The AT lab says goodbye to Stan Clelland, hello to interim coordinator

Stan Clelland saddles up

The CPD salutes former Assistive Technology Lab Coordinator Stan Clelland, who rode off into the sunset earlier this month--or at least, he moved on to new pastures in Idaho.

Many of the people served by the Center for Persons with Disabilities knew Stan, who refurbished  wheelchairs and lent them out to people in the community as part of his duties with the AT Lab. For many people outside of Utah State University, Stan was the face of the CPD. He supervised students through many an assistive technology project that was tailor-made for the needs of one individual. Watch for more about him on the CPD blog and website. A Facebook photo album illustrates how well-rounded a person he is.

Stan protested whenever the camera was pointed his way, but the photos show he was a great subject.

Clarissa Barnhill

The AT Lab will continue under the direction of Clarissa Barnhill, a recent USU graduate in Special Education. She will be the interim coordinator through late spring 2011.

In her student days, she worked in the lab and went above and beyond the course requirements, returning over the summer to tweak the design of a device that helped a man assemble wheels for irrigation lines with one hand. The Irrigation Wheel Assembly Snapper, or IWAS project, was a group project in the Technology for Exceptional Learners course, and by the end of the year, it worked. But Barnhill thought of ways to improve the design and came in when school was out to work on it.

Her current job will give her a continued outlet for an inborn love to build and tweak a design.

CPD by the numbers

The CPD supported 159 assistive technology trainees during fiscal year 2010.

Pew study prompts more discussion on Web accessibility

Dr. Cyndi Rowland

A recent study by the  Pew Research Center has added to the debate on Internet accessibility, prompting experts to speak out—including CPD Associate Director Cyndi Rowland.

Here’s some background: The ADA did not address Web accessibility when it was crafted. Most of the work to write the law was done in the 1980s, before the Internet was a household resource. Decades later, the question of whether businesses and institutions have a legal obligation to accommodate people with disabilities has wound up in litigation—which is often settled out of court. There’s not a lot of case law on it, said Dr. Rowland. (She is also the executive director of WebAIM, an initiative of the CPD dedicated to helping companies and organizations design websites that are accessible to people with disabilities.)

Last year the Department of Justice announced it would accept comment  on proposed rule changes to the ADA that would address web accessibility.  In September the independent Pew Research Center conducted a survey: Americans living with disability and their technology profile.

The study—combined with the closure of the Justice Department’s comment period—prompted some news coverage, including a report by American Public Media’s radio program, Marketplace. Dr. Rowland was interviewed for that story by phone. “The question for a while had been, is the internet a place, and if it is not a place, do we need to accommodate it?” she said.

Her interest was also piqued by what the Marketplace report called the most surprising finding of the Pew study: that only 2 percent of its participants said they had a disability that made it hard or impossible for them to use the Internet.  That percentage is much lower than other data sets—including the US Census—would have predicted. (According to the census, about 8.5 percent of the US population has a disability that would affect Internet use.)

Now, she would like to take a closer look and understand why the numbers are so different.

Experts do agree that people with disabilities are using technology at a much lower rate than the rest of the population.  According to the Pew study, 81 percent of adult participants who did not report a disability use the Internet, compared to 54 percent of adults with disabilities.This may partly be explained by other factors: people with disabilities tend to be older and to have lower incomes than the rest of the population. 

The cost of Internet service may discourage people with disabilities from even trying, Dr. Rowland said. Or maybe people with disabilities opt not to pay for Internet access when they know it still won’t be accessible to them. And while assistive technology can help bridge the accessibility gap, it comes at a price, too, making the barrier even more formidable.

For more information, visit American Public Media’s Marketplace website. You can read the story or listen to the podcast.

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