California State University, Long Beach is the first university anywhere to adopt WebAdapt2Me, an assistive technology from IBM that removes barriers to reading for people with print disabilities. This software exploits the flexibility of web information to produce reading environments that exactly fit the reading needs of each individual. Students, staff and faculty who are not blind, but who still have difficulties reading at the levels demanded by university life, can now read documents on the web effectively.
The project began in November 2004, when Jan Reyes in the Office of Equity and Diversity and Wayne Dick, current chair of Computer Engineering and Computer Science, opened discussions with IBM concerning research software that had been announced at the October 2004 ASSETS Conference on Web Accessibility. After considerable testing, consultation and negotiation, the university purchased 200 licenses—indicating the availability of 200 “seats” or “log-ins”—for use by members of the university community who would benefit from this assistance.
Many people contributed to this effort. IT specialists Jesse Santana from Information Technology Services and Rick Meza from the College of Engineering ironed out final technical issues to launch the software. Rick Timboe of ITS, Dave Sanfilippo from Disabled Student Services and Jim Till from the Office of University Research helped with early planning.
IBM introduced WebAdapt2Me to the campus community in April 2005. Its many helpful features include online voice reading, up to 250 percent magnification of web sites (text and graphics), text size enlargement, text style alterations (bold or bolder) and custom color scheme variations (font vs. background). The power of this technology stems from its ubiquity and flexibility.
Software training for the first cohort of four faculty, one senior-level administrator, two staff members and three students occurred in summer 2005. Each member of the first cohort came to the training with strong computer skills and a need for special assistance when accessing the web. The training went well, with these hardy souls not only benefiting from the technology, but also testing the software and reporting their good experiences and criticisms. A student consultant from computer science is assisting each member of the group. Gerard Greenidge, programmer/analyst in University Relations and Development and a vital member of the University Web Committee, is overseeing the student consultants.
Thanks to the efforts of the project team, members of the university community with dyslexia, low vision, limited use of hands and the common problems of aging will soon be able to read effectively and in comfort as they live and work at The Beach. The long-term goal—for WebAdapt2Me to be available from every computer on campus and from any home computer used by a university student or employee who obtains a valid license—can be realized. Open-lab computers and library workstations would provide an assistive online reading environment that perfectly matches their personal preferences. —Dick is professor and chair of the Department of Computer Engineering and Computer Science.
For additional information about WebAdapt2Me or to request a license, visit http://webadapt.csulb.edu.