Penn State Outreach offers programs for individuals with disabilities

Meredith Herndon
July 24, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turns 30 years old, Penn State Outreach offers several programs dedicated to help individuals with disabilities have equal access to educational opportunities.

The ADA is a federal law that prohibits discrimination and guarantees people with disabilities the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life. President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990.

Penn State Conferences and Institutes, a service of a Penn State Outreach service, hosts events each summer aimed at empowering and enhancing the understanding of individuals with disabilities including Pennsylvania’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Summer Academy, the Pennsylvania Summer Academy for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired, and the National Autism Conference.

The Summer Academy for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired, for example, is a two-week, no-cost program held on the University Park campus that teaches blind or visually impaired Pennsylvania high school students the skills they need to be independent in a post-secondary education environment.

This year, the Summer Academy was held virtually due to COVID-19. It hosted 16 students through an online program that focused on technology skills. The program held Zoom sessions for participants and taught lessons in several areas, including assistive technology, orientation and mobility, vision rehabilitation therapy and low vision rehabilitation.

Another program Penn State hosts each year is the National Autism Conference. Held annually at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center on the University Park campus, the conference welcomes parents, educators and service providers to learn about autism research updates and to promote evidence-based interventions for school-based services.

In 2020, the National Autism Conference is being held virtually, starting on Aug. 3, and will be made available online, at no cost, until Sept. 4. Currently more than 2,300 participants have registered for the program.

The Nittany AI Challenge is another Outreach initiative that represents an ]opportunity for teams of undergraduate Penn State students to improve the world by working through the application of AI technologies. Participants can gain hands-on experience working with a focused team while learning about new technologies from leading AI experts. This year, one of the student teams earned a place in the finals by developing a prototype called: “AI Guide” which uses AI to help the visually impaired navigate indoors and find objects.

“Providing disability services and programs that offer assistance to individuals with disabilities is not only the law, but it’s also the right thing to do,” said Tracey Huston, vice president for Penn State Outreach. “Ensuring our audiences have access to information and services necessary for achieving their educational goals is something we always strive to offer. We remain committed to seeking out and establishing new and innovative ways of making those opportunities available.”

For more information on Penn State Outreach, visit

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 24, 2020