In 2003 Belle Auld, Coordinator of the Speech Assisted Reading and Writing (SARAW) program at Bow Valley College in Calgary, Alberta acted on the question she had been asking herself for several years.
"How are other SARAW computer programs being used across Canada and can we learn what is working well for adult learners with disabilities?"
To find the answers to this question Belle initiated a national research project called LaDS Literacy and Disabilities Study (LaDS). The purpose of the LaDS project was to explore issues in adult literacy for people with disabilities as well as investigate how the SARAW computer is used in different settings and delivery models.
LaDS began with a wide lens to explore the connections between adult literacy and disabilities. We learned that people with disabilities make up a disproportionate amount of the 42% of Canadian adults who function at the two lowest literacy levels (Movement for Canadian Literacy, 2005). Studies on literacy and disabilities indicate that people with disabilities are disadvantaged when accessing programs to develop and strengthen their literacy skills (Carpenter, 2004; Yates, 2001; Macht, 2000. Kapsalis, 1999; Literacy Ontario, 1998; Roher, 1995). It Gets in Your Brain was developed because nearly 50% of adults with disabilities experience literacy barriers.1
"Despite rapid advances in technology and learning tools, people with disabilities are still being left behind on their journey towards literacy." (Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres, 2003)
"Literacy training for many people with disabilities plays a critical role in helping them move from a place of marginalization towards the mainstream of society." (Carpenter & Readman, 2004)
We learned that when technology is effectively used for literacy skill building it makes programs more accessible for adults with disabilities (Carpenter, 2004; Tooke Lacey, 2002; Macht, 2000; Literacy Ontario, 1998). Using technology such as the SARAW computer and assistive technology devices2 improves accessibility to literacy programs for people with disabilities.
1 Rioux, M., Zubrow, E., Stutt Bunch, M., Miller, W. (2003). Atlas of Literacy and Disability. Canadian Abilities Foundation. Toronto. www.abilities.ca
2 Assistive technology and adaptive devices assist learners to interface with a computer effectively (Carpenter, C. 2004; Macht, J. 2000). SARAW has built in DECtalk (voice synthesizer) and word prediction. Examples of external devices include specialized keyboards, pointing devices, and key guards. For information on assistive technology and adaptive devices go to Neil Squire Society at http://www.neilsquire.ca/index.asp or the Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres at http://www.cailc.ca