Wednesday, March 28, 2018

University of Limerick has launched the Educational Assistive Technology Centre (EATC), a unique resource that uses state-of-the art technology and training to create learning environments that work for people with disabilities.

The Disability Support Service at UL has opened this purpose-built lab, complete with technology designed for use by people with a range of disabilities, so that more students can access university courses and other educational pathways without barriers.

“It is widely recognised that there is a lack of expertise in the area of the application of assistive technology for users with disabilities in the field of education,” says Mr Pat Hoey, Access Manager, at UL.

“The Mid-West region is fortunate to have that expertise at its fingertips in the Educational Assistive Technology Centre at University of Limerick. The centre brings a national expertise to the region through the provision of training, assessment, research and information.”

People coming to the EATC are assessed to establish their needs and trained to use the right technology to become more independent learners.

This lab is home to 16 iMac computers and a suite of iPad Pros and laptops for mobile device training, as well as a range of assistive technology hardware and software. Centre staff offer a complete assistive technology training and support service. With over 20 years of combined training and assessment experience in the field of assistive technology, EATC staff work as a team to design and deliver technology training that works for the user.

"The assistive technology provided to me by the University of Limerick's Disability Services has been a massive help,” said Aaron Mullane, a third year BA English and History student from Limerick.

“Before coming to university, I had never been offered the opportunity to use technology as an aid in my education. Using this technology has helped me in ways that I had never even considered. Assistive technology allows me to overcome my educational barriers and gives me the tools I need to reach my highest potential. With the help of this technology I hope to get the best degree possible and to graduate with the best possible results," he continued.

As well as supporting people with disabilities, the centre also aims to support teachers, educational bodies and employers to develop assistive technology awareness and knowledge, so that they can create more inclusive environments for students with disabilities and specific learning difficulties. The centre, which can accommodate one-to-one or group training sessions, comes equipped with recording facilities that cater for assistive technology training both on-site and online.

The lab is unique, both in its resources and its purpose, according to Access Manager Pat Hoey. “Beyond education, the centre can support students with disabilities in employment on work placement. The lab will also be a beacon for inclusive learning across the region, generating awareness of assistive technology so teachers, educators, educational professionals and employers can better support the needs of all students and employees.”

At the launch of the new centre, University of Limerick President Dr Desmond Fitzgerald said: “At UL, we not only support diversity, we embrace it. We share the goal of the EATC which is to increase the participation, achievement and retention rates of people with disabilities in education. The establishment of this excellent assistive technology assessment and training centre will hopefully ease some of the challenges faced by people with disabilities in education. Our objective is to enable, empower and to open doors. We are determined to make that happen.

“It is a source of great pride, to me personally and to us as a university, that the disability support service and, in particular, the assistive technology expertise in UL is nationally recognised as a pioneer in the provision of support to students with disabilities in higher education,” concluded Dr Fitzgerald.