FRESNO — When Fresno City College opened its High Tech Center recently, it marked a new era for the school's disabled student population, offering them a chance to enter the world of computers.
The center is designed to enable students with all types of disability, ranging from physical handicaps to mental disorders, a chance to learn to use computers to further their education through the center's adapted computer technology.
"All we did was redesign a little bit of hardware and a lot of software to meet the needs of students with various disabilities," said Jeanette Imperatrice, one of the instructors who works with handicapped students on the campus.
"This school has a long history of catering to the disabled student and the High Tech Center is just an extension of that policy."
Designed for Disabled
Imperatrice said state-of-the-art computers were installed in the center and programs were designed for them with the disabled student in mind.
"The High Tech Center is designed to meet the needs of various disabilities including acquired brain injuries, severe physical disabilities, learning disabilities, blindness and deafness," Imperatrice said.
"Students who in the past were restricted from the advantages of using computers because of learning or physical disabilities will now be able to enjoy the benefits computers provide."
She said instructors and counselors in the center are all experienced professionals who are skilled at guiding disabled students through the college program.
For visually impaired students, text and graphic materials on the computer screen are significantly enlarged through magnification. For the totally blind student, voice synthesizers that speak to the computer students are used so they can "see" what is on the screen with their ears.
Deaf students are not left out, either. For them, there are programs that graphically translate written text into sign language on the computer screen.
Students with other physical disabilities will use a variety of devices to allow them to operate computers.
"We have specially designed joy sticks and pointers attached to head harnesses for students who don't have full use of their hands," Imperatrice said.
"There are also programs that automatically check and correct spelling so that mistakes caused by hitting a wrong key on the keyboard can pretty much be eliminated."
She said the special software programs and the devices were designed to make life as easy as possible for disabled students.
"They're going to be frightened enough just getting into the computer age, so we didn't want to make things any more difficult for them," she said. "We feel that many of the students will find themselves comfortable using the computers with just a short time of instruction."
She said disabled students at the High Tech Center would not only become more competitive on the campus, they also would develop skills that will open doors in vocational and business environments after they complete their schooling.
"The skills the students will acquire through adapted computer technology reduce the effects of the disabilities and enhance the potential for successful transition from student to employee," Imperatrice said.
She said in the past, disabled students had to settle for less of an education than regular students because they were not able to use computers.