Technology helps students with learning disabilities excel in the college classroom

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KOKOMO, Ind. (WTHR) - It's graduation season and thousands of Hoosier teenagers are hoping to continue their academic careers this fall in college.

It can be a hard transition, especially for students with learning disabilities. But there's a group dedicated to helping them get what they need to succeed in the classroom and in their lives.

A year ago, Silvia McVay finished at the top of her class at the Indiana School for the Blind. The straight-A student was her school's valedictorian, but knew that college would be a lot tougher.

"This freshman year has been very hard and it's been a learning curve, definitely," McVay said.

Silvia is legally blind, so her first challenge was just learning how to get from classroom to classroom at Indiana University-Kokomo. She also had to learn new ways to be successful once she got to class.

"I think we all kind of strive to be as independent as we can be," said Brian Norton from the Easter Seals Crossroads INDATA Project, which has been helping students gain that independence since 1979.

It uses what it calls "assistive technology," specialized high-tech and low-tech devices to help the close the gap.

Some of the technology can be expensive, so INDATA lets students try it before they buy it.

"You can check it out and in 30 days, we ask you to bring it back in and, hopefully, you've been able to make a decision on whether this will help me or not," Norton said.

The INDATA Project has more than 2,500 items in its library to help people overcome their disabilities. Some are as simple as a computer with voice input software. Others are highly specialized items like a Braille reader that can help people who have impairments keep up with those who don't.

When Silvia was a high school student, she didn't need devices like this, because the whole program at the Indiana School for the Blind was adapted for people with vision problems.

In college, she is the one who has to adapt.

"I am capable, I'm intelligent enough. It literally was just the tools and the technology. I had to learn all the tools, because some of them were pretty new to me," McVay said.

Silvia is a success story. Her second college semester was better than her first. She's feeling confident about her sophomore year and excited for her life after college.

"I want to finish my degree with a communications major. I really have a heart for helping other people, so I really want to help people who have unplanned pregnancies or children at risk," she said.

Goals all well within her reach, with just a small assist from technology.
Along with the tools available to students, they also have to learn to communicate to their schools about what they need. Just about every Indiana college and university has an office that's dedicated to helping students with disabilities succeed.

You can find out more at the Easter Seals Crossroads website.