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Center offers services for disabled

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By Don Pace

The new Adaptive Technology Center at Highlands University has opened the window to the world for students who are blind, deaf or physically challenged in other ways, with a collection of machines geared toward giving the disabled a level playing field in the halls of college life.

At Donnelly Library, the center has the latest in cutting-edge technology, machines like the Braille translator that allows a student to type text, which is then embossed in Braille. Using software called Dragon Naturally Speaking, a person speaks into a microphone attached to a headset and the computer transcribes the person’s voice into the written word.

David Esquibel, the accountability and testing coordinator for the Highlands Office of Academic Support, has spent the last 18 months on the project. He said the center is open to all students and can be used in a variety of ways.

“I hope once the word gets out, students will see that this center can be used by not only students who are physically challenged, but can help students who may have a reading or a comprehension problem and hopefully improve their academic progress,” Esquibel said.

Esquibel said everyone is capable of learning if the proper guidance and equipment are available. He said the equipment is not cheap, but well worth the expense when one considers how it benefits students.

“We’ve learned that with people with learning disabilities, it’s not that they don’t learn, it’s just that they learn in a different way. So maybe somebody doesn’t have an official diagnosis of a learning disability or have one but have never been diagnosed, they can still come in and utilize this software and hopefully it will help them,” Esquibel said.

Students will also find other interactive tools such as the Sorenson Video Phone that allows the blind to communicate with individuals or in conference call settings. The videophone and monitor were provided by the company free of charge.

“It really opens up the communication possibilities for our deaf students,” Esquibel said.

The Kurzwell 3000 will scan pages of a book, upload it to a computer screen, read the copy for the user and highlights it as it goes along giving the user the benefit of hearing and seeing the copy.

The Jaws and Windows Eyes is a screen reader that enlarges and reads back text to the user.

“The people who have developed this software and the things that they have come out with is just amazing to me, and there’s so much more out there that I would like to bring to the campus of New Mexico Highlands University in the future,” Esquibel said.

Thomasinia Ortiz-Gallegos, the director of academic support, said Highlands has been working for more than 10 years on Americans With Disabilities Act issues such as door openings, ramps and parking.

“Now here we are building a center that has so much technology that can truly assist our students in being more successful academically. This center is one place where students can come in without running all over campus,” Ortiz-Gallegos said.

Ortiz-Gallegos said students who have disabilities may not have thought of Highlands University because maybe they didn’t know about all the services that are available for them on campus.

“And now that they do know about this Adaptive Technology Center, it will really help them realize that higher education is truly an option for them at Highlands University,” Ortiz-Gallegos said.