Athens, Ga. – More than 6,000 students challenged by learning disabilities, visual impairments and mobility may have to work a little harder than the average student every day to earn their diploma, but a new center based at the University of Georgia will offer these students and others an opportunity access to alternative media, assistive technology and training.
The Alternative Media Access Center (AMAC), part of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, is the nation’s first service and research program to offer a central hub for alternative media for those who face print-related disabilities. Although federal law requires higher education institutions to provide alternative media to students who need it, there has never been a central hub to access such media. Currently, only 18 percent of students use alternative media to compensate for their disability.
“That number is alarmingly low,” said Christopher Lee, interim director of the AMAC and a program coordinator at the UGA Regents Center for Learning Disorders.
Why do so few students use alternative means to assist them in earning their diploma?
“Until now, there has never been an efficient way for students with print-related disabilities to access knowledge,” said Noel Gregg, a UGA Distinguished Research Professor and co-founder of the program. “AMAC is the future of alternative media.”
The new center, a partner of the Regents Center for Learning Disorders which is located in the Psychology Building and funded by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents and Advanced Learning Technologies, has been accessible to students at all of Georgia’s higher education institutions since July 1.
“The flaw with the old system is that there was no central repository for schools in the system. There was no teamwork,” said Gregg, a faculty member jointly appointed to the Franklin College’s department of psychology and the College of Education’s department of communication sciences and special education.
Without a central alternative media hub, it was difficult for institutions to share information effectively.
For example, if a visually impaired student at Georgia Southern University needed books scanned, he or she would have to go to the disabilities office every semester, hope they have the books, equipment and faculty support to scan the required text, search different sites to obtain the adaptive software needed to read the material and finally begin coursework. If a visually impaired student at UGA needed the same book, the process would start all over again, rather than the universities sharing materials.
Sharing materials between institutions was a laborious and expensive process that involved tape recording books or mailing them on CDs, Gregg explained.
Now, students have independent access to all of their materials through WebCT/ Vista. Students also will have the option of sending their files to IPods and MP3 players. AMAC is free to all Georgia students, but they must have documented proof of a disability before accessing the site with a user name and password. AMAC allows students to have online access to all of their courses, books and adaptive software at all times and on one site. Each of the institutions in the system can access the books through the repository, said Lee, who earned his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology at UGA.
“We are empowering students,” Gregg said, “allowing students to have access to knowledge like never before, without having to depend on anybody.”
The first Regents Learning Disabilities Center, created in 1982 at UGA, was the model for the two at Georgia State University and Georgia Southern University that followed in 1993. These centers document and protect the state system and the students, so that students who need access to AMAC are assured admittance. They charge a fee for their service.
Reading text online is much more flexible than in hard copy. Students have the option of magnifying the text, converting it to an audio file, or downloading adaptive software to compensate for their disability.
“The long-term goal is for the center to be accessible internationally. It could be right now if we had the staff,” said Gregg.
AMAC works with private institutions, government organizations, non-profit organizations, private industry and other agencies serving individuals with disabilities.
To learn more about AMAC or to volunteer, see www.amac.uga.edu.