Back When I Was in School

At our meeting of the Columbus Advisory Committee on Disability Issues today, our speaker demonstrated the latest adaptive technology available to OSU students with disabilities. I was prepared to be more or less bored, because, as you know, I’ve been struggling with adaptive technology that seems to be fighting with me. Being forced into updating my computer skills to include working with Windows 7, and feeling the cultural pressure to join the smart phone set, I was expecting a ho hum presentation of screen readers and enlargers. But I had to sit up and take notice when we were shown a device that looks like a fat pen. As you sit in class, listening to the lecture, you take notes with this magical pen in special notebooks, and as you’re writing, it takes a picture of what you’re writing and creates a PDF on your computer. If that’s not magical enough, it records the lecture at the same time, so if you missed something, or your notes are missing an important word, you have a recording to fall back on. What’s even more amazing is that this device does not cost thousands of dollars, and it is available on line to the general public. The idea of being able to take notes in class or in a meeting, and look pretty much like anybody else made my jaw drop with wonder. I was born 50 years too early. Well, I don’t really mean that. I think growing up in the 50’s and 60’s was a blessing, but the way I had to take notes when I was in college was hideously cumbersome and awkward, to say nothing of time consuming.

I used a portable reel to reel tape recorder, which I carried from class to class, with extra batteries and 3-inch reels in my pockets. At the beginning of each class, I carefully threaded the tape, and if I forgot to rewind the tape before the next class, I’d have to fish out not only a new tape, but a new empty reel as well. Then when I got back to the dorm, I’d have to listen to the lecture all over again, so I could take notes on my manual braille writer, which I had borrowed from the Special Education office. There was no such thing as services for students with disabilities. I still have that braille writer, but don’t tell anybody. Kids nowadays wouldn’t know how to use it anyway I suspect. I used a huge tape recorder in my room with 7-inch reels.

I had to send my text books away to be recorded, and sometimes it took as long as 5 weeks to get them back on tapes. That was half the quarter. I recall one night when I was trying to study, and my 3 roommates decided to have a popcorn party in our room. I lugged that monster machine down to the common bathroom and studied there. Taking tests was always a challenge, and I wrote my term papers on a manual portable typewriter. They certainly weren’t as pretty as the papers kids turn in these days, with their fancy fonts and graphics. Oh wait. They don’t turn in papers. They send them via email to their professors. If I were a college student today, life would be completely different from the way it was back when I was in school. It might sound easier, because everything is supposedly accessible, but I think it’s a lot more complicated and a little more scarey, to tell you the truth.

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