Malcolm, M. P., & Roll, M. C. (2017). Assistive technology outcomes in post-secondary students with disabilities: The influence of diagnosis, gender, and class-level . Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology , 12 (8), 857–867.

Journal Article

Malcolm, M. P., & Roll, M. C. (2017). Assistive technology outcomes in post-secondary students with disabilities: The influence of diagnosis, gender, and class-level. Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 12(8), 857–867.


Attention problem; Color contrast device or software; Dictated response; Dictated response (speech recognition system); Electronic administration; Emotional/Behavioral disability; Intellectual disabilities; Learning disabilities; Magnification device or software; Physical disability; Physical supports; Postsecondary; Screen display; Student survey; Tactile graphics; Technological aid; U.S. context; Visual impairment (including blindness); Word processing (for writing)



The focus of this study was on examining self-reported patterns of use of assistive technology (AT) devices and other supports that can be applied to daily classroom activities (such as taking notes). Emphasis was placed in this summary on information on the many AT supports that could assist with activities relevant to completing exams and other graded tasks—including text-to-speech devices, screen reading software, and software for converting electronic documents in pdf formats into text formats; ergonomic and other alternate keyboards, voice-recognition software, and tools to adapt person's input into computer; magnification devices and software, and screen display adaptations for font, color, and masking, such as color overlays; and "hardware and software to create tactile graphics" (p. 860). In summary, these AT supports were interchangeably called accommodations, and can be categorized as presentation or response accommodations.


An extant deidentified data set was analyzed comprising 455 postsecondary students receiving services from a university Assistive Technology Resource Center (ATRC; in Colorado) for a five-year period from 2011 through 2015. The postsecondary students were referred to the ATRC, part of the Department of Occupational Therapy, by the disability support office. Disability types included learning disabilities, mental health-related or emotional-behavioral disabilities, mobility disabilities, visual impairments, and neurological disabilities. Additional demographic information, such as gender, and other details such as major course of study and time in postsecondary education were also reported. Patterns of AT use based on disability and other variables were a focus of the study.

Dependent Variable

Two measures served as sources for data analyses. The Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (COPM, 4th ed.; Law et al., 2005) served as a pre-test and post-test, checking for respondents' challenges and their perceptions on their own improvements over time, at the onset of ATRC services and at the end of the academic term. These factors comprise overall COPM satisfaction and skills improvement ratings. For this study's focus on school tasks, the areas for self-evaluation included test-taking, along with reading, writing, note-taking, and studying; where possible, this Summary focuses on test-related skills. Because the COPM was completed by students only in the most recent 2 1/2 years of the 5 years under analysis, data were available for 216 postsecondary students with disabilities; some demographic details were incomplete for up to 27 of these 216 students. The ATRC also developed a survey for student users to describe their AT use and its impacts, and to evaluate their services. Specifically, these five dependent variables were "identification of need, timely accommodation, independent AT use, comfort advocating and remain in courses" (p. 860).


The postsecondary student disability groups had varying COPM and ATRC survey scores. The COPM scores, on average, increased (from pre- to post-test) from moderate levels to moderate-high levels. Students with mood disorders showed significantly greater improvements than the other groups with marked improvements, including those with learning disabilities, with attention difficulties, and with visual impairments. There were no significant differences in COPM increases based on gender or postsecondary year in program—that is, there was a general increase, but no differences in rate of increase. The ATRC score on the impact of AT use, measured by students' persisting in taking postsecondary courses, shows an overall rating range of 'agree' to 'strongly agree'. When comparing average ratings by student groups—by disability type, gender, and year in postsecondary education—there were no significant group differences based on these factors. However, disability groups differed in their ratings on accommodation timeliness and degree of independence of their use of AT. Students with mobility and pain-related disabilities indicated that timeliness was a significant problem, compared with students with learning disabilities, students with attention difficulties, and the small number of students who did not specify their disability type. Students with learning disabilities rated their AT use independence significantly higher than students with neurological conditions. Gender and year in college were not significant factors for any of the five ATRC survey areas. The researchers remarked that more than one-third of all postsecondary students with disabilities who were referred for ATRC services had learning disabilities, noting that the needs of students with other disabilities must also be provided satisfactory and impactful AT services at the postsecondary level. Limitations of the study were reported, and future research directions were suggested.