Assistive Tech talks assistance

Ever wondered what resources are available through CCC to help with accessibility and inclusion? Assistive Technology Specialist Makayla Blackburn of Clackamas Community College’s Disability Resource Center sat down with The Clackamas Print staff to talk about her job and the resources available to students.

Makayla is CCC’s Assistive Technology Specialist. Photo credit: Ayla Fashana

The Clackamas Print: You were a student at Clackamas Community College, is that right?

Makayla Blackburn: I graduated from here in 2018. And then I proceeded on to Western Oregon University for my undergraduate and my graduate program. I have a Bachelors in Interdisciplinary Studies with a triple focus in communication, chemistry, and business. And then my Masters, which I’m still not quite done with yet, is in Organizational Leadership

TCP: What was your original career goal?

Blackburn: When I started at CCC, I wanted to be a tax accountant, which sounds very boring but I was very good at it and I thought that’s what going to college was for. Going to college for something that you’re good at. So I started out as a tax accountant, realized I didn’t want to do that forever, then I thought that I wanted to be pre-med, working in dietetics. During that time, I became a peer assistant working in the disability office and my career path changed again, to working in disability services. So it kind of had an evolution as it always does.

TCP: What was your process, going from something with one answer, like taxes, to this line of work that is so much more fluid?

Blackburn: Part of it does start out with me thinking that when you go to college, you go to college because you’re good at a thing. And then you just get really good at that thing, whether you really like it or not. Turns out that’s not really true. A lot of it came down to wanting to help people. So part of it was that human aspect. And then you get creative in between.

TCP: What is a peer assistant?

Blackburn: Peer assistants, sometimes referred to as student mentors, are students who work in a variety of offices around campus doing office tasks in exchange for tuition waiver through the peer system program.

TCP: And your peer assistant work at the DRC, what did that job entail?

Blackburn: As a peer assistant it’s mostly just front desk work, some face-to-face student work. I had a few different positions. 

TCP: And in your current position?

Blackburn: At my current position as the assistive tech specialist I do a lot with technology. I still work face-to-face with students. I do intakes, I coordinate more with faculty members, I troubleshoot, I’m on committees, all the fun stuff. 

TCP: Can you tell us a little bit more about what DRC does for students?

Blackburn: The DRC– I keep using the abbreviation –Disability Resource Center, the main thing we do is provide accommodations for students with disabilities. Typically through in-class accommodations or auxiliary aids, like assistive technology. Accommodations could mean things like additional time on a test or reader software to listen to their books or class material. Sometimes it’s using something like a hearing aid in class, or during group discussions. We do other supports for students, most often through check-in appointments. It just depends on what the student needs. 

TCP: How do students get access to the resources that the DRC provides?

Blackburn: We typically refer students to our website first because it has all of that information on there now. But of course, they can always drop by. 

TCP: Is there any resource that you feel is particularly important, but under-utilized at the DRC?

Blackburn: The most underutilized resource would be the free use of Kurzweil 3000, a reader software that we offer to all students across campus, so not just students in our department. Most often people ask how they get access to that. They email the DRC, we make them a free account.

TCP: Have you ever had any instances where an instructor might not be welcoming of an accommodation?

Blackburn: We don’t run into them often, actually. We have some pretty amazing faculty here. Typically, when it happens, it’s usually due to not understanding what the accommodation is, why it might be there or how it’s being used. Usually, the solution to that is just having a conversation with the faculty member and then we work it out from there. We aren’t allowed to disclose the student’s diagnosis so you kind of get a little bit creative in how you have those conversations. But the main focus is that I want to help them understand what this is for and how it’s helping them and the student be successful.

This interview has been edited for clarity and space.

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Ethan M. Rogers