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December 11, 2002

Headseat aids deaf students

From: Iowa State Daily - 11 Dec 2002

By Scott Rank
Daily Staff Writer
December 11, 2002

Editor's note: This story is the first in a three-part series about ISU students with disabilities. Thursday will be the story of Nancy Suby-Bohn, a dyslexic student in civil engineering. Friday will focus on Jennifer Slaats, a student in elementary education, who uses a wheelchair.

With his headset strapped on, Richard Haws could be mistaken for a fast food employee. But Professor Haws doesn't wear the headset to hear drive-through customers -- he's utilizing new technology to aid hearing-impaired students.

The technology is specifically for Katie Greiman, senior in communication studies. She has 20 percent of her hearing, making her legally deaf and qualified for the university's disability-assisted technology.

During class sessions, Haws, associate professor of journalism and mass communication, uses the headset, which is part of a hearing-assistance system called remote captioning.

Through remote captioning, the professor's voice is carried over a phone line to a captionist, who transcribes everything the instructor says during class.

Greiman's communication class captionist works in Colorado. She types the text of the lecture in a fashion similar to a court dictation. The text is then transmitted back to the computer that Greiman uses to watch the lecture unfold word for word on her computer screen.

When she enters the classroom, Greiman calls the captionist. When the captionist is ready, the instructor puts on the headset and the lecture appears on Greiman's screen.

"[The captionist] will then e-mail the class transcript to me after class and I'll skim through it," Greiman said.

Before using the captioning software, Greiman had a note-taker who would give her a carbon copy after each class.

But she says the new technology lets her be more involved in the lecture, not just mentally disengaging from the instructor she can't hear and waiting for her notes after class.

"In the past I didn't have any assistance in my classes and I missed many of the things that were going on," she said.

Greiman wasn't aware of the technology's existence during her first two years of college. Then a friend informed her of the technology and that she qualified under Iowa State's disability policy. Greiman then started using remote captioning.

"I've had the captioning system for a year and it's helped me a lot," she said.

Greiman also wears her own headset, which makes hearing the lecture much easier and frees her from always sitting close to the instructor.

Not all of her lecture dictation takes places far away from Ames. In her architecture class, the captionist sits next to Greiman and types out the class transcript, trailing the professor's lecture by only a few words.

Her in-class captionist will type out a nearly perfect transcript of the lecture. Greiman must constantly shift her attention between watching what the professor writes on the board and what her captionist types on the computer screen.

Most professors are supportive of Greiman's needs. This sentiment isn't universal, however.

"I have this [captioning software] for almost all my classes," Greiman said. She said most professors are accommodating to the headset, "but I've had one that really didn't want to wear the headset."

Todd Herriot, director of disability resources, said whether professors like the technology is irrelevant -- they're legally obligated to work with disabled students.

An instructor can't say no to a student who is deemed qualified for assistance, Herriot said. Those who do can be personally sued.

Haws, although legally obligated to wear the headset, said he doesn't see it as a burden -- even though he's never worked with disability technology until recently.

It isn't always easy to adapt because "there's an expectation that I change my teaching style, like repeat a student's response so [Greiman] can receive a perfect transcript of the class," he said. "I don't do that and it's awkward to make the change."

Haws said it hasn't been hard to adapt to the headset, however.

Herriot said a professor could only refuse help for a student if it compromises the integrity of the course, like assisting the student in a way that would make it impossible for the other students to learn.

Haws, however, doesn't believe the technology impairs his classes.

"It just hasn't been that big of a problem. My only concern is that these accommodations help the students," he said.

"I have much more a problem with students who show up late or never pay attention."

Herriot said professors should assist the disabled students.

"It's ethically right, it's morally right and it's legally obligated," he said. "After all, those students are already working twice as hard as anyone else.

"We want to sway professor opinion for their sake," said Herriot. "When an instructor doesn't accommodate someone with disabilities, they remain wide open for legal action."

While the captioning system is useful, Greiman will admit its flaws.

Keeping up with the lecture still isn't simple for Greiman. She must look at the professor, take notes and watch the computer screen -- all at the same time.

"It's hard to do three things at once," she said. "You also can't always depend on the technology.

"[The captioning system] doesn't always work, which means from time to time I have to do things the old fashioned way -- go to the front of the class and listen as hard as possible."

© 2002 Iowa State Daily