SoCal Gas Gives $10,000 to Support CSUN Veterans and Students with Disabilities

A student using assistive technology to help with reading comprehension at DRES

A student uses assistive technology at DRES to help with reading comprehension. Photo by Nicolo Requiestas.

The Southern California Gas Company, or SoCal Gas, has donated $10,000 to California State University, Northridge to enhance the availability of technologies that improve learning and future employment for student veterans and students with disabilities.

The donation, received in December 2018 by CSUN’s Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) and Veterans Resource Center (VRC), will be used to foster new media literacy skills among veterans with disabilities, who may rely more on adaptive technology to perform academic tasks such as reading and writing.

“These technologies will provide new strategies for learning,” said DRES Director Jodi Johnson. “If [students] are comfortable concentrating and comprehending things now while they’re in school, that will leverage their future careers and help them be able to succeed.”

Among these tools is Read&Write, a software program that Johnson said helps users read with greater ease through text-to-speech, PDF-to-text conversion, and text predictions.

This fall, DRES and the VRC will join forces in a kick-off event to introduce these new technologies to the entire CSUN community, with a special focus on veterans and students with disabilities.

The kick-off will be a way to invite veterans to explore the resources available to them at DRES, Johnson said.

“Not all veterans have a disability that they’re willing to claim — there’s still this whole stigma — and so we want to make sure they know what resources are available for them,” she said.

Scheduling the event in the fall also will help capitalize on the enthusiasm students have for the new academic year (the date is still TBD). “[Students] are more likely to adopt new tech if they’re in a new environment, like starting the new year,” Johnson said.

The connection between SoCal Gas and DRES was forged by CSUN alumnus Louis Herrera ’11 (Assistive Technology Studies and Human Services), who works as a customer programs specialist at the utility company. Herrera, who is blind, is also a role model for his company’s commitment to promote inclusion. SoCal Gas and a disabilities services nonprofit provided Herrera with Hugo, a black Labrador retriever that serves as his personal guide dog. Hugo even sports his own I.D. badge when he comes to work, Herrera said.

This year’s donation to CSUN isn’t the first for SoCal Gas. In 2017, the company supported CSUN’s Feria de Educación, a daylong fair for the community featuring educational workshops in English and Spanish, and CSUN’s annual volunteer program Matadors Day of Service, when hundreds of student volunteers participate in gardening and clean-up activities in neighborhoods around campus.

“We’re always looking for more opportunities to get more resources for students,” Johnson said. “We always have this list of things we want to do, but may not be able to do them. This community partnership is great because we get this opportunity to reach more students.”

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