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MDRC cultivates disability pride and strengthens the disability movement by recognizing disability as a natural and beautiful part of human diversity while collaborating to dismantle all forms of oppression.

Suzan with the talking calculator

You likely know the feeling – your heart starts beating fast, your stomach clenches, you begin to sweat, and suddenly it becomes hard to concentrate and focus. We’ve all likely had an experience like this, and for many of us, it occurs at the least opportune time – often while taking a test. For Suzan Travis-Robyns, the stakes were high. As a history professor, she needed a math score of 500 or better to be accepted into a Ph.D. program.; Yet, in addition to retaining all of the material, and dealing with typical test anxiety, Suzan faced another challenge. As a result of a genetic, degenerative eye condition, Suzan had difficulty completing math problems on paper. She had a hard time seeing the numbers, and the longer the problem got the more the numbers tended to jump around on the page making it difficult for her compute the correct answer.

She was referred to the Superior Alliance for Independent Living (SAIL), the Center for Independent Living in her area, by United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan. After talking with them about her needs, staff demonstrated a standard talking calculator that is in the inventory of items from MDRC’s Assistive Technology Program. Suzan realized that the auditory feedback provided by the calculator could help her ensure she was inputting numbers in the correct places to solve the problems.

Suzan at desk with calculator, book and papers

After identifying the type of technology that best suited her, SAIL staff then worked to find the exact calculator that would meet her needs in taking the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). They researched online and browsed through catalogs and were able to find a talking scientific calculator with a high contrast display and large buttons capable of handling the complex math problems that she would encounter on her test. Perhaps best of all, SAIL was able to connect Suzan with funding from the United Way, allowing her to obtain the calculator at no cost to her. When she takes the GRE, she will be able to use a paper copy of the test rather than having to take it on a computer.She will also be allowed to use her large button, talking scientific calculator to help her keep her answers straight.

Suzan’s story is a great example of the way that assistive technology can open up doors and allow people with disabilities to pursue their future goals. It also shows the powerful impact that collaboration among organizations can have, as her journey began with a referral from United Cerebral Palsy of Michigan, which led to working with AT staff at SAIL, then to trying out a device provided by MDRC and finally obtaining the needed device funded through the United Way.

Good Luck, Suzan. We are glad we were able to have a part in helping you find the assistive technology you needed, and look forward to the day we can call you Dr. Suzan Travis-Robyns, Ph.D.!

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