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Claire Goodfellow who has managed the ATI project
Claire Goodfellow who has managed the ATI project
Tom Hentsch, a fourth year computer science student with dyslexia who has been involved in the trial of the ATI system
Tom Hentsch, a fourth year computer science student with dyslexia who has been involved in the trial of the ATI system

Press Release - 04 April 2005

Students with disabilities and learning difficulties get unrivalled IT support at Bath

Students with disabilities and learning difficulties will have free access to state-of-the-art laptops that cater specifically for their learning needs, as part of a new initiative launched at the University of Bath this week (Wednesday 6 April 2005).

The Assistive Technologies Initiative (ATI) will enable students at the University to borrow from a pool of 64 laptops containing software that can do everything from translating speech into written text, to helping people ‘map’ their thoughts and ideas.

The University currently has 376 students who are registered as having a disability or learning difficulty - 224 with dyslexia - all of whom will be eligible for ATI support. The Initiative will cost the University £228,000 over four years, but has also been supported with additional assistance from the various suppliers involved in the project.

Included in the range of packages available on the laptops is software that converts words spoken into a headset into written text, helping students with manual dexterity difficulties produce written work more easily. Others with visual impairments will be able to use software that ‘reads’ the words written on a screen or in a book and plays them back to the user through headphones.

“Laptops are useful resources for any student, but are particularly useful tools for people with short term memory issues and other dyslexic problems,” said Tom Hentsch, a fourth year computer science student with dyslexia who has been involved in the trial of the system.

“People with dyslexia often have difficulty getting their thoughts down on paper, so the tools available through the Initiative will make life much easier for the students using the system in the future.”

The laptops will be available for loan for seven overlapping three-hour-long long loan periods per day, which will ensure that students are afforded the maximum opportunity to benefit from the provision.

In addition, students will still have access to the existing computers available in specialist learning support facilities based in the library. A recent £30,000 award from HEFCE means that these facilities will also be updated with new equipment.

"The IT support on offer to students with disabilities and learning difficulties at the University of Bath will go far beyond the basic minimum standards required through legislation*," said Claire Goodfellow who has managed the ATI project.

"We believe that this initiative is unrivalled by any other institution in the UK, and quite possibly overseas, so we are delighted to be the pioneers in making this specialist equipment available.

"As well as home and EU students, the Initiative will be of particular benefit to international students with learning difficulties as they do not always receive funding to cover their learning needs."

The equipment, which was purchased from US company EarthWalk Communications, includes a pool of 64 eBuddies laptops and three SmartCarts, complete with recharging BatteryBays. This EarthWalk NetWize learning environment will allow staff managing the loan system to replace batteries, charge them up and restore settings whilst the laptops are in storage.

Once loaned, students will be able to use the laptops wherever they wish on campus. They will be able to check e-mail and surf the internet using the University’s wireless network, or log in to the central computing system through one of the many data points.

The students can also store personal settings, such as voice recognition patterns, on USB memory sticks, meaning that they can transfer their personal settings between laptops each time they hire them.

The software available on all of the laptops includes Dragon Naturally Speaking v8TM (voice recognition), TextHelp Read and Write Gold v7TM (text to speech), Inspiration v7.5 TM (concept and mind mapping) Jaws v5 TM (screen reading) and Zoomtext (screen enlargement).

“The suppliers we have worked with have been tremendously generous in giving their time and financial assistance in support of the Initiative,” said Goodfellow.

“Feedback from the students and staff using and promoting the system has been excellent, and we are looking forward to further developing the service provision in line with the needs of the student body.”

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Glynis Breakwell, will launch the Initiative at a special event on Wednesday 6 April 2005 beginning at 4.30pm. Key representatives from across the region are expected to attend.

This event is open to the media - RSVP to Andrew McLaughlin - see contact details.


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