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Disabilities conference discusses 'Action and Justice for All'

Representatives and educators from institutions of higher education throughout the state gathered to swap information and network at the Ohio University Athens campus Friday for the fourth annual Ohio Association of Higher Education and Disability (OH-AHEAD) conference.

Programs included breakfast, vendor exhibitions, a keynote presentation by director of the Web Accessibility Center at Ohio State University Ken Petri, as well as a variety of smaller sessions.

Topics included "Transition to Post-Secondary Settings," "Self-Advocacy and Disclosure," and "Using Technology for Success," among others.

In Petri's keynote address, "Strategy for IT Accessibility," he discussed the technological advancements necessary for university campuses to accommodate disabled students.

"There is a desire to be competitive and push boundaries," Petri said.

He discussed the significance of user-friendly interfaces, quick conversion times when using the web, and the importance of installing solid technological programs that other campuses can implement to improve teaching techniques. For example, "The Smartpen" captures both audio and visual information for students taking notes during class lectures.

"It was very helpful to hear about where the technology world is headed," said Clark State Community College Office of Disability Services manager Cort Schneider.

In a session called "College Success and The Disability Blues," Schneider and Ohio University Assistant Dean of Student Accessibility Services Carey Busch teamed up to discuss two college success programs designed for high school students with disabilities.

The goal of the Clark State and Ohio University programs, both of which debuted in spring 2013, was to increase the participation of students with disabilities in higher education.

Using the models of a community college and a four-year institution, each speaker shared the experience of conducting the programs and offered insight on how they can be replicated at and modified for other institutions.

Schneider created a "boot camp" for disabled students at a local high school after noting that many new disabled Clark State students were beginning college with a limited knowledge of the institution's accommodations process. The program spanned the course of four consecutive Mondays for a total of eight hours.

The boot camp sought to encourage collaboration between high school educators, students and college administrators.

"I thought it was really important to turn disabilities into a positive aspect of life," Schneider said. "College is not going to be like high school."

Topics included applying for financial aid, counseling services, student life, tutoring services, academic advising and the college application process.

Similarly, Ohio University held a two-day overnight program in May that was targeted toward disabled students in the Southeast Ohio region. Through the program, high school juniors attended a student panel and an academic class. They explored study skills, career opportunities, accessing accommodations in college, choosing the right program and the crucial role of technology.

Each of the programs laid out the post-secondary options for students, whether that meant vocational school, a two-year community college or a four-year university.

Most importantly, they demystified the prospect of college and showed students that their post-secondary goals are attainable.

"They're going to go about their day much like any other student, but (at Student Accessibility Services) there is a place you can go that is a safety net, where people will understand them," Busch said.