Discussion Summaries

Participants stand and talk with AccessComputing PI Richard Ladner.

At your table, share your institutions’ challenges in increasing the participation of students with disabilities in computing. 

  • Often the only interaction between disability services and professors is a letter sent out about a student’s accommodations, and there isn’t any more connection between the professor and student. If professors could be more engaged in the accommodation process, they may be more welcoming to students with disabilities.
  • Buildings are inaccessible and don’t have ramps or elevators. This not only makes it hard for students with disabilities to access classes, but it sends a message about how welcoming an environment is for students with disabilities.
  • Instructors don’t receive much or any training in how to work with students, especially students with disabilities. There should be more resources for professors to learn how to understand universal design and accessibility.
  • Online courses often include inaccessible websites or media, making it hard for students who are blind or who are deaf to engage with the material or with other students.
  • There is a lack of championship of accessibility and inclusion. 
  • Young people with disabilities are often not targeted for computer programming, so by the time they reach college, they are not interested or confident in their computing abilities. 
  • Departments are intimidated from trying to be more accessible by the perceived cost. Showcasing what can be done for little or no money and how some of these costs are just perceived could make a difference.
  • Departmental websites and marketing materials can be inaccessible, which keeps students from even learning the information about a program, let alone feeling welcomed into that program.
  • Students with disabilities can often be missed from targeted recruiting methods.
  • Professors have applications and software tools they like to use that aren’t accessible. Professors argue it is their academic freedom to use the software they deem best for teaching, but this is at odds with access. 
  • Academics can often ignore advice that doesn’t come from PhDs, which may impact how well faculty work with the disability services office on their campus.
  • Open source books and resources are not always accessible, but they can be a cheaper option for lower income students.
  • Classrooms are rarely set up with accessibility in mind, making it hard for faculty to seem welcoming to students.
  • Materials—PDFs, programming languages, software, videos, etc—are often inaccessible, and getting all of these up to a fully inclusive level can be difficult and labor intensive.
  • People with disabilities often don’t have role models within the department. If we hire more faculty with disabilities, it improves the culture of inclusion and makes accessibility more of a priority.
  • Accessibility can often just be seen as an obligation, not an inclusionary practice.
  • Disability should be addressed in the same way other underrepresented groups are—if disability can be added to the same efforts that are put into getting more women into computing, the numbers will go up.

How can we include topics of accessibility in computing curriculum?

  • Summer can be a good time to start changing curriculum, since faculty usually have more time then and schedules aren’t as tight.
  • If department heads would promote accessibility, faculty will start to follow suit and make it a priority.
  • We should strategically choose the classes where accessibility can go into already existing curriculum.
  • Accessibility can be added to portfolio projects.
  • Faculty need some professional development on the topic – this should include information about accessibility in the ABET requirements, as well as in job descriptions.
  • If we can hire more accessibility specialists, they can work with faculty to change curriculum.
  • Staff with an interest should be made into accessibility champions to prioritize it in departments.
  • Incentivize accessibility by making it a requirement of professors’ jobs. It could be considered in tenure and promotion. 
  • Faculty need specialized training and workshops on accessibility in order to be able to teach about it.
  • Bring more people with disabilities into classes and the department to show faculty what is at stake and to gather more input from people with disabilities themselves.
  • Accessibility should be included in all introductory classes, so all students are exposed to it.
  • Faculty are often overloaded with other expectations and priorities, making it very hard to push new material or curriculum changes on their workload.
  • Incentivize adding accessibility to the curriculum with an award or recognition. 

What can be done to make computing classes and departments more accessible to students with disabilities?

  • Add accessibility to the Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange (CSRDE), an association of two-year and four-year institutions dedicated to achieving student success through collaboratively sharing data, knowledge, and innovation.
  • Reach out to AccessComputing to apply for opportunities for outreach to students with disabilities, whether on panels or going out to classrooms. To learn more, email accesscomp@uw.edu.
  • Get faculty on board with teaching in a more accessible manner.
  • Bring back the philosophy of computers as a means of access; promote diversity in all aspects of computing.
  • Acknowledge the cost of not making classes accessible compared to the cost to make it accessible—lawsuits are often a bigger target on costs than proactive accessibility.
  • Rewrite policies and admissions criteria to be more inclusive.
  • Be more proactive about accessibility, instead of merely striving for compliance.

Considering the barriers that were discussed, what solutions might institutions implement to overcome these? How can these plans be further developed?  How can we encourage institutions to adopt these sorts of plans?

  • A website should be created with information about what faculty should do when they have a student with a disability in their class, including the reasoning behind it, accommodation information, accessibility options, and other pertinent information.
  • If people with disabilities aren’t applying for a program, what does that say about a program being welcoming and accessible? And if students with disabilities are applying, why aren’t they getting in? Let’s look at the application process, marketing materials, and acceptance process, fix any problems or biases, and accessibility wording and inclusion.
  • A lot of solutions to these barriers can also fix problems found in other aspects of a program, like issues for English as a second language students or students with different backgrounds. Taking a holistic look at inclusion could benefit many populations.
  • Tools can be provided that allow for multiple means for communication between a student and faculty, such as being able to text a faculty member a question during class instead of speaking out loud. Other options can include online discussions or more options for office hours that allow students to communicate and learn.
  • Workshops could be offered to faculty that trains them for accessibility issues, as well as information on disabilities, accommodations, and other topics. Requiring faculty to participate in these workshops could help to ensure that they reach a broad group.
  • Student evaluations should include a question about accessibility so faculty can hear how accessible their class is and make changes accordingly.
  • If accessibility is a priority to the dean of college and department heads, other faculty will follow suit if their job can be affected.
  • If accessibility is included in course descriptions, then faculty will have to incorporate it into materials.
  • If faculty are allowed less restraints on their time, they would be able to evaluate their teaching and curricula more.
  • Questions focused around accessibility should be included in faculty hiring so that new faculty coming on board will realize it is an integral part of the job and see that it is part of the institution’s values.
  • If we apply for an AccessComputing minigrant, we can host an event that brings faculty closer to people with disabilities.
  • Presentations on accessibility and inclusion should be given at more computing conferences.
  • More studies should be done on disability and inclusion in computing departments. This data could be shown to faculty for why we are stressing the importance of accessibility.
  • More accessible technology could be purchased by the department to make sure equipment costs aren’t a barrier to student participation.
  • We could have a lightweight certification for departments to receive that try to design universally and be welcoming to people with disabilities.

How can we continue to work together to promote the participation of people with disabilities in computing and the inclusion of information related to disability, accessibility, and universal design in the computing curriculum?

  • Writing up a 2-page guide on how to include accessibility and disability topics in our computing courses.
  • Creating a course on accessibility that can be shared to other institutions.
  • Talking to faculty about accessible web design and other accessible products.
  • Addressing the undergraduate curriculum committee to bring to light the accessibility requirements in the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) as well as the job descriptions listed by Teach Access to encourage accessibility being taught in classes.
  • Submitting a proposal on a special topics course or capstone on accessibility.
  • Making sure the individuals who produce videos create accessible captioned videos so all students and faculty can utilize these resources.
  • Encouraging the use of more accessible programming languages, including Quorum (quorumlanguage.com).
  • Looking at our program to see how we can broaden our accessibility and work with other companies and programs to improve these efforts across the board.
  • Sharing individual experiences and efforts over email lists to find solutions.
  • Reaching out to AccessComputing to find students for internships and research experiences.