E-Text equipment assists visually-impaired students

Published on August 5, 2004 at 7:51 AM · No Comments

With numerous book bindings scattered on the floor, the room looked as if there had been a rebellion against literature. But in fact, students were celebrating the new equipment added to Eastern Michigan University’s Center for Adaptive Technology and Education (CATE), that currently serves enrolled students, faculty and staff with a disability.

“Beheading” or cutting off the spines of a book is the first step to using the CATE lab’s recently acquired equipment called E-Text: a commercial bindery cutter, high-speed duplex scanner, Braille printer and special software that converts text to audio.

“Students started chopping the spines off their books as the equipment was being installed,” said Jenny Clark, coordinator of the CATE lab.

The cutter removes the book binding so the scanner can read both sides of a text and convert the material into either Braille or to an audio output – floppy disk, CD or an e-mail attachment for a student studying at home. Users also have variable speed control that adjusts a speaker’s speech rate.

“It (speed control) is addictive,” said Clark. “Students sometime listen at warp speed just before a test.”

The scanner can read a page of material in about 30 seconds and the Braille printer can complete a 100-page book in 10-15 minutes, said Clark. In the past, it would take about an hour to scan a book of that size and someone would have to physically flip each page, she said.

“The scanner is amazing and the error rate is small,” said Anderson.

One EMU student who has first hand experience with the CATE lab and its new equipment is Malaina Vanderwal. She’s a 25-year-old junior from Caledonia, Mich., who is totally blind having lost her sight at eight years old to complications of an eye condition.

Using the E-Text equipment, she has had the spine of a textbook chopped on the cutter, the pages scanned by the new equipment and the information sent to her on-campus residence via an e-mail attachment.

“I use the Braille printer for class notes or something that’s not too long,” said Vanderwal, who is a special education major. “A human reader is good for little things such as (reading) mail, but long copy is no fun for them or me.”

That’s when the E-Text equipment is most useful, she said. With audio text, she has the option to stop the reading at any point, back it up or speed it up.

This new equipment helps not only our visually-impaired students but also those with dyslexia, a learning disorder marked by a severe difficulty in recognizing and understanding written language, said Anderson.

Within the past two years, the CATE lab has increased its clientele from 150 to 350 students, faculty and staff, said Clark.

“It’s one of the best kept secrets in the state for the learning disabled and visually impaired,” said Donald Anderson, director of Access Services, describing the CATE lab.

Reading becomes much more demanding in college than it was in high school and many EMU students, especially those with dyslexia, are discovering that they can’t keep up with the reading assignments, said Clark.

The E-Text equipment was provided by a $15,300 award from EMU’s Innovagency, an initiative launched by the Department of Student Affairs to find creative ways to meet the needs of EMU students.

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