Assistive Technology in Higher Education

Assistive Technology in Higher Education

Susan B. Asselin (Virginia Tech, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4422-9.ch062
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Assistive technology makes a task possible for an individual with a disability, while technology makes a task easier for a non-disabled person. Increasing enrollments of students with disabilities have challenged our institutions to provide opportunities to participate in higher education by having access to assistive technologies and universally designed instruction. Provision of accessible learning environments is a shared responsibility between disability services, information technology, and faculty. College students find themselves in an environment where they encounter negative attitudes and a need to self advocate for critical support services to insure access to learning. Recent trends hold promise for removing these barriers including universal design in instruction, mandated web accessibility, multiple technologies for e-learning, universal accessibility of learning tools, and opportunities for professional development of faculty and staff.
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Colleges and universities are serving an increasing number of diverse students, including learners with disabilities. An estimated 11% of undergraduate and 7% of graduate students attending college report having a disability. The largest enrollments are among students with learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders and returning veterans with newly diagnosed disabilities. Of these students, 21.9% had mental illness or related disorders, 25.4% had physical disabilities, 17.3% had health impairments, 11% had attention deficit disorder, 7.5% had a learning disability, 5% had hearing impairments, 3.8% had visual impairments and 7.8% were listed as other disabilities (National Center for Education Statistics, 2008). In the past, higher education served primarily individuals with sensory or mobility needs, however these data represent a student population with a wider range of disabilities, many who have “hidden” or cognitive disabilities (Horn & Berktold, 1999).

The Government Accountability Office (2009) reported an increasing number of students with autism, medical conditions and returning veterans with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorders and mobility impairments. Another population expected to grow will be students with intellectual disabilities seeking a non-degree program focusing on life and functional skills. Growing numbers of students with invisible learning disabilities led to a focus on individual learner strengths and compensation for limitations (Scherer, Sax, Vanbiervleit, Cushman & Scherer, 2005; Peterson-Karlan & Parette, 2005). The introduction of accommodations that focus on characteristics is a more person centered approach since regardless of diagnostic labels, individuals with disabilities may experience other limitations, vary in functioning levels, and need different supports across settings.

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