Profile: Julie Maki, Coordinator of Adaptive
Lab, Disability Services
Lab, Disability Services
Julie Maki, a member of the Disability Services team, is the Coordinator of the Adaptive Lab at Fitchburg State University. She attended Northern Essex Community College for her Associate's Degree in Sign Language Interpreting and Deaf Studies, and she attended Fitchburg State University, majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies. She first became interested in working with people who have disabilities because of a family friend who was Deaf and used American Sign Language to converse with others.
The Adaptive Lab at Fitchburg State allows for students with print disabilities to gain access to information that they otherwise would not be able to read. A person with a print disability have difficulty obtaining information from written text, and may include people who have learning disabilities, visual impairments, or those who have physical disabilities that prevent them from utilizing books or other written materials. The Adaptive Lab features computer programs such as Dragon, Tiger Software Suite, Capti Voice, JAWS, and ZoomText. These softwares can translate voice to text, read text out loud, translate Braille, and zoom in on text, all making text accessible for people who have print disabilities and otherwise would not be able to have access to the information.
Outside of the Adaptive Lab, Julie has many other roles at Fitchburg State. She proctors exams when necessary and helps students in the computer lab. Julie also trains Summer Orientation leaders and can be found helping out during the Summer Orientations. She also trains Resident Assistants, Upward Bound Counselors, and Expanding Horizon Program mentees. Upward Bound is a scholastic program for students in the Leominster and Fitchburg area that allows them to grow academically as well as get a taste for what college education will be like. The Expanding Horizon Program is another academic program, but it focuses on Fitchburg State students who are either first generation college students, students from low-income households, or students with disabilities that are struggling in their classes.
The purpose of Disability Services is to provide accommodations to students who have disabilities, allowing them to succeed just as well as non-disabled students. One of Julie’s jobs is to address the issues that students with disabilities disclose. While she cannot be the one to help with every single problem, she can research the problem, or find a solution by asking others around her. A specific concern Julie brought up was regarding the door to the Disability Services office. Prior to last year, students who used wheelchairs or scooters were not able to open the door and enter themselves. After doing some research regarding the accessibility codes, the door was measured and weighed by Capital Planning and Maintenance. This led to the installation of a push button outside of the office that would open the door, allowing students with mobility disabilities to enter. Students with disabilities will encounter many problems that an able-bodied person would never even think of, so it is important to address these problems and improve the access for these students.
In the Adaptive Lab, Julie primarily works with students who use the Capti Voice software. Capti Voice is a program that reads text out loud, which makes it perfect for students with print disabilities. The only problem is that not every book that students need for classes are available. Julie prides herself on being very good at finding electronic versions of the books the students need. She often communicates with the publishers of the textbooks, but will still occasionally have to upload books herself. This entails scanning a book, page by page, until the entire book is available on the computer. Each semester, Julie processes, edits, and uploads approximately 130 to 150 books.
In the twenty years that Julie has worked at Fitchburg State, she has seen a huge shift in the way disability is perceived. In the past, disabilities were seen through a medical perspective, and the person with the disability was put second. Nowadays, as Julie says, “Students are seen as students first.” People-first language is a method of talking about people who have disabilities in a way that makes sure they are not characterized by their disability, making it something they experience, rather than are. Julie also credits the principles of the Universal Design for Learning curriculum. The term “Universal Design” was first used by Ronald Mace to describe architecture that is built to be used by all people. Universal Design for Learning was created based off of this concept. Just like the architecture, Universal Design for Learning changes the environment the student learns in, rather than the student themselves. These principles ensure that all students' specific needs are met, including those who have disabilities.
Although it is a large part of her job, Julie hopes to see a day where special accommodations are no longer necessary for students who have disabilities. As time goes on, the world will only become more and more accessible and accommodating to everyone. In terms of Fitchburg State, massive renovations have taken place since the early 2000s. In the past, the campus was dominated by staircases, steep hills, and wheelchair lifts that often failed. As of now, the school website says that around 96% of the campus is accessible. We are also lucky that we are moving towards becoming a paperless society, as ebooks and computer programs can greatly help those with certain disabilities, and they still work with those who are able-bodied. Julie hopes that the students who use Disability Services “feel that they have been supported and advocated for,” and that they will be better prepared to advocate for themselves in the future.
"Disability Services." Fitchburg State University, www.fitchburgstate.edu/offices-services-directory/disability-services/.
Rose, D.H., and Meyer, A. Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning, ASCD, 2002.
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Lab, Disability Services,” Cultural Heritage through Image, accessed March 9, 2021, https://culturalheritagethroughimage.omeka.net/items/show/147.