Citation: Fichten, C.S., Asuncion, J.V., Barile, M., Généreux, C., Judd, J., Lavers, J., & Lamb, D. (2001). Inclusion in postsecondary education: Role of computer and information technologies / Intégration à l'éducation postsecondaire: le rôle de l'informatique et des technologies d'information. Proceedings of Inclusion By Design World Congress hosted by the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW).

Inclusion In Postsecondary Education: Role Of Computer And Information Technologies

Catherine S. Fichten, Jennison V. Asuncion, Maria Barile, Christian Généreux,
Darlene Judd, Jason Lavers, Daniel Lamb

Adaptech Project, Dawson College, Montreal

Through a series of focus groups, telephone interviews and questionnaires the bilingual research of Dawson College's Adaptech Project collected data on computer and adaptive computer technologies used by college and university students with disabilities across the country. Topics studied include: types of computer and adaptive computer technologies students with disabilities use (or wish they could use); advantages and disadvantages they experienced using the technology; and views about training and about obtaining the necessary technologies to meet one's needs.

Our research has been funded by major Canadian federal and provincial research granting organisations, including the Office of Learning Technologies (Human Resources Development Canada), the Fonds pour la formation de chercheurs et l'aide à la recherche (FCAR), the Programme d'aide à la recherche sur l'enseignement et l'apprentissage (PAREA), the Network for the Evaluation of Education and Training Technologies (EvNet), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), and the Henry & Berenice Kaufmann Foundation. We run a moderated electronic discussion forum (listserv) with over 250 members. The goal of both the listserv and the Adaptech web site is to encourage dialogue about our research and to serve as a resource to the Canadian postsecondary education community.

The research has had the involvement of many partners, including both provincial and federal groups of postsecondary students with disabilities, college and university personnel responsible for providing services to students with disabilities, manufacturers and distributors of adaptive technologies, nonprofit organizations, rehabilitation agencies, and academic educational technology groupings. In addition, the research activities have been guided by an enthusiastic Advisory Board.

Projects and Studies

Recently completed studies of interest, all conducted in both English and French, are listed below. More information about each of these investigations is available on our bilingual web page

In all studies, participants had different types of disabilities. We found out how students used "mainstream" as well as adaptive computer technologies. Software that enlarges or speaks what is on the screen, adapted mice for use by people with limited hand movement, and word prediction software are examples of such specialised technologies.

Our results are too numerous to list here. Key findings indicate that 95% of respondents were computer users and 87% of them used the internet, mainly for research and e-mail. Only about a quarter of the students used adaptive computer technologies, although almost half indicated needing these. The reasons: cost and lack of information about what was available. Almost half of the students had more than 1 impairment and about 1/3 of students needed adaptations to use a computer effectively (e.g., software that enlarges what is on the screen, adapted mouse).

Findings relevant to Québec indicate difficulties related to lack of recognition of students with learning disabilities by the provincial government (e.g., they are not eligible for disability related bursaries, equipment or educational services) and to the availability of specialized adaptive software in French (e.g., no appropriate software or software that is obsolete). In addition, a key finding shows that Québec has a much lower proportion of postsecondary students with disabilities - 1/10 as many - as the rest of Canada. Although learning disabilities account for some of the discrepancies, these by no means explain all of the differences found.

Results from all stages of our investigation converge on three points:

Computers are technologies that are enabling - that allow students with disabilities to prepare for and to participate in the knowledge-based economy of tomorrow. To plan for the future rather than catch up with the past we recommend that the broadest based consultations take place at all postsecondary institutions and organizations and agencies which provide equipment and training for students with disabilities. Such consultations must involve students, who, of course, are ultimately the end-users. The complexity of the issues suggest that diverse sectors of the campus community need to collaborate to ensure that computer-based teaching materials and resources are accessible to students with different impairments. In this regard, we recommend that multidisciplinary computer accessibility advisory committees be constituted in postsecondary institutions with representation, at a minimum, by students with different disabilities, by professors, by those responsible for providing computer related services to students with disabilities, and by someone from computer support services as well as administration. Such committees could benefit from the expertise of academic computer staff, adaptive computer technology specialists, librarians, audio-visual specialists, and rehabilitation professionals, among others. Creative partnerships and alliances are urgently needed.

In addition, we suggest better coordination and collaboration between disability service providers and provincial agencies, programs, and departments which are responsible for providing equipment subsidies and computer and adaptive computer technologies to students for off-campus use. This would allow for better coordination and better information dissemination about what is really required to meet the forthcoming computer related needs of students with disabilities.

Planning for campus-wide information technology purchases and computer infrastructure improvements in colleges and universities are actively proceeding. The needs of students with disabilities are simply overlooked in much of the planning until it is discovered, often much too late, that the expensive new campus-wide technology is inaccessible. This is not done through malice but through lack of forethought. Designing for accessibility always results in better, less expensive, and more timely solutions than retrofits. Implementing accessibility features in the initial design of information and instructional technology results in fewer design, construction and legal expenses. It is important to ensure that the needs and concerns of students with all types of disabilities are represented in planning decisions from their inception.


Fichten, C.S. Barile, M. & Asuncion, J.V. (1999a). Learning technologies: Students with disabilities in postsecondary education / Projet Adaptech : L'Utilisation des technologies d'apprentissage par les étudiant(e)s handicapé(e)s au niveau postsecondaire (190 pages). ISBN 2-9803316-4-3. Final report to the Office of Learning Technologies, 1999, Spring. Ottawa: Human Resources Development Canada. Eric Document Reproduction Service (ED 433625 EC 37369). Abstracted and available September 7, 1999 on the World Wide Web in
English: and in
French: and at
Full text version in English:

Fichten, C.S. Barile, M. & Asuncion, J.V. (1999b). Appendix to: Learning technologies: Students with disabilities in postsecondary education - Final report to the Office of Learning Technologies. (107 pages). ISBN 2-9803316-5-1. Ottawa: Human Resources Development Canada. Eric Document Reproduction Service (ED 433625 EC 37369). Available September 23, 1999 on the World Wide Web:

Fichten, C.S., Barile, M., Robillard, C., Fossey, M., Asuncion, J., Généreux, C., Judd, D., & Guimont, J.P. (in press). Access to college for all: ITAC Project - Computer and adaptive computer technologies in the cegeps for students with disabilities / L'accessibilité au cégep pour tous : Projet ITAC - informatique et technologies adaptées dans les cégeps pour les étudiants handicapés (309 pages). ISBN 155-016-837-1. Final report to PAREA (Programme d'aide à la recherche sur l'enseignement et l'apprentissage), July, 2000. Québec: Ministère de l'Éducation. Eric Document Reproduction Service. Available July, 2000 on the World Wide Web: Summary in English:
Summary in French:
Full text in PDF in English: