The University of Washington has been awarded a $3.5 million federal grant to establish a National Center on Accessible Information Technology in Education, to be known as AccessIT. The five-year renewable grant, awarded on a competitive basis, comes from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).
The award is being administered by co-principal investigators Dr. Kurt L. Johnson, associate professor of rehabilitation medicine and director of the Center for Technology and Disability Studies (CTDS) at the UW's Center on Human Development and Disability, and Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler, an assistant director of UW Computing and Communications and director of the UW's DO-IT program (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology). Dagmar Amtmann of CTDS is the assistant director.
"The explosion of information technology has been a double-edged sword," says Johnson. "We now have a wealth of options for acquiring information, but if information technology is not universally accessible, it may shut out people with disabilities."
The Center for Technology and Disability Studies provides training and research on assistive technology for people with disabilities throughout the Pacific Northwest. The DO-IT program offers college and career preparation to students with disabilities as well as training to employers and educators. Although the two programs have collaborated on smaller projects, AccessIT will give them, together, a much expanded mission.
"AccessIT's purpose is to coordinate a nationwide effort to assist educational and governmental institutions to make education-based information technology accessible to all students and employees, including those with disabilities," says Burgstahler. "Educational-based information technology is any technology used by students and employees in educational settings, including computers, software, Web pages, telecommunications, fax machines, copiers, printers, kiosks, and other equipment."
"As far as we have come with advances in computing, Internet access, telecommunications and other forms of information technology," said Johnson, "these advances are not available to everyone, particularly people with disabilities who may be unable to read or see displayed information, hear or respond to spoken prompts, or use such devices as a keyboard or computer mouse."
The new center's focus is broad, extending from K-12 schools through universities and other postsecondary educational institutions. AccessIT provides training and technical assistance, working primarily through the national network of 10 NIDRR-funded Disability Business Technical Assistance Centers, established in response to mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
AccessIT's audience includes policymakers, teachers, special education teachers, computer lab staff, library staff, students and employees with disabilities, as well as their families and advocates.
"A coordinated nationwide effort is needed to assist educational and governmental institutions in reaching the goal of making information technology accessible to everyone," said Burgstahler. "Our new center is a giant step toward achieving this goal."
"This grant is the culmination of at least a decade of effort at the UW to make information technology accessible and the recognition of the considerable expertise that exists at the UW in the area of making information technology accessible to all," said Johnson.