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Technology making education more accessible

Amrou Ibrahim reading
Amrou Ibrahim, assistive technology specialist at the Student Disabilities Services Office, uses a camera-equipped tablet to zoom in on a book. Photo: Penn Today

Imagine trying to study geometry without the sense of visual reference math so often asks of its scholars. For people who are blind or have low-vision, this challenge can be frustrating.

Carlos Alfonso Garcia, a freshman from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was diagnosed with retinoblastoma at 6 months old. He is one of seven Penn students with low-vision who are aided by the University’s Office of Student Disabilities Services (SDS) to gain access to and support for assistive technology resources. For Garcia, who is studying economics and political science, the help from an assistive technology specialist in SDS to utilize technology-driven tools has quite literally meant the difference between being able to study math and not.

“I would have had to plan my life out so much further in advance [without the assistive technology tools],” Garcia says.

Garcia uses a combination of screen readers, a refreshable braille display, and a tactile drawing board, which allow him to access course materials more easily than would have been possible even a decade ago. These all are tools that fall under the umbrella of assistive technology—items that improve the daily life of those with a disability—but could be more broadly defined to include technologies like Siri or even spellcheck. Other technology used by students with disabilities includes captioning, dictation software, text-to-speech, electronic magnifiers, large-print keyboards, smart pens, and software that converts musical scores into braille.

Read the full story at Penn Today