The final product of his research will take the form of an online manual published at the end of the spring 2012 semester for disabled college students—incorporating application descriptions, reviews, and further instructions on recommended implementation as assistive technologies. In the course of his project, Graves admits to using not only his own personal experiences with disability and various technologies, but also the perspectives of young children in programs such as College Bound—a program designed to help transition students with disabilities into higher education—and the YMCA.
A Virginia Tech Undergraduate Diversity Research Grant funds Graves’s project, which has garnered attention from Assistive Technology systems throughout Virginia and led to numerous requests to speak at future webinars as well as professional and classroom demonstrations. Graves has also presented his research at a “Transition Practitioner’s Council” consisting of special educators, transition specialists, and vocational rehabilitation counselors from 34 counties and cities in Southwest Virginia. During his presentations, Graves demonstrates the ways in which popular applications, as well as some of the basic features of the iPad, can be repurposed to aid students with disabilities. Graves points to the “Verbally” app as an example: This program features a virtual keyboard as well as common words and phrases that, when activated via a “Speak” button, can be used to build sentences spoken out loud by the device. “A student with a speech impediment who may be unable to speak at all—or may have limitations speaking in a group—would be able to relay information to a teacher or professor,” Graves says. “Students with disabilities are constantly trying … to find tools that put them on a more level playing field with their peers.” Although Graves admits it can be difficult for people to accept help from assistive technology due to the social stigma sometimes attached to such aids, he advocates his model as a chance for offices of disabilities at universities around the nation to improve of the way they serve disabled students.
After the completion of his research, Graves has decided to attend graduate school to continue his education in assistive technologies, eventually aiming to work in a office of disabilities at a university. “Taking to researching and documenting these apps, and knowing that it will eventually—if it hasn’t already—make a difference in someone’s life is incredibly empowering,” Graves says.He serves as a tribute to the way undergraduates can be both impacted by and impactful through research.