Like many of her classmates, University of Colorado graduate student Amelia Dickerson is struggling to keep up with her course work.

But Dickerson is not a typical procrastinator. She spends hours trying to do homework every week, in some cases unsuccessfully, not because she's distracted by TV or her social life, but because she's blind.

If you go

What: Accessing Higher Ground conference

When: Monday through Friday

Where: Westin Westminster, 10600 Westminster Blvd.

Cost: Free to CU students, faculty, staff

Full schedule:

"A lot of things aren't accessible to me like online homework assignments or online job applications," Dickerson said. "It's unfair. I feel like I should at least have the same options as anyone else when it comes to technology, especially since the capabilities are there."

CU's Disability Services is hoping to address many of Dickerson's issues and others this week at the 13th annual Accessing Higher Ground Conference. More than 200 participants are expected to attend workshops throughout the week at the Westin Westminster -- the largest conference turnout so far.

"Our goals are to make electronic information more accessible, primarily to people with disabilities through universal design," said Howard Kramer, conference coordinator and access specialist for CU's Disability Services. "We'll also focus on curriculum with a number of sessions on how to make a college curriculum and campus more accessible for students with disabilities."


There currently are about 900 students registered with Disability Services at CU, though some of them do not use the office's resources on a regular basis, Kramer said. Several students, faculty and staff from CU will attend workshops throughout the week in hopes of improving accessibility on the university's websites and curriculum for disabled students, he said.

Dickerson said because many everyday resources are inaccessible to her, the stress of an already packed course load is intensified.

Disability Services and an audible software translator -- called Screen Reader -- are Dickerson's Internet salvations, though many sites are not programmed for the use of such software, forcing her to go elsewhere for information.

"A friend and I want to go see 'A Christmas Carol' next month and we tried to buy tickets online," Dickerson said. "She's blind, too, so when we went to the website to buy tickets, we couldn't because they ask you to pick your seats on a graphic that cannot be translated to text. We'll have to get someone to come help us buy the tickets who can read the graphic."

Kramer said the conference is intended to create awareness and solutions for the lack accessibility in modern technology, a topic that has become increasingly pertinent with the development of smartphones.

"Some people have said the iPhone and mobile devices that handle web access are one of best things to happen to accessibility," Kramer said. "A page filled with graphics and non-text items, which has limited accessibility to students like Amelia, won't work well on iPhones, either. Sites that are mobile specific have the same strategies that make a site accessible for people with disabilities."

The intersection of smartphones and accessible technology supports a strong case for universal design, or standard practices for website coding and structures, Kramer said.

"A lot of people have the attitude that the number of disabled people is small compared to the overall population, so we shouldn't worry about them," Dickerson said. "But most people are going to use a smartphone or might even find some website confusing, so universal design would really benefit everyone by making things more user friendly overall."