Southern Connecticut State University: A Promising Practice on Exposing Students with Disabilities to Computer Science Careers

DO-IT Factsheet #448
http://www.washington.edu/doit/Stem/articles?448

In an effort to recruit more students into computer science majors, Southern Connecticut State University's (SCSU) Disability Resource Center hosted a three-part workshop designed to spark an interest and encourage local high school students with disabilities to pursue computer science majors at SCSU. Funded in part by an AccessComputing minigrant [1], the event introduced students to a variety of computer-related careers, taught them web accessibility basics, and introduced them to students and professionals with disabilities currently majoring or working in computing fields.

In the first workshop, participants heard from a panel that included the chairperson of SCSU's Computer Science Department, a CEO of an information technology (IT) company, and an IT director at a local pharmaceutical firm. Rounding out the panel was a representative from the Connecticut Department of Labor who discussed the ten-fastest growing jobs in Connecticut, five of which are in the computer field. In addition, a video from the University of Washington was shown that profiled five individuals who have used their computer science backgrounds in fields as diverse as education, healthcare, robotics, and the environment.

The second workshop of the day included a hands-on opportunity to explore what makes a web page accessible. Working on a computer, each student was paired with a student whose disability was different from his or her own; for example, a student with a visual impairment might work alongside a student with a learning disability. Working with a partner with a different type of disability made it easier for them to understand the potential access needs of others.

In the third workshop a panel of individuals with disabilities shared their experiences about working or majoring in the computer field. Many of them saw the use of assistive technology as critical to their success. Students were encouraged to accept their disability, learn to be their own advocate, and take advantage of the supports and resources available on a college campus and in the community.

Feedback from participants was very positive. The workshop is considered to be a promising practice as it was revealed in a telephone survey, conducted a month after the event, that a number of students had decided to pursue computer-related careers ranging from gaming design to multimedia editing.

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