The Braille Monitor                                                                                       December 2002

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Peirce Makes It Possible for Blind and Visually Impaired Students to Earn a College Degree

by Patricia Rucker

From the Editor: Patricia Rucker is chief academic officer and dean of Peirce College in Philadelphia. As the following article explains, the school has made a commendable effort to make certain that its online course offerings are completely accessible to students using access technology. School officials have worked closely with the NFB technology department to ensure that they did things right from the beginning.

This report does not attempt to be objective, but it does seem to be accurate, and we thought that Braille Monitor readers would want to know where they might turn for truly accessible course work and degree programs online.

For over 137 years Peirce College has made it possible for many people to achieve their educational and career dreams. Peirce has been educating leaders throughout business, industry, government, and the professions since its inaugural year of operation in 1865. Continuing this tradition, Peirce's recent partnership with eCollege is providing a new realm of convenience for the blind and visually impaired to achieve their educational and career dreams.

With so much in the news about distance education and Web-based learning, the visually impaired must wonder if this exciting new way of getting a college degree is accessible to them. The answer is "yes." ECollege, the Application Service Provider (ASP) for Peirce's Online Program, and Peirce College have partnered in their goal of providing convenient Web-based learning for blind students. For three years eCollege conducted field research that included attending assistive-technology conferences and trade shows to learn how the technology ameliorates the issues of disability. As a result of this research, eCollege assures that Peirce College's Online Program is Section-508-compliant, which translates to a certain standard of basic-level usability.

ECollege tested the screen-reader software with assistive technology. A group of expert disabled users tested the software and equipment to determine its ease of use. These testers represented new and experienced users and some graduates of the Colorado Center for the Blind. ECollege has a relationship with the Colorado Center for the Blind, providing important internship opportunities, and recently hired a graduate of that program. Joel Sanda, standards and accessibility consultant for eCollege, said, "This is the real proof. Can a blind person support our sighted users? Yes, it happens quite often. Users calling eCollege's help desk don't know they're being helped by a blind person."

Peirce is a four-year specialized private college dedicated to providing practical, leading-edge curricula to primarily working adult learners. Jon Lenrow, manager of the online program, described the program, "We are committed to providing access to students through flexible and convenient educational programs. Our courses are accelerated at seven weeks each, six sessions per year, and students may enroll in online classes every month. The online courses are available anytime, anywhere, year round with 24/7/365 help desk support." Peirce has reinforced its commitment to providing access to education for all students as a result of this combined initiative with eCollege to serve visually impaired students.

Peirce's Online Program, which has been certified by eCollege as 508-compliant, provides the convenience and flexibility that today's learners desire in order to meet the many challenges of work and family while continuing their education. Peirce College offers bachelor's and associate's degrees in business administration with concentrations in management and marketing. A bachelor's in business administration with a concentration in real estate management is also available. The Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) accredits the business administration program.

Peirce's highly successful information technology (IT) associate's and bachelor's degrees are available online with a concentration in technology management. The IT concentration in networking is another highly popular option available at the associate's level.

An exciting career degree program for students interested in the legal profession is paralegal studies, which is approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA requires students to take four of the paralegal courses on campus in a classroom, but all other courses may be taken online.

Peirce is a student-centered institution offering a curriculum focused on learning, student performance, and practical application. For each course and each degree program faculty members have identified specific learning outcomes students are expected to achieve. Online student support services, such as tutoring, library research, and career counseling, are available to help students achieve their academic and career goals. Another exciting feature about Peirce's online program is the individual support and attention that students receive from their program advisor, available online as well.

ECollege has tested and confirmed that Peirce's courseware, and <> Web site is Section-508-compliant. While the courseware is compliant, various offices at Peirce College will need to work toward providing reasonable accommodations for blind students. For example, student academic support is available in the Walker Center for Academic Excellence, which offers tutoring and academic and career advising through e-mail and phone conferences. The library has many Web-based databases and services for students. Other areas of Peirce College such as the Registrar and the Business and Financial Aid offices will be more than willing to provide accommodations in order to support blind students. Peirce has a can-do attitude that blind students will find supportive in working toward their educational and career goals.

Peirce College is fully accredited by the Middle States Association Commission on Higher Education.

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