reading, written expression, math Female 27 Math, reading, written expression Female 37 Reading, written expression, math X auditory processing (Bipolar Disorder) Male 19 Reading, written expression Male 20 Math (Asperger's) Male 21 Reading, written expression Male 21 Math, reading, written expression X Male 23 Written expression, math, reading Male 26 Reading, written expression Male 32 Reading comprehension Male 35 Reading, written expression X
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Weinstein, C.E. & Palmer, D.R. (2002). User's Manual: Learning and Study Strategies Inventory, 2nd ed. Clearwater, FL: H&H Publishing Co., Inc.
Lawana Wimberly, M.A. (email@example.com)
Nancy Reed, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mary Morris, Ph.D. (email@example.com)
Regents Center for Learning Disorders at Georgia State University Southeast Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center Georgia Institute of Technology…