CSUN Keeps Improving
By John M. Williams
Like Champion red wines, the 20 th Annual Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference presented by the Center on Disabilities at California State University at Northridge improves with age.
Two decades of conference sessions and the assistive technologies on exhibit meld to produce a conference of relevance and impact to the attendees and exhibitors. The attendees with disabilities sense the important of this conference in their lives.
Using her augmentative communications device, Jennifer Thompson told me, “The conference covers issues relating to information access in all facets of life dealing with education and employment.”
The products benefit individuals who are either blind or legally blind, learning disabled, cognitively or intellectually disabled, visual and reading challenged, speech challenged and individuals who have mobility challenges and can not use the standard keyboard.
The variety of products surprised first time visitors.
“As I wander through these exhibit rooms, I understand how these are necessary survival tools to people with disabilities who want to achieve independence and raise their quality of life,” Amos Stanton told me. He has a teenage son with Cerebral Palsy who was having a field day testing every augmentative communications device he could.
Watching his son test the products you saw the joy in his eyes and the grins expand as he tested DynaVox's new digitized speech output solutions with color dynamic display scenes.
Twenty-two-year old Denise Thompson was impressed by the University of Washington's D0-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internet working and Technology) program to increase the participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs and careers.
“I never though I could be a teacher, but now I am inspired,” Thompson enthusiastically said as she placed reading materials in her bag attached to her wheelchair. Thompson is also visually impaired.
Many people believe the leadership provided by corporate giants such as Hewlett Packard, Canon, IBM, Microsoft, Adobe, Bank of America, Kurzweil and Sun Microsystems, Inc. increases the time when assistive technologies will be mainstreamed.
Bank of America, for example, provides accessible banking through a talking ATM, has an accessible web site and provides other accessible banking services. Why?
“Accessible banking services is a sound business practice,” says Annette Kellermann, Bank of America.
Adobe's authorizing software and tools make electronic information accessible by working with conventional assistive technology, creating accessible content and creating accessible Adobe PDF files and forms.
Canon's accessible and universally designed imaging products create machines without barriers to people with disabilities.
IBM demonstrated its Home Page Reader and other accessible tools that enhance careers for people with disabilities.
HP showed its total commitment to accessibility for people with disabilities and age related impairments is real through a series of products highlighting accessible features of desktops, notebooks, Pocket PC's, printers, scanners, and alternative keyboards.
Sun Microsystems provides accessibility support for users and developers. The JAVA Desktop System ships with assistive technologies plus a full suite of desktop applications.
“Kurzweil Educational Systems is definitely an industry leader and innovator of reading, writing and learning solutions for individuals with learning disabilities,” said Henry Fox, an accountant for a Los Angeles investment firm. He is learning disabled and is considering buying a Kurzweil product. It was his first visit to CSUN, but he says it will be his last.
Microsoft provides leadership in so many ways at CSUN. It sponsors events. It encourages the development of AT products through partnerships with AT vendors. Its staff discusses accessibility issues.
The attendees believe
The sessions dealt with issues, mostly communications, confronting people with disabilities. For example, “Autism and Behavioral Support” explored a variety of software programs designed to augment autism intervention programs.
Another session covered “Mobile Accessibility of a Web-Based Communication Aid for Graphic Symbol Users.”
“Towards an Inclusive Global Community: Adult with Developmental Disabilities Go Online” outlined the TechAbility project that is introducing adults with developmental disabilities to Internet-based information and communication technology.
For outdoor lovers, there was “Open Doors Approach to Job Accommodation.” Open Doors is a program designed to cultivate relationships with employers to expand their employment pool by including individuals with vision impairments. The program provides solutions to accommodations through job analysis and a range of access technologies and strategies.
How effective was the “Open Doors….” Session? “Jane Strayden says, “I learned solid approaches to my boss on employing more people with disabilities.”
Hundreds of conference sessions were held for the more than 4,400 attendees. The sessions were packed. The professions of the attendees were rehabilitation professionals, teachers and special education teacher teachers, writers, advocates, federal, state and local policy disability makers, human resource managers from the public and private sectors, lawyers and people with disabilities.
While CSUN's Director of the Center on Disabilities Dr. Mary Ann Cummins Prager is pleased with the attendees and exhibitors, for future conferences she is determined to include age related technology and sessions focused on an aging population.
“We must address the needs of our aging population and I want to see CSUN do it,” Prager said.
She wants to attract more African Americans, Asian and Hispanic Americans, Native Americans and public and private sector employees.