The Sports Center at The American University in Cairo (AUC) has renovated the Paul B. Hannon Swimming Pool to ensure that people with disabilities have an easy and accessible means of entering and exiting the pool by installing a specialized, sloped staircase in the pool. “Our aim is to better serve all members of the AUC community and allow people with disabilities easier access in and out of the pool,” said Louise Bertini, manager of athletics for aquatics. The New Cairo campus is designed to be accessible to people with disabilities. All campus areas are accessible by wheelchairs, and club cars are available for transport around campus with prior arrangement. In an effort to empower students with disabilities, AUC has managed to provide the best facilities and resources to accommodate students with disabilities. AUC hosts two adaptive technology corners with innovative software and hardware to assist students who are visually impaired. These include: Job Access with Speech (JAWS), a screen reader that converts text on the screen to synthesized speech; and Kurzweil 1000, used to digitize print materials such as library books or articles, class assignments and exams into a format that is readable by JAWS. There is also a braille printer that prints e-books, PDF and even Arabic Text into braille. Braille Note Display is another portable device for note taking in braille that students can use in class. In addition to Plextalk, a pocket-size, portable device for audio recordings during lectures.
Currently, seven students, including two graduate students, use the technologies for their studies at AUC, ranging in majors from philosophy and political science to economics. Marwa Mansour, assistant director of operations at University Academic Computing Technologies, pointed out that a variety of technologies are needed to accommodate students from different backgrounds. “Some students are taught to use Braille, some know how to use JAWS very well and some only depend on recording,” said Mansour. “We teach the students how to use the various technologies.”
Each visually impaired student has JAWS software installed for free on their personal laptops for the duration of their time at AUC. To further support people with disabilities, plans are underway to acquire portable magnifiers, specifically with low vision students to use in class and invest in more sophisticated scanning technology to translate written documents into digital files that can be converted to audio or Braille. UACT already has a part-time visually impaired delegate, Ahmed Abdel Tawab, who trains students on the JAWS software and assists them in scanning and printing of material, software installation and setup.
According to the United Nations, one in seven people worldwide have some form of mental or physical disability. Eighty percent of those with disabilities live in developing countries and have limited accessible to resources and medical care. The United Nations delegated December 3 as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The theme for 2015 is Inclusion Matters: Access and Empowerment for People of all Abilities.
With a recent gift to establish the Ismail Fund for Students with Learning Disabilities, the Office of Student Support has expanded its services to provide all-around support to ensure students can make the most of their time at AUC, as not all students have disabilities that are visible to others.
“Learning disabilities are hidden disabilities” explained Alexandra Gazis, assistant director for student disability services in the Office of Student Support. “Students with learning disabilities don’t only need academic support. They also need social and personal support”
Learning disabilities includes disorders like dysgraphia and dyslexia, as well as attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. A psychologist who is an expert in learning disabilities will now be available for students, as well as a licensed assessor, who evaluates the students, makes recommendations and helps develop a detailed plan, including steps toward personal, academic and social goals.
“AUC is one of the first universities in the Middle East to have an office specifically for students with disabilities,” Gazis pointed out. “In Egypt, I can see other universities looking to us as an example and recognizing that yes, there are students with disabilities and trying to see what they can do to help them in their academic careers. Our aim is to create a campus environment where students are viewed on the basis of ability rather than disability.”