Accessibility: Actually for All
by Abby Brockway
I’ve been missing Civ lately. I was always the odd man out because I enjoyed Providence College’s niche course, since I’m a history nerd at heart. Still, I’ve felt that my classes this semester lack something my Civ classes always featured: the potential for audiobooks. I’ve known since high school that I learn best when spoken to. I’ve had teachers who have played audiobooks during class time instead of assigning reading for homework. Ever since that experience, I’ve relied on listening to audiobooks for long readings as I’ve seen what a difference hearing what I’m reading makes for my comprehension and my usually wandering attention. I felt that I understood most of my readings in Civ because the required classical texts usually had some audio recording I could find on Audible or YouTube. When the texts became more obscure, I paid $12/month for a “Speechify” account to create my text-to-speech recordings. This semester, I’ve found myself in a predicament as my classes are so topic-specific that virtually no audiobooks or recordings exist for the 15-18 page scholarly research studies I’ve been assigned to read twice a week. So I considered arguing that PC should offer free or reduced Speechify accounts for students that learn best through listening.
However, to argue that PC needs to provide differently, I had to determine how they currently provide for students that either have a formal visual processing disorder or know they would benefit as a learner from audio recordings. I am one of the latter group, so I reached out to the Office of Student Success, formally known as OAS, and met with an advisor to discuss if there were any options.
In my meeting with Molly McKeon, assistant director of Accessibility Service, I was astonished to learn that PC offers a free text-to-speech application that converts word files to MP3 audio files. The application is SensusAccess and is located on the SSC’s homepage under “Accessibility Document Converter.” The application has even more functions, as it can convert text files into braille and e-books. The application can also convert poorly scanned files into files with word recognition, so the file can go back into the processor again to be turned into MP3, braille, or e-book. Molly also showed me other free text-to-speech built-in applications like Natural Reader and Microsoft Lens that allow computer users to highlight particular texts and have them read back to them in AI-formulated voices.
At this point, my opinion was beginning to shift. There was no reason to argue for Speechify accounts if the SSC offers a speech-to-text application that can do even more than Speechify can. I wondered if other students knew of SensusAccess, so I shared what Molly showed me with my roommates, who are a mix of all different academic majors. Like me, my roommates had no idea about SensusAccess and that students who don’t formally qualify for academic accommodations could access speech-to-text assistive applications. My roommates and I concluded that the main issue is that no one, meaning our professors or the administration at PC, told us that these possibilities existed. Therein, my argument took a final turn: professors have a responsibility as educators to learn about and market these assistive technologies not only to students with formal learning disability diagnoses but to all students. Once students are made aware of these technologies, they can develop a unique method of learning that aligns with their learning preferences.
I initially believed that this opinion piece would be an argument that the College should offer free or reduced Speechify subscriptions to all students. However, after a conversation with the Office of Student Success, I learned that PC provides an even better free application for all students. SensusAccess and other applications have yet to be discovered by most students at PC. Professors should prioritize learning about and marketing these applications to their students if they want to see them excel in their classes.
Starting the Spring Semester with Self-love
by Samantha Dietel '23
The spring semester has officially begun, and we have all returned to Friartown ready to dive back into work. Or have we? Hopefully, you spent your break recovering from the fall semester, but regardless, you may be struggling with the return to campus. Research studies indicate that taking vacations can help reduce stress and have numerous other benefits. It’s important that you use your break time to get away from the stress of college and recharge before the next semester. You once again have time to enjoy your hobbies, read a book, or binge-watch that show you’ve been dying to see.
Although many of us are excited to be back on campus and see our friends, it can be a rude awakening to launch back into academics. The work seems to pile up quickly, and all that free time you enjoyed not too long ago instantly vanishes. It’s impossible for that refreshed feeling to stay with you for the whole semester if it goes unnurtured. It’s easy to say you don’t have time for self-care, but it’s just as easy to engage in quick activities that promote positive mental health and help keep you feeling refreshed. There are so many simple things that can be done that will help you both in and out of the classroom.
A relatively new technique to slow down the craziness of college life is referred to as nature bathing. This essentially means taking a walk out in nature. Recent psychological research has found that spending time in and focusing on nature helps both your physical and mental health. The research shows that nature helps reduce stress and anxiety as well as refocus your attention. If you feel yourself starting to get burnt out, take a break from the assignment and take a brief walk through nature and focus only on noticing the things around you. After your walk, you can return to your work feeling refreshed and ready to resume.
If it’s too cold outside or you’re looking for another way to refresh, there are other quick techniques that can save you from burning out. Mindfulness is another way to pause the chaos happening around you. While it’s understandable that not everyone wants—or has the time—to sit down and meditate, there are much simpler (and quicker) ways to go about this. If you truly feel you cannot add anything else into your schedule, add mindfulness to the existing parts of your day. Pay attention to the sounds you hear as you walk from class to class. This is one way to quiet your mind and refocus yourself. Additionally, there are quick mindfulness exercises to listen to while you’re in the shower. No matter what your schedule looks like, you have these in between moments that are perfect for a quick exercise.
If mindfulness really isn’t for you, you need to find what activity you enjoy that always leaves you feeling refreshed. One of the best forms of self-care is simply making time for yourself. Try to find some free time every once in a while to process the events of your day, talk to your friends, read a book, or watch a show. As college students, the days go by so quickly and we often focus on what’s next on our agendas. We need time to reflect on what we’ve done and reflect on the events of the day. If you leave no time to process, reflect, and refocus, this will inevitably lead to burnout. It’s important to set these good techniques now while we’re still in school. For the most part, when we enter the workforce, we don’t get a month off, or any extended breaks at all. It is important for us to learn now how to manage our time while maintaining our mental health and allowing us time for the things we enjoy. This is the time when you get to figure out what works best for you. Don’t waste this opportunity to learn how to help yourself; it goes by far too quickly.