Student Panel Shares Experience with Access, Technology

Ike Brochu and Samantha Tideman, SDS

As a part of MIT’s Open House celebrating 100 years in Cambridge, Student Disabilities Services (SDS) and the Assistive Technology Information Center (ATIC) united to showcase technology used by MIT students with disabilities. A panel of five current and past students with varying barriers to access shared how they have overcome adversity through the use of technology and disability services.

Included in the panel was graduate student David Hayden, who developed and uses technology to help students with low vision. His device mounts on a desk and is used to enlarge classroom whiteboards and project the image onto students’ laptop screens for easier note-taking, allowing them to control the size, contrast, and other visual features of the image. Many students with visual disabilities at MIT and beyond currently benefit from this technology.

Another student panelist was alumnus Ian Smith, who spoke about his journey here at MIT with regard to his hearing loss.

Prior to entering MIT, Ian primarily relied on hearing amplification. Here at MIT, he taught himself sign language and began using Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART), a live-action service that provides captioning. This allowed him to have greater access to information that he was missing through amplification alone.

Other panelists talked about their experiences with autism, anxiety, attention deficit disorder and learning disability, and how they learned to navigate at MIT. Along the way, they’ve used assistive technology to assist them in achieving their goals. This technology ranged from Kurzweil, a literacy software program that converts text into audio, to closed-circuit TV, which helps with text enlargement.

A common theme throughout the discussion was the importance of establishing a strong support network. In addition to using SDS and ATIC, some of the students used Student Support Services and MIT Mental Health Services. Together, these services helped students navigate challenging conversations, work with faculty and staff to gain access to relevant course material, and develop skills to achieve independence in spite of personal barriers.

After the panel, ATIC offered personal demonstrations for attendees, allowing them to use and explore technology available to students. Audience members were thrilled to talk with students and asked detailed questions regarding different services and technology they use.