Larson Foundation awards grant to DSU
By ELISA SAND, Staff Reporter
An effort to create a barrier-free learning environment at Dakota State University will move forward with a grant from the Larson Family Foundation.|
The Larson Family Foundation, located in Brookings, was established in 1990 to award grants that help people provide a better quality of life. The grants must help fulfill basic needs like food, clothing, shelter and education.
The $23,673 grant will allow DSU Assistant Professor Chris Olson to create narrated video tutorials that will show a person with a physical impairment or disability how to use a computer with the help of voice recognition software.
These particular tutorials will walk participants through tasks they would need to complete for a standard introduction to computers course.
"The users would gain college credit and the proficiencies needed to operate a computer by voice in order to complete subsequent college courses and earn a college degree," Olson said.
These aren't the first tutorials created by the university. Olson and fellow DSU Professor Jack Walters created a website earlier this year called www.accessible-education.com, which features several video tutorials that walk the user through a variety of tasks that can be completed with a voice recognition software package called Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
Topics on these videos include an overview of basic tasks that can be completed using the program; training one's voice to use the program; ways to personalize the software; steps to writing a program; and using the program to create a website.
All of the tutorials created are aimed at benefiting quadriplegics, disabled war veterans, amputees and those with neurological disorders that affect upper limb mobility, making it difficult to use a keyboard and computer mouse.
Olson, himself a quadriplegic, knows first-hand what it takes to use adaptive software to use a computer. He also knows the internal struggle he went through to take that first college course.
"When I was injured and came back from rehab, the first thing I did was try to enroll in one class to gain confidence," Olson said. "With this grant, we want to reach out to those who think they won't be able to use a computer, and hopefully gain confidence in taking a class and earning a degree."
Olson said he specifically chose to create tutorials for an Introduction to Computers class, because it's one that every student has to take and the tutorials can be used for students enrolling not only at DSU but also other state universities.
"I'm hoping we can reach out to a lot of individuals," Olson said.
When the last tutorials were created, Olson said, his only regret was not being able to reach more people. The grant from the Larson Foundation provides this opportunity. Olson said the grant includes funding not only for the creation of the videos but also for advertising and the purchase of a server.
The new tutorials will be developed next summer and available for students next fall.
Olson said his long-range plan is to create a Center for Accessible Education at DSU. Tutorials like these would be created, and there would be research done to evaluate accessibility and a focus on showing educators how to create accessible content.
While accessible to some may translate into simply having the information on a website, Olson said, accessibility in a barrier-free learning environment requires websites to be set up slightly different to make navigation easier, and to make it easier for software that is designed to read the content for someone who is visually impaired.
"It's definitely become a hot topic and we want to lead the way," Olson said.
Olson considers himself lucky that he found a great fit with his job at DSU, but finding a job wasn't easy, and those with severe disabilities are in a category with the highest unemployment.
"The unemployment rate for those with severe disabilities is 80 percent," he said.