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Georgia Tech College of Design

Formerly known as the College of Architecture

Georgia Tech Research Makes it to the White House

Three minutes can feel like forever. It can feel even longer when presenting your research at the White House in front of members of congress. This is the challenge that two Georgia Institute of Technology directors faced as the U.S. Department of Education invited them to Washington, D.C., to share their findings on college students with disabilities.  

AMAC Accessibility Solutions, a research center out of Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture, represented the Institute as it explained, in three minutes, the graduation gap between students with disabilities and their peers without. The ongoing study is supported by a multimillion-dollar grant that was awarded to Georgia Tech and AMAC from the U.S. Department of Education in 2014. The First In the World grant was designed by the Department of Education to promote college access and affordability for students facing some of the toughest challenges. Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan highlighted the First In the World grant during his keynote address at Georgia Tech’s Spring 2015 Commencement Ceremony.

AMAC’s Director, Dr. Christopher Lee, traveled to the White House on Monday where he was escorted alongside a select number of grant awardees to present in front of members of Congress. State Senators and Representatives had the chance to ask questions about the initiatives after the three-minute lightning round presentations. The hope is that the presentations will spark a conversation between government and colleges and universities to tackle some of the barriers preventing students from graduating.

The research project, known at AMAC as the Center for Accessible Material Innovation, collects data from students with print-related disabilities, like blindness or dyslexia, and determines which technology plays a factor in their success. These success trends could include accommodations such as accessible e-book formats and text-to-speech screen reading software. With the help of major textbook publishers, AMAC’s research and development will pair government and college institutions with corporate organizations to design an accessible college experience for students with disabilities. AMAC will take the research and develop a tool for publishers to use in the digital marketplace that offers students the option of purchasing accessible versions of the same book. The tool would be used similarly to nutrition labels on your groceries, providing data on accessible elements within a book. Dr. Lee is tasked with showing the importance of accessible textbooks and the future of digital formats in higher education to the members of Congress in order to create a standardized model for all publishers.

One of the biggest issues is getting the small- to medium-sized publishers on board who may not have the resources to create accessible versions. A standardized model would require publishers to create the accessible e-book version in the design phase rather than converting the printed version to accessible digital formats. Standardized formats, like EPUB, could potentially change the way textbooks are accessed not only for students with disabilities, but for all students, including those who would rather access their textbooks on a tablet or smartphone instead of a physical book.

With AMAC and the College of Architecture’s ongoing research in designing an accessible college experience, a three-minute presentation at the White House doesn’t seem long at all. But it’s a start.


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