July 16, 2008

Refurbished lab to benefit education grad students

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Graduate students with impaired vision and those in wheelchairs will find a refurbished computer lab in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Department of Educational Psychology and Special Education much friendlier this fall.

One of the new PCs can run ZoomText Magnifier/Reader, a software that not only enlarges and sharpens text but reads what’s on the screen, right down to the menus and program controls if that’s what the user needs.

Its 30-inch monitor provides plenty of viewing area, and it sits on a desk that with the push of a button can elevate to any level from sit-down to stand-up, allowing easy wheelchair access.

“It was Robert Ricks, a doctoral student who worked in the lab as a technical assistant who suggested the changes,” said Chair Lyle J. White.

“As soon as he said it, it hit us like a ton of bricks: We’re a special education department -- we should darn well think about that when we’re putting together a facility for students.”

Other changes benefit the bulk of the lab’s users, who in the last three years came from 18 different graduate programs. All the PCs in the second-floor Wham lab are new, and there are more of them -- nine instead of the previous six.

“About half of the users are enrolled in our graduate statistics classes, and while our tradition has been to keep those small, students being students, a lot of them don’t get around to doing their assignments until an hour before they’re due, so we had peak periods,” White explained.

“We needed more space and more equipment.”

An adjacent storeroom, waist high in old green-bar computer paper, has been cleaned out, cleaned up and pressed into service as an adjunct lab for the three additional PCs.

In addition, a 9-foot custom whiteboard in the main lab will allow instructors to hold small seminars there.

Equipment arrived in late April; the makeover is just finishing up.

“Our goal is to have everything together before the fall semester picks up and then have a celebration,” White said.

College and University assistance in the lab’s latest remodeling came from Dean Kenneth Teitelbaum, lab Director Todd C. Headrick, Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Graduate School John A. Koropchak and Director of Disability Support Services Kathleen Plesko.