Andrew Petron, a graduate student seeking to obtain a degree in Physical Therapy, is joined by CART provider Annmargaret Shea during a recent Winter Session Anatomy and Physiology course.

The Center for Student Accessibility at the College of Staten Island was recently the recipient of the first-ever CUNY Productivity Award for its Communication Real-Time Translation Service (CART) program at the 2011 CUNY Financial Management Conference.

CSI’s nationally recognized CART program received the award, which honors members within the CUNY family for their commitment to providing exceptional contribution to the University in an economical manner.  The individual recipients of the award were Christopher Cruz Cullari, Director of the Center for Student Accessibility; Maryellen Smolka, CART Coordinator and Trainer; and Nicole Dory, Technology Assistant and CART Trainer.

The program is the result of a collaboration between the Center for Student Accessibility, which is a part of the Division of Student Affairs, led by Vice President A. Ramona Brown, and the Office of Technology Systems under Vice President Michael Kress.

The CART program, which is housed in the Center for Student Accessibility’s Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students, offers verbatim, real-time transcripts of classroom lectures and discussions for students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Trained CART providers either accompany the student to class or remotely access the class via Web conferencing software and the use of an omni-directional microphone that a student attaches to a laptop. The CART provider transcribes all of the words spoken in the classroom using speech-to-text software to the student’s laptop screen.

During the 2010-2011 academic year, CSI’s Center for Student Accessibility provided CART service at 20 percent of the cost of the average agency, approximately $100,000 versus over $500,000, if CSI used an outside agency’s services.  The savings were calculated using the average cost of four local agencies used by other CUNY colleges.

“We are honored to be recognized for our hard work that is rooted in best practices,” said Director Cruz Cullari, who earned his award for providing a structure where the program can operate effectively. The CSI Cart program, which was honored for its ability to provide first-class service to CSI students who are hard-of-hearing as well as saving CSI approximately $400,000, is home to the CUNY CART Initiative. “In our view, it is all about excellent service,” said Cruz Cullari. “Our CART service is the best service that a student who is hard-of-hearing can receive.”

CSI has set the standard for CART services throughout the country specifically due to the training that the CART providers receive. Each CART provider is trained particularly for a higher education setting and is closely supervised by CART Program Coordinator, Maryellen Smolka. CSI’s CART service is so ahead of the curve, in fact, that the Center for Student Accessibility is working on creating a certificate program that other universities will use to train their CART providers.

Cruz Cullari credits the Division of Student Affairs as well as the Division of Technology Systems with providing equipment such as laptops and the essential speech-to-text software as well as a space to train the CART providers. “It was because of the hard work of many people that the three of us (Cruz Cullari, Smolka, and Dory) were able to come together and create a highly effective and affordable system,” said Cruz Cullari.

The fact that the program was designed to help students who are hard-of-hearing participate in classroom discussions was not lost on the award recipients as they discussed CSI undergrad Antoinette Noah. Smolka refers to Noah as the “poster child” for Remote CART. Before the program was designed for CSI students, Noah, who is hard-of-hearing, “just sat in a classroom to be marked present and just read the textbook at home,” Smolka recounted. Once the CART program was implemented by CSI, Noah took to the program quickly and now claims that she “never knew what I was missing.”

The Center for Student Accessibility has enabled many students like Noah, who would otherwise be unable to take advantage of the education being afforded to them by CSI, to fully participate in the classroom environment and take back control of their learning experiences.

More information about CART is available online.