Instructional assistant of assistive technology at Pierce helps disabled students

Written by Amira Fickewirth, special to The Roundup

His hands ceaselessly glided across a black notebook disguised as a tablet, showing the intricacies of modern technology.

His index finger pointed to the screen, clad in graph sensors and buttons with sensitive microchips, acting as a surface for writing on with a smart pen.

He demonstrated that it transcends what you write from this special paper to cell phone applications by recording and taking pictures of what had just been written.

In his office, tucked in the Special Services castle of the Student Services kingdom, this smart pen becomes his magic wand – a tool that could change note taking in the waking moment.

This 37-year-old man is none other than Suleman Ishaque, the instructional assistant of assistive technology for disabled Student Services at Pierce College. Holding this position since 2012, his first start on campus was as a student studying computer science.

“In a nutshell, I’m the computer geek at the department,” said Ishaque with a genuine interest after his smart pen demonstration.

Originally from Pakistan, Ishaque moved to Simi Valley at the age of 24. Upon moving from one country to another, he immediately enrolled at Pierce as a full-time student. From there, he was hired onto a temporary assignment within the Special Services Department and as luck had it, he was hired immediately for his current position.

“He has a very specific job that he does,” Pierce College Interpreter Coordinator Louise Sulka, said. “He is very personable and helpful.”

Having an older sister who is blind, Ishaque grew up understanding the challenges of her depending on him and his family for various tasks. She ultimately became his inspiration for the work he is currently involved in –to use technology as a tool for learning disabilities.

“Once I came in as an office assistant, I saw what difference I could make,” said Ishaque.

After spending more time with him, it quickly became apparent that he not only deeply cares about the Special Services Department, but he is passionate about all things technology.

With a childlike excitement, he elaborated on his home devices in his tech-driven world.  In his apartment, a Roomba vacuum roams the carpet and within his reach, he holds the power to change the thermostat settings on his phone without actually having to be home.

“When it comes down to business, he is very serious,” said Nicholas Sumandra, Ishaque’s colleague and a Pierce College Sign Language Interpreter Specialist. “But he also has a playful side.”

At Pierce College, Ishaque is the go-to man who trains Special Services students how to use hi-tech hardware that ranges from smart pens to an adaptive mouse to a refreshable braille display. He is one of the  workers who transcribes books into alternative media for easier access.

“Honestly, I am a very lazy person,” Ishaque jokingly said. “I use technology to make life easier.”

As you sink in deeper into his technological world, you learn that he is also interested in deep-sea fishing and was chosen to be a union delegate for The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.  This position allows him to “carry a voice” for public colleges in California. Not to mention, Ishaque is a political coordinator for the entire district.

“I carry the voice at the state level,” said Ishaque.

This voice that Ishaque talks about has battled sanctions in colleges, expressed arguments for more school funding, and has fought for the rights of the American Federation of Teachers.

One of the propositions that he was involved in was to stop class cuts during summers at public colleges – the reason why there are  three summer sessions at Pierce.

He also mentioned that he is pushing for more technology use within the classrooms, as the smart pens are only available for personal purchase and are not publicly provided by the Special Services Department due to low funds.

“Technology, gadgets and that sort of thing are what I’m interested in,” Ishaque stated. “When this position opened up, I was like, ‘wow, I can do what I love.’”