Note: Last spring, the Academic Senate approved the paper, The Impact of Computer Technology on Student Access and Success in the California Community Colleges. After approval of the paper, I was contacted as the chair of the Technology Committee by Carl Brown, director of the High Tech Center Training Unit (HTCTU), which was only briefly referenced in the paper. He pointed out that the HTCTU was doing much more than the paper had mentioned. Therefore, in order to elaborate on what is included in the paper and in order to spread the word about the work of the HTCTU, I talked more with Carl Brown, the fruit of which is the following article.
Johnson is blind. This semester, he enrolls in American Institutions. He purchases the 976-page class textbook and goes to Disabled Student Programs and Services (DSPS). The DSPS coordinator consults a database of textbooks that are available in electronic format but doesn't find Johnson's book on it. The book is sent to the regional college that is equipped with a high-speed scanner. The book is quickly scanned into electronic format and converted into text that can be read by a text-reading program. The file is given to Johnson to use on his laptop, and a reference to the scanned book is added to the database.
This scenario illustrates one of the many ways that the High Tech Center Training Unit (HTCTU) assists the 108 colleges in the California Community College System to provide services that help students with disabilities succeed in their classes.
The HTCTU had its beginnings at Monterey Peninsula College 16 years ago when Carl Brown was a computer consultant and programmer. It was obvious that the personal computer was going to have a great impact on education, and then DSPS Coordinator, Martha Kanter, contacted Carl about making sure that there would be PCs accessible to disabled students. Carl redirected computer equipment to address the needs of students with disabilities on campus, and soon there were more disabled students clamoring for classes than the college was equipped to handle. This work also attracted the attention of the Department of Rehabilitation and the Chancellor's Office, and the result was the initial multi-million dollar grant that officially established High Tech Center programs on virtually every California community college campus. Several grants later, the HTCTU finds itself housed at Foothill-DeAnza District with Carl Brown as its director and a total permanent staff of seven.
As the name of the group suggests, the main focus of the HTCTU is training. The HTCTU provides 30 different training modules on accessibility topics to 1,500 community college faculty and staff each year. Faculty and staff can take advantage of these trainings at no cost, and the HTCTU is even able to provide support for travel expenses for DSPS faculty and staff. Three trainers are on the permanent staff, and each one focuses on a single specialty: assistive technology, web accessibility, and alternative media. In addition, the HTCTU contracts with exemplary trainers among faculty around the state to supplement the trainings provided by the staff. While most of the training sessions take place at Foothill-DeAnza, off-site training is also provided. Support for DSPS faculty and staff also comes through extensive webbased resources and a very active listserv that the HTCTU established three years ago. Today there are approximately thirty active discussion strands with participation from faculty and staff across the state.
The HTCTU also serves the needs of disabled students through projects and advocacy. One project has been the establishment of the Distributed Scanning Network, which was illustrated in the scenario above. Today, 16 colleges in the state directly serve 96 colleges in their immediate areas with high-speed textbook scanning services. Each of the 16 colleges is committed to scanning a minimum of ten books a month and adding these books to the listings on a centralized database. If a student needs a textbook in an alternative format, once the faculty member has verified that the student has purchased the textbook, faculty or staff can search the database for the location of an existing version of the book in electronic format or submit a hardcopy version of the book for scanning into a format which best meets the student's needs. Although the remaining 12 colleges are not physically near any of the 16 scanning sites, they, too, have access to the database containing thousands of book references and can still arrange to have new textbooks scanned.
In addition to the Distributed Scanning Network, another Chancellor's Office resource, the Alternate Text Production Center (ATPC) at Ventura College, works directly with publishers to provide textbooks in electronic format as required by AB 422 (Steinberg), which was passed in 1999. The HTCTU works closely with the Chancellor's Office and was active in writing the Distance Education Access Guidelines and the Alternative Media Access Guidelines.
The HTCTU also continues to experiment with new products that come out on the market to find those that will best serve the needs of our students. One product the HTCTU is currently testing is a unit with a Braille keyboard and refreshable Braille display that allows students who are blind to take their own notes, obviating the need for a notetaker. These units are only half the size of a laptop computer, and with built-in Global Positioning System (GPS) capability, students can also use them to navigate a campus. Twelve units are being used in the current trial.
The HTCTU is the largest program of its kind in the United States, and visitors from around the world regularly visit to observe and learn from its work. Much of the early work of the HTCTU has influenced such critical pieces of legislation as Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The HTCTU is a prime example of how the California Community College System provides access to all students in the state. For further information, please contact Carl Brown at cbrown [at] htctu.net or visit the program's web site at www.htctu.net.