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Welcome to the ATHEN E-Journal Issue #3

From our Guest Editor

This issue is an overview of the state of Assistive Technology support for students with disabilities in the United Kingdom. There are many differences between the four nations -- England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland -- but the following articles tend to talk in general terms, other than a report by Dr. Caroline Davies that highlights some issues related to the provision of technologies in Welsh colleges and universities.

Professor Paul Blenkhorn sets the scene with the types of assistive technologies (AT) available to those with disabilities. He goes on to examine issues of feature creep and complexity of use. This is a highly visual presentation that was first given at the 2005 Assistive Technology and Augmentative Communication (ATAC) conference in Japan, but the content could be considered timeless. It points out the need to keep technology simple to use, which has always been important to Professor Blenkhorn, when developing software packages for those who are blind, have visual impairments, or have specific learning difficulties including dyslexia.

E.A. Draffan has provided an overview of the service offered to students in Higher Education who use Assistive Technologies as a result of having a government-funded allowance to pay for the equipment. She goes on to discuss how the process may be audited but the actual technologies provided are not reviewed or checked for appropriateness and often do not relate to the increased use of on-line learning materials and social networking software.

As has been mentioned, Dr. Caroline Davies then continues the discussion with a report undertaken in Wales. The report highlights the concerns that result when students are unable to receive an allowance for assistive technologies and depend on the ‘auxiliary aids and services’ available in the colleges and universities.

Jenny Dyer from Skill adds to the discussion about e-learning and examines the issues at a national level. She highlights the need for more academics to be aware of the implications of this type of technology-enhanced learning for those with disabilities both in school, college and university.

Finally, Noel Duffy from Dolphin Computer Access investigates the issues of alternative formats within the Higher Education community across Europe. He highlights the lack of a unified model for the production of alternative formats, the cost and time implications of some of the methods in use today, and how this could be changed in the future.