DSS Faculty Guide: Assistive Technology Services


Assistive technology is the use of technology to provide equal access to information.  DSS offers students with disabilities the opportunity to use computers and technology to allow for the completion of tasks that are impacted by their disability.

ATS services include:

  • Accessible computer workstations
  • Adaptive software & equipment
  • Alternative format materials
  • Audio books
  • Equipment loan

Although most of the adaptive technology made available to students is used outside of the classroom setting, there are a few technologies that may require an instructor's participation or awareness.

Some examples are:

FM System

This device is used by students with hearing impairments. It is made up of a transmitter (microphone with a battery pack) worn by the instructor, and a receiver (headset or FM loop attached to a battery pack) worn by the student.  The auditory signal is transmitted wirelessly using an FM frequency. Since the device amplifies only the instructor's voice, the hearing impaired student may ask that the instructor repeat any questions asked by other students in the room.  For discussion based classes the student may need to pass around the transmitter with a handheld microphone attachment or use a conference table adapter.

Captioning/Transcribing Class Lectures & Discussions

Students who are deaf or have a severe hearing impairment may not be able to hear the content being presented, or discussed, in class.  Sometimes a sign language interpreter is not an option and as an alternative captioning may be used to allow the student to be able to follow the audio content of the class.

The captionist will meet the student in the classroom.  They will set up two laptops or a machine that has a stenographer keyboard and a display screen that the student can view.  Essentially the captionist will do a live transcription/summary of what is being said in the classroom (similar to the closed-captions you may see on TV).

The student and captionist may need to sit in a specific location to be close to power outlets and so the student can view the display and follow along with the presentation.  If the student has the instructor's permission, the captionist can save the transcript and provide a copy to the student to help them supplement their notes.

In certain situations the transcriptionist may not be able to be in the classroom and a remote-set-up (a microphone will transmit the lecture to a transcriptionist at a remote location for live transcription via the internet) or recording of the lecture will be made that will be transcribed at a later time.

Conversion of Reading Materials and Exams to Alternative Formats

Students with various disabilities, including learning disabilities, visual impairments, limited motor skills, and processing disorders may rely on being able to obtain their material in alternative formats to be able to access the information. Alternative formats include but are not limited to: audio books, large print, Braille, and electronic text with text-to-speech software.

The ATS staff works with each student directly to determine if their textbooks are available in an appropriate format or if they need to be processed from scratch. ATS staff handles approximately 350 requests and typically converts about 100 new textbooks and a variety of other materials from scratch into an electronic format each semester.

The student or an ATS staff member may contact you prior to the beginning of the semester to verify the list of required readings in order for our office to begin the process of obtaining or converting materials into alternative formats.  It is helpful if instructors can make their required reading lists available at least 30 days prior to the start of the semester to help facilitate this process.  Additional time may be required for Braille or specialized formats.

During the semester instructors may be asked to submit their exams and any supplemental materials handed out in class (or made available on a course website) to ATS for conversion to alternative format. When possible, electronic versions (PDF, Word, etc.) are preferred over hard copies.

The alternative format conversion process can be tedious and time consuming.  Students are encouraged to work with their instructors to identify the reading materials they need at least 30 days prior to the date the items are needed (additional time is needed for Braille conversion).  Instructors may be asked to submit exams up to 2 weeks in advance of the exam dates to allow staff time to complete the conversion process.

Other AT examples an instructor may see being used in class include:

Braille Notetaker

This device looks much like a small laptop computer. It is used by students with visual impairments to take notes by typing them and later converting the notes into Braille or audio format.

Optical Devices

Students that are low vision may use a variety of optical equipment or devices to facilitate their ability to read standard print handouts or to view items at the front of the room (overhead, board).  A student may ask for preferential seating or lighting adjustments to improve visibility with their equipment.

Some examples of optical devices include:

  • Monoculars - hand held telescopes that allow a student to see better at a distance
  • Portable Video Magnifiers - consists of a camera and a screen (or a cable that links to a computer screen) that enlarges items on a table top.  Some models also allow enlargement of items at a distance.
  • Prism glasses/optics - attachments to standard glasses to improve long distance visibility
  • Handheld magnifiers

Adaptive Software & Hardware in Computer Lab classes

Some students may require the use of adaptive software or hardware to be able to access computer workstations during computer lab classes or to gain access to the computer based content and facilitate interaction with the computer workstation.

If a student needs access to special software or hardware, the ATS staff will need to coordinate with the computer lab manager to obtain, install and test the software and or hardware as soon as possible to ensure the student has access.

  • Many Open Access Lab classrooms already have computers available that have adaptive software available and are wheelchair accessible.
  • Labs hosted by specific departments may need to obtain the appropriate software, equipment or may need to modify the room layout to make their labs accessible.  ATS staff will consult with departmental lab staff to make these arrangements.

Web Accessibility for Course Websites

Course websites may need to be modified to ensure accessibility, or some content may need to be presented in an alternative format if not accessible by the student with the adaptive software or hardware.