Discovering Technology: An Introduction

Starting college is such an important milestone! Now that you’ve successfully navigated your way through attending high school and getting accepted into college, you’ve probably realized how essential technology can be in every facet of your life. Just about anything you can think of—from completing assignments in school to knowing what’s going on in the world to staying connected to friends—is in today’s society supported by rapidly changing technology. Skills in this critical area can not only help you get things done, they can help you get them done quickly and efficiently—and what could be more important for a busy college student who has a lot of work to do? For this reason, being computer and technology literate is a critical component of success in school.

Any technology skills you may have learned in high school will go to very good use in college, and it’s important for you to know from the start which devices and software are most helpful to you. Ideally, you’ve discussed the assistive technology that supports you most effectively and that you need to be successful in college before you’ve even arrived. But if you haven’t previously received training in the use of assistive technology, you need to contact your state commission for the blind to help you get all the equipment and training you can to access your course and reading materials successfully. If possible, have this done before you begin your first semester of college. (If you’re not sure about your skills, see “Technology Self-Assessment.”)

Probably the most important piece of equipment you’ll need for college is a laptop computer. Like everyone else, you have a choice between a Mac (i.e., Apple’s Macintosh computer) or a PC (a Windows-based personal computer). In addition to factors like cost, weight and portability, and personal preference, a key consideration for you in selecting a computer, adaptive software, or other equipment is the degree of vision you have and whether you learn most effectively using your vision or your sense of touch or hearing. Are you a print or braille reader, or do you primarily use audio? Do you combine your learning media, i.e. print with audio or audio with braille? What techniques and equipment do you use to perform various tasks? Depending on your preferences, your budget, and your degree of vision, if you don’t already have a computer, you may be interested to know that a Mac can provide you with various built-in accessibility features, like ZoomText and VoiceOver, that can help you access print material in an appropriate format for your auditory and visual needs.

It’s important to remember, though, that no one piece of equipment will tend to meet all your needs (see “Don’t Depend on One Device”). And, in today’s world of assistive technology, there are many options, such as magnification products, screen readers, and braille displays available to help you access information. (“Tech on a Budget” explains many of these choices.) For example, if you’re a braille user, in addition to your laptop, you might have a braille notetaker and access your notes using a refreshable braille display. Given that many notetakers can interface with laptops, tablets, and smartphones, you’ll probably find yourself also using all of those at various times. If you’re a print reader, but need an enlarged font to read, there are several programs on the market for PCs in addition to ZoomText and VoiceOver that are built into all Mac products. There are also several software programs for voice output use on the market.

Another essential consideration is to have some type of OCR (or optical character recognition) software to scan print materials into your devices so articles and other items are accessible for you when you need them. Having your notes, books, and articles already accessible is critical for keeping up with all the materials you’ll have to manage and read. Also, keep in mind that having various platforms for accessing and keeping your course materials is crucial. Not only does it help you learn flexibility with your skills, but in the event that one system fails, you’ll be glad that you have a back-up one in place.

If you feel you need help in learning how to use your assistive technology, you have some avenues to explore. One is your DSO, or disability services office, which may have some of the same equipment you’re using and whose counselors may be able to answer questions about your devices and show you efficient ways to use them.

If your DSO is not able to help, you can contact the commission for the blind in your state. Ask for appropriate training on your various devices if you need to learn something new. Another source of help is national organizations like the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), and its CareerConnect® and AFB Tech staff (for other possibilities, see “Locate Technology Centers.”)

Technology changes constantly, and it’s important to keep up to date on the latest advances affecting your equipment. Sometimes obtaining an update is as simple as getting a download from the Internet. Whatever kinds of technology you use, remember that these powerful tools are meant to help you access all your materials in the most appropriate format for your needs and to support your success in school.

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