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Case example: Mobility impairment

(Used with permission from DO IT:Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking & Technology University of Washington)

Scott and Engineering


My name is Scott. I am a 19-year-old engineering student with muscular dystrophy. I use a powered wheelchair for mobility. An important part of the first year of my engineering program involves work on computer-aided design programs in the engineering computer lab.

Access Issues

Although I can use one hand to control my wheelchair, I have limited strength and movement in my hands and fingers. I cannot use a standard mouse or keyboard due to limited strength and movement. I also cannot physically access some lab computers due to the height of the table and the position of the computer equipment.


I met with my course instructor and toured the computer lab prior to the first class. I could not physically access the lab computers. I contacted the Disabilities Services Office about this issue. (I had provided documentation to this office and received a few accommodations to ensure accessibility in prior courses.) An adaptive technology specialist within the university helped the lab acquire an adjustable computer table and set up the workspace at an appropriate height and location for me. I also got a trackball which eliminated the need to use a mouse. With the trackball, I can perform mouse functions and use a virtual, on-screen keyboard. These computer accommodations were in place by the first day of class. They provided me with the full access I need to complete required laboratory coursework as part of the engineering program.


This case study illustrates:

  • A variety of assistive devices can be purchased to replace a standard keyboard and mouse.
  • Some technology access problems can be solved through the purchase and deployment of assistive technology.
  • Preplanning, site visits, and cooperation with computer lab staff as adaptive computer equipment and furniture take time to order and set up.
  • The availability of an adaptive technology specialist as a resource within the university setting.
  • It is important to consider potential accessibility issues whenever electronic and information technology is purchased.
  • Students should plan ahead in order to arrange for critical access options.