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Technology costs hinder program's ability to aid students

December 14, 2006

As technology continues to improve, the price tags on items such as computers, software and devices grow, forcing services at UW-River Falls to slowly become dated.

One campus department that often feels the brunt of innovation is Disabilities Services, which accommodates students with proper housing, parking and classroom assistance — like books on compact disc — for those who have proper documentation proving they qualify for the service, said Disability Services Coordinator Mark Johnson.

The department has now been forced to find ways to efficiently keep up with the world.

“We work with students and their classes,” he said. “Technology has really changed; it is hard to keep up with everything.”

He said the largest and continuously growing part of the department textbooks recorded onto CDs. In the past, a student would read the text into a tape recorder, but the equipment previously used has not been able to stand the test of time. Now, students use digital recorders, which are much smaller in size and have computer-download capabilities, making the process require less time and effort.

The new equipment, however, has not alleviated stress from the cost of the amounting equipment needed for the entire process to work, Johnson said.

When a student requests a book or reading material on CD, Disability Services staff contact a non-profit company, Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic, to see if a copy is available for the department to purchase.

“If they have it, it is normally an encrypted CD for copyright reasons,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t work in any car stereo, stereo or computer. You need a special player that costs about $200.”

Yet the department doesn’t have the budget to pay for these players, he said.

On top of the $200, another cost of $85 is needed for special software to play the actual CD on a computer.

“I need at least two dozen for all my staff,” Johnson said. “But what is nice about these players — it gives you eight hours of crystal clear sound.”

So the department now works with simple digital recorders that student employees record texts into. When a student is finished, they drop off the recorder and another staff member works with computer programs to edit and burn the audio to a CD, Johnson said.

“The entire process is very cumbersome,” Johnson said. “The software we have now doesn’t allow much editing at all.”

Student Sarah Michaelson, who has worked in Disability Services since September, said she does all the editing, burning and converting of the audio and other office tasks, like copying lecture notes and filing requests forms.

“We’re trying to get everything switched over so [students] can easily play [CDs] on their computers or stereos,” she said. “It’s been a learning experience.”
The process to get students textbooks on CDs has been trial and error.

“We’re always changing the way we do things to make it the best we can for the students,” Johnson said. “Some CDs turn out really good, but others don’t, causing more problems to occur.”

Getting students to effectively communicate with professors about their required reading material for a class is another problem the department faces when it comes to making CDs available in a timely manner, Johnson said.

“Sometimes professors aren’t proactive with a good timeline when material is required to be read in a class,” he said. “We put the student in the middle - we like to hold them responsible for any changes. We know professors are very busy people.”

Students are responsible for filling out the paperwork for Disability Services in a timeframe that works for everyone in the process.
Johnson said five days is the minimum amount of time his staff needs to get the process finished.

“We can’t foresee a problem until it occurs, so we try to plan out long in advance,” Johnson said. “If we get ahead, it is fine, but if we get behind, we can’t do it. We can’t tell on our own if something not going right.”

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