Money grants more access

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By Andy Lloyd

Regan Brister was working at a popular Alberta ski resort three years ago when she was run over by a snow groomer on the side of a mountain. After the accident, the 21-year-old was in a coma for two months. When she awoke, doctors told her she had sustained damage to 75 per cent of her brain. She lost the ability to write.

Today, she’s a continuing education student at Ryerson and says that without access to adaptive technologies, education would be impossible for her.

“I can’t write. Dragon Naturally Speaking gives me the gift of the written word,” Brister said, referring to voice recognition software available at the Ryerson Access Centre. ‘Without it I couldn’t be in school.”

Using this software, Brister is able to dictate an essay or a letter completely without using her hands.

“It’s essential for me. I love it. Think about how often the average person writes something down,” she said. “That’s how often I use Dragon.”

Brister considers access to technology like Dragon Naturally Speaking crucial to her ability to attend Ryerson. And now, thanks to a recent grant from the Ontario government, Ryerson will be more accessible to more students with physical and learning disabilities.

Last month, the Ryerson Access Centre received $80,000 from the government’s recently created Enhanced Services Fund.

The Access Centre, which is now used by more than 300 students, will now be able to expand its adaptive technology services.

The centre has hired two- full-time assistive technologists to teach more students with disabilities to read, write and organize their work. It will also be able to offer its services to continuing education students for the first time this year.

Located in the basement of the business building, the Access Centre has a computer lab with six workstations equipped with various programs to help students with their work.

Kurzweil 3000 is another of the Access Centre’s adaptive technologies that scans a document and reads it back to the student. Using voice commands students can highlight and extract key points and add their own notes.

“With Kurzweil, a student can scan assigned readings and use our lab to listen to them,” said Access Centre co-ordinator Tanya Lewis. “It’s a miracle.”

Lewis is a firm believer in the value of the Access Centre’s services.

“We build our buildings and processes based on average expectations of average people. But not everyone is the same,” said Lewis.

“When you walk by a building you see a ramp and you know it’s there so people in wheelchairs can get in. We’re building ramps to let people into the system all the time, they’re just not ramps you can see.”

In addition to its adaptive technologies, the Ryerson Access Centre provides a wide range of other services. These include private exam spaces, note takers and scribes, sign language interpreters, strategic tutoring and schedule modifications.

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