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$750,000 grant provides STEM education for those with disabilities

January 12, 2015

Dakota State University will receive nearly $750,000 over the next 5 years as a sub-award of the $20 million grant that the South Dakota Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (SD EPSCoR) was awarded earlier this year from the National Science Foundation (NSF). SD EPSCoR developed and submitted the "2020 Vision: The South Dakota Science and Innovation Strategy" proposal, which was subsequently funded by the NSF to enhance the academic research infrastructure in South Dakota and increase both educational opportunities and workforce development in areas related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Faculty and graduate students at DSU will work to target underrepresented populations in STEM education by providing and creating opportunities for students with disabilities. Dr. Jennifer Nash, Dr. Chris Olson, Rob Honomichl, and graduate students will work to develop fully-accessible STEM courses that can be completed by utilizing assistive software technology. To broaden the number of students who can benefit from assistive software technology, DSU will also create programs to educate current and future K-12 teachers on how to use various types of assistive software to help students with learning, mobility, and sensory disabilities.

Assistive software technology can be utilized by individuals with all types of disabilities. Students with cognitive or learning disabilities can benefit from software that highlights words as they are read from documents, electronic textbooks, and/or websites. Individuals who are unable to use a keyboard or mouse because of amputation, paralysis, stroke, or neurological disorders can control a computer and dictate text with voice recognition software. Those with visual impairments can use software that combines both screen reading and voice recognition software. Finally, software that captions audio and video can be used to provide accessible media to those who are deaf or have difficulty hearing.

The desire to increase educational opportunities for students with disabilities arose as a result of the Barrier Free Learning Committee at Dakota State University. The Barrier Free Learning Committee (BFLC) at DSU began meeting in 2008. The purpose of the committee is to facilitate the pursuit of the most current information and methods with regard to streamlining pedagogical and technological methodologies, devices, delivery systems, and environments which might otherwise prove an impediment to students, faculty, and staff with disabilities. The committee is comprised of faculty from all colleges in the university, a librarian, the Director of Extended Programs, the web strategist, instructional designer, a physical plant manager, and the ADA coordinator.  Two of the members have disabilities; one is blind and another is a quadriplegic.