University of the Fraser Valley

Students connect with accessible tech at UFV’s Accessibility Lab

Students connect with accessible tech at UFV’s Accessibility Lab

Phillip Retief hosts the Accessibility Lab at the Academic Success Centre.

A great idea can start with a sticky note. A year and a half ago, UFV peer tutor Phillip Retief jotted down the words “accessibility lab” as part of a brainstorming activity during a staff training day. Today, he hosts the real thing twice a week at the Academic Success Centre, bringing an array of adaptive technologies and expertise to students and faculty.

In his work as a tutor, Retief saw a need for tools and devices that reduce barriers to learning.

“I had a student come in a couple semesters ago now who was visually impaired,” he recalled.

“He was coming in specifically because he needed help with accessing materials. He had e-mails that he had to read for an assignment, and he just couldn’t see the e-mail. It wasn’t given to him auditorily, it was given to him visually … He was really stressed out. And then I was like, there must be a better way to help students on the ground like this.”

With some assistive devices being cost-prohibitive, Retief was inspired to create the Accessibility Lab. Here, anyone can use technologies designed to benefit their workflow, free of charge – this includes standard features that come with Microsoft Word, plus programs like Dragon Speak or Kurzweil 3000 that the UFV community might not have access to otherwise.

Whether searching for tools to help with reading, writing, dictation, or transcription, the Accessibility Lab is an open space for everyone to experiment and discover what’s out there.

“I think that most people see the word “accessibility” and do not make a connection to themselves,” says Sandra Smith, ASC program coordinator. “For example, any student could use a screen reader to listen to their final draft of their essay; listening will reveal issues with phrasing and pacing that one more reading won’t catch. Taking a multi-modal approach to one’s learning benefits anyone.”

Retief and his co-facilitator, Moninder Grewal, are on site to help people identify what they’re looking for and what technologies might fit their needs, and then walk them through how to use it.

“I’ve really tried to keep the student mindset in mind when I’m doing this,” says Retief.

From keeping cost-effective solutions top of mind to offering follow-up beyond the initial meeting, the Accessibility Lab is meeting students where they’re at to make learning more accessible than ever.

The Accessibility Lab can be found at the Academic Success Centre on Tuesdays, 3–4 pm in room G126 on the Abbotsford campus (Building G). On Thursdays, you can visit them in room A1204 at the Chilliwack campus at 12–1 pm.