Western Sydney Uni makes Assistive Technology available to all

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Western Sydney Uni makes Assistive Technology available to all
Credit: Western Sydney University

Benchmark Awards 2020 finalist.

Western Sydney University created a more inclusive learning environment and workplace by making it easier to access and get IT support for Assistive Technology.

Assistive Technology (AT) refers to “any device, system or design that provides people with practical solutions to enhance learning, working, and daily living for people with disabilities and/or chronic health conditions”, according to the university.

“In university contexts, AT can lessen or remove barriers experienced by staff and students in or out of the classroom, office, laboratories, or during exams,” Western Sydney University says.

“AT can help improve a whole range of difficult situations from access to materials, to research or study skills, to creation and presentation of content, right through to hearing and visual augmentation.”

To foster inclusivity in its learning and working environments, Western Sydney University set about “normalising” and “mainstreaming” Assistive Technology solutions, making them easily available to all staff and students.

It maintains a detailed list of Assistive Technology products “that can be useful in a university setting”, covering areas such as note-taking, mind mapping, literacy, numeracy, dictation, organisation and time management, hearing augmentation and vision assistance.

While at other universities, students may be funneled through Disability Services for support, even if IT handles the installation of the Assistive Technology, Western Sydney University was determined to create a new model.

“We strive to empower all staff and students to reach their potential, whether they have a disability or not,” it said.

“That is why we make various Assistive Technologies widely available across all our campus computers, with specialised devices and programs available, as required, in our Access Rooms or assigned to staff with workplace adjustment plans. 

“Some Assistive Technology is also available for installation on a staff or student's personal device.”

To create its model, the university’s Disabilities Services and Information Technology and Digital Services (ITDS) departments collaborated to write a “compelling business case for the establishment of a full-time dedicated position focused entirely on driving the adoption and awareness of Assistive Technology at Western Sydney University.”

There is now also a large, centralised support structure available to staff and students seeking help with Assistive Technology.

Anyone can now contact the regular IT Service Desk and speak to a subject matter expert for installation and support of specialised Assistive Technology.

Driving access and support through mainstream channels is one way the university has been able to normalise the use of Assistive Technology, driving up adoption and fostering inclusivity.

Several Assistive Technology software vendors - including TextHelp, Read&Write and EquatIO - provided expert advice and support in relation to their products as part of the project.

Vendors and internal staff helped train subject matter experts within ITDS that can then act as advocates in their specific domains.

The project team also maintained a visible presence at functions such as staff orientation and the professional staff conference, demonstrating the technology and providing basic guidance on how it might meet staff’ needs.

The university says it is “anecdotally clear that increased uptake is occurring” on the back of the initiative. 

It plans to conduct more detailed measurement of the impact of the initiative in the future.

The project aligns with an "Equity and Inclusiveness" value in the university’s Strategic Plan, ‘Securing Success’.

This project is a finalist in the Diversity category of the iTnews Benchmark Awards 2020.

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