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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI alumnus pledges $75,000 to help students with disabilities gain access to assistive technology

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

KINGSTON, R.I. -- January 13, 2005 -- A graduate of the University of Rhode Island College of Business Administration and his wife have pledged up to $75,000 to make it easier for students with disabilities to gain access to assistive technologies.

Jay Kaiser, a 1968 graduate of URI, and his wife Jean, made the donation to URI’s Office of Disability Services. The Kaisers are also supportive of various charities involved with learning differences such as Yale Child Study Center and Smart Kids.

Pamela A. Rohland, assistant director of student life for disability services, said a portion of the funding has already been used to conduct research on and conceptualize a “virtual center” that students could access online at remote locations at any time of day.

The department already cooperates with URI’s Information and Instructional Technology Services to provide adaptive equipment and technology, including assistive listening devices, voice activation software, text-reading software and screen enlarging software. To access some of this software, a student now has to be physically on campus. But the center would allow a student with a vision impairment to access text-reading software from his residence hall or off-campus house at midnight or during a snowstorm so he could prepare for an exam or assignment.

Rohland said one of the outcomes of the gift could be an opportunity for URI to consult with other colleges or schools.

“I envision a hub that would provide adaptive technology to URI, Rhode Island College and the Community College that students could access anytime, anywhere,” Rohland said. “We are moving away from one computer being used one at a time for one application. We could have 10 licenses for Kurzweil text-reading software that could serve 100 students.

“It is so generous of the Kaisers to help us make our campus more welcoming and accessible for students with disabilities,” Rohland said. “They have a great deal of insight into the quality of the contributions people with disabilities make to the community.”

Michaela Mooney, URI major gifts officer, said such support for URI and education in general is a regular part of the Kaisers’ lives. “They thought such a gift would be more beneficial than a scholarship for an individual student. They wanted to help the broad spectrum of students with disabilities, rather than an individual. It’s obvious that Jay’s education here at URI meant a great deal to him.”

The Office of Disability Services assists more than 600 self-identified students with documented disabilities.

The project is proceeding in three phases, with the first $25,000 already awarded and being used for research and development, including acquisition of equipment and software. The second phase, funded by another $25,000, includes the selection of an advisory board to select the best model and create a plan for implementation.

In addition, the Kaisers have challenged others to provide another $25,000 in funding that they will match in the final phase of their pledge.

A five-year plan to consider staffing needs, as well as creation of a cost-effective system for hardware and software upgrades will begin as well. Disability services will work with URI’s Information and Instructional Technology Services, Bookstore and Ram Computers for additional support.

Phase III will put the program in place throughout URI and will provide staffing coordination and additional purchases of equipment and software to allow for additional access through University lab spaces and a possible rental system for private use.

“This gift will allow us to jump start something we have needed for a long time,” Rohland said.

For more information about URI Disability Services, contact Pamela Rohland at 401-874-2098.