CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas –Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Disability Services has been selected to participate in a research study with The Center for Accessible Materials Innovation (CAMI) at Georgia Institute of Technology. The study includes an $8,000 grant and the opportunity to contribute to ground-breaking research involving Minority-Serving Institutions and their population of students with certain disabilities. During the course of the study, Jennifer Weir, Assistive Technology Specialist at Disability Services, will serve as the CAMI Disability Services Coordinator, a liaison between the Georgia research team and participating Islander students.
“I’m hopeful the study shows that students who get alternative textbooks do better in their classes,” said Weir. “That way, in the future, book publishers will make their textbooks available in digital and audio formats in addition to traditional print.”
Paul Martinez is a Texas A&M-Corpus Christi junior, majoring in communication. He has a vision impairment that makes it difficult for him to see text in a standard textbook. He currently receives digital versions of his textbooks from Disability Services and uses a text-to-speech software program to listen to text with a synthesized voice.
“Getting books and articles this way has really made everything accessible and helped me to stay on top of all my coursework,” said Martinez.
Gloria “Philly” Vasquez, a junior English major, has a learning disability and ADHD.
“I was first diagnosed in high school, but my parents refused treatment due to stigma. Consequently, I continued to struggle in college and in the workforce,” said Vasquez. “When I returned to college for a career change, I was concerned that the issue was still unaddressed, but because Ms. Weir helped me access my textbook through text-to-speech software, I have become an ‘A’ student for the first time ever.”
The objective of the CAMI research project is to improve the academic performance of postsecondary students with print-related disabilities, which are those that impair the ability to read standard print, including visual impairment, learning disabilities and motor disabilities. Researchers will do this by collecting data on the usage and accessibility of alternative format/assistive technology reading software and textbooks, with the ultimate goal of improving retention and graduation rates for minority students with disabilities.
As CAMI Disability Services Coordinator, Weir will coordinate acquisition of accessible textbooks for the students, including conversion to the proper format for their needs and assistive technology, and training on CAMI’s specialized data collection software. She will also organize meeting with students and focus groups, obtain copyright permissions from the publishers, enter study data and track academic success of participating students, and meet with Georgia researchers once a year for an interview.
“We’ve used many of Georgia Tech’s textbook services in the past, as they are a national leader in accessibility in higher education,” said Weir. “I’m excited to be partnering with them on this project.”
The project is funded by a First in the World grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Along with the $8,000 grant for the study coordinator, students may receive up to $370 in financial compensation for completed focus groups, research surveys and evaluation surveys.
The CAMI study will run through summer 2018 and will likely be extended for an additional year in order to track student academic program completion. Lead researchers are Dr. Julie Ancis, Associate Vice President of Institute Diversity at Georgia Institute of Technology, and Dr. Christopher Lee, Director of the Accessibility Solutions and Research Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
To learn more about Disability Services at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, go to http://disabilityservices.tamucc.edu/.