As RCPD Assistant Director for Assistive Technology Innovation, Leslie Johnson oversees an exciting opportunity to enhance the experiences of students, staff, and faculty on campus. Since taking on this role at the beginning of 2020, she has empowered new opportunities for MSU students and employees, using a wide range of technologies to maintain an accessible environment.
Assistive technology is defined as “technology that enhances learning, working, and daily living for persons with disabilities.” With that, Leslie ensures that MSU’s colleges and departments are thinking about technological inclusion and accessibility. Through close work in partnerships around campus, such as with Information Technology (IT) and other teaching designers, she has applied solutions that help people with disabilities use technology to assist them in their everyday lives.
With assistive technology, it is important to continually strive for innovation, finding new technologies to bring to campus and creating new ways for existing technology to be used. As MSU engages in remote teaching, Leslie continues to configure different ways for technology to support online learning. Online learning is new for many students, and some have expressed concerns with the virtual format. Finding different solutions to help with remote accessibility has been an important objective of assistive technology innovations.
Recently, Leslie was instrumental in ensuring a smooth transition from in-person to online learning across campus. Prior to the remote transition becoming effective in March 2020, she was invited to a meeting of educational technology and instructional design experts to discuss how to prepare colleges for that inevitability. Having become involved in addressing faculty concerns regarding providing accessible content for students, and through workshops centered around content inclusion, Leslie was an important resource in creating the Summer Online Instructional Readiness Educational Experience (SOIREE) program, a week-long training for faculty to learn best practices for online instruction. This was a great way to train and provide information for online learning, accessible content, and universal design.
“About 800 or 900 faculty have gone through that program now, throughout the summer,” says Leslie. “It shows that MSU really wants to care about online classes being much better. I know a lot of people did not enjoy the spring classes, because it was such a rough transition. But I think moving forward, online classes will be a lot better, because of that training program. I was happy to be involved.”
Having previously worked for years as an Ability Access Specialist with the RCPD, Leslie’s student-focused background provides her with a unique perspective for understanding their needs and concerns. When it comes to training, she can relate her past experiences with students and faculty/staff to areas where they expressed the greatest need for support.
“I want for more students, staff, and faculty to realize how beneficial technology can be, whether you have a disability or not,” says Leslie. “I want to make a way for more people to get access to help in finding those technologies that will work for them and make a change in their lives.”
Some initiatives on the way, thanks to assistive technology innovation, include the Braille Technology Advantage Program for blind or visually impaired students to gain access to braille materials, and Spartan Ally, a program designed to integrate with D2L to help make course content more accessible.
Continuing her research into developing ways to support the assistive technology needs of Spartans, Leslie has only just begun assessing programs and services to enhance student success and the student experience here at MSU. We are excited to see what she comes up with next!