SASS launches assistive technology pilot program
Clara Lopes, Student Access Support specialist at Mills, is initiating a new program at Student Access and Support Services (SASS) this semester, aimed at providing alternate options for students who use notetakers, scribes or readers as a part of their accommodations.
SASS is encouraging students who might normally request notetakers, scribes or readers through the school to enroll in the program. The students who enroll will be provided with apps such as Voice Dream, AudioNote and Dragon Anywhere to record lectures and to dictate and read course materials in place of student employees. Students will then participate in weekly meetings and surveys to gauge the effectiveness of the programs.
“The idea is to supplement the notetaker program and the reader program with assistive technology,” Lopes said. “It’s going to be an experiment.”
Lopes defines assistive technology as any systems which help to organize class materials or increase stamina while doing an academic task.
“It’s not going to totally replace the note taking program, but we would like to supplement it because currently the note taking program is financially very costly,” Lopes said. “It’s not very sustainable for the college and it’s also been not the best for students.”
Senior creative writing student Phaeton Gordon has been using note takers to provide him with notes for most of his time at Mills, and his experience with the note taking program has been mixed.
“There’s things that definitely need to be improved upon,” Gordon said. “A lot of the notetakers I’ve had have been not so helpful, but I’ve had one or two that have been great.”
Both Lopes and Gordon cite problems with the reliability and quality of notetakers as a big problem with SASS’s current system.
Lopes says that this new program will give students with disabilities the chance to be more independent, and give them a larger set of options for their accommodations.
“The idea is not to abandon people and make them record giant chunks of audio, but maybe we would have more executive functioning skills workshops to go hand in hand with these apps for students who could use that support,” Lopes said. “We want to bolster the overall support.”
If well received by students in the pilot program, SASS Administrative Assistant and Mills alumna Luwam Arefaine thinks that assistive technology could be implemented more widely among students with accommodations as early as next semester, but Lopes says that a complete transition could take up to a year. If assistive technology is implemented on a broader scale for Mills students with accommodations following this pilot program, the hope is to have the technology work alongside student employees, rather than replacing them entirely.
“We wouldn’t just cut off notetakers,” Arefaine said. “So if the student prefers to have a notetaker, then they can, but if they prefer to have the assistive tech, then that should be available to them as well.”
Though Gordon voiced uncertainty that apps alone would be able to meet the needs of most students with a notetaker accommodation, he is open to giving a chance to the new push toward assistive technology.
“I know that a lot of people just want the basic concept of what the teacher is saying, rather than a word for word transcription,” Gordon said. “I would want to give it a shot, but I’m not sure if it would be helpful or not.”
The program will be accepting participants until Feb. 2 and all participants will receive a $20 stipend on their swipe card or print account. Students with a notetaker, scribe or reader accommodation can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to join.