YPSILANTI, Mich., May 22, 2000 — Online learning has no bigger fan than Todd Pasquale. In fact, the 35-year-old believes that technology-based learning options, such as Web-based classes, are critical to making higher education accessible to all students.
With the aid of his computer and the Internet, plus his own perseverance and positive mental attitude, Pasquale recently graduated from Eastern Michigan University (EMU). One of 2,500 graduates this spring from the university in Ypsilanti, Mich., he was recognized for his academic efforts and use of technology to pursue his education by the commencement keynote speaker -- President Bill Clinton.
Pasquale, a quadriplegic paralyzed as a result of a 1984 diving accident, completed his bachelor's degree -- a double major in geography and sociology --by mastering the use of his Windows-based PC with a mouth stick and roller ball mouse and by completing several courses via the Internet though EMU Online this past winter.
EMU Online, the Web site for EMU classes delivered via the Internet, began with 10 courses offered in an eight-week format in the 1998 winter semester. The positive response received from participating students and faculty has led to additional courses. EMU Online is powered by eCollege.com, an application service provider enabling educational institutions to offer Internet-based environments for online campuses, enhanced classroom-based teaching and full distance-learning programs.
"Winter weather prohibited me from taking classes on campus during winter semesters. It was just too difficult for me to get around by wheelchair because of snow and cold weather, which is why it took me eight years to get my degree," Pasquale said. "Having the ability to take classes through EMU Online was an incredible opportunity that enabled me to keep up with my studies and wrap up my degree. I only wish that opportunities like this had existed when I started college."
Although he enjoys being able to attend classes on campus whenever he can, in many ways online learning made his life as a student much easier, Pasquale said. He believes that as more colleges and universities adopt the use of online learning, more students with disabilities will be able to achieve their goals of obtaining college educations. Taking classes online allowed Pasquale to take his own class notes via his computer, rather face the often difficult challenge of hiring a note-taker on campus to attend classes with him. In addition, he said class discussions were often more in-depth online and it was easy to get questions answered by instructors and classmates.
"We are both moved and inspired by Todd's depth of dedication to academic excellence," said Toby Richards, director of higher education programs for Microsoft's Education Solutions Group. Microsoft recognized Pasquale's achievements with a graduation gift -- the latest in Microsoft software. " We were particularly intrigued to learn that EMU Online courses played a part in enabling Todd to complete his double-major coursework. We strongly believe lifelong learning will become more and more a part of our lives in the 21 st Century as the Internet brings a Connected Learning Community together and into our homes, our workplace, our schools and higher-education institutions."
But Pasquale notes that equally important for students with disabilities is the ongoing development of new accessibility features included in software created by Microsoft and other high-tech companies. With over a decade of experience and dedication, Microsoft is a leader in making accessible products and is raising the standard for the whole industry. Microsoft offers software and operating systems that feature useful new accessibility tools to help people with disabilities configure and use computers quickly -- without additional software and hardware. Even before he had the opportunity to take advantage of online learning, Pasquale said the first big step he took was learning how to use a computer, which would not have been possible without many of the new accessibility features and tools.
Working in the Center for Adaptive Technology Education (CATE) Lab, part of EMU's College of Education, Pasquale learned how to use a computer as well as a variety accessibility tools and software, said CATE Lab Coordinator Jenny Clark. The CATE Lab also provided a way for Pasquale to take exams on his own. Prior to adaptive technology, many students with disabilities had to have someone read the test questions to them out loud as well as write the answers down. Advances in accessibility features have changed all that, Clark said.
Microsoft software and operating systems now include features for people who have difficulty seeing things on the screen, features for people who are deaf or hearing-impaired, as well as special features for people like Pasquale, who need additional help using a keyboard and mouse. One of the most helpful features, Pasquale says, has been "StickyKeys," which aids people who type with a single finger or mouth stick when they need to execute commands that normally require two or more keys to be pressed at the same time, such as Control-Alt-Delete. With StickyKeys, computer users can press one key at a time and instruct Windows to respond as if the keys had been pressed simultaneously.
Clark says Pasquale gave as much help back to the CATE Lab as he received. In addition to trying out new adaptive technology tools, such as voice recognition software, Pasquale also volunteered as a guest lecturer for EMU classes designed to prepare teachers to work in the classroom with students who have various disabilities.
"Todd has been a real asset to the CATE Lab," Clark said. "We always have several students helping out in the CATE Lab, and as an adult student Todd was able to offer a different perspective to teachers learning to work with students with disabilities. The students really enjoyed learning from him how adaptive technology can be used in the classroom and how teachers can modify their lessons to help all students."