Sean Mealin, AccessComputing Team Member
Sean Mealin and Ed Summers

I am a completely blind Ph.D. student in the department of computer science at North Carolina State University. During both summer 2017 and summer 2018, I have been an intern at SAS, the market leader in analytics software and consistently voted among the best places to work within the US by Fortune. As an intern, I worked on the accessibility team as a software developer, focused on the SAS Graphics Accelerator, freely available software that allows blind and visually impaired people to work with graphs and charts. This is the story of my internship.

In 2012, as part of a software engineering class, I decided to investigate software developers who are blind and the challenges that they face every day. One of the people that I spoke to was Ed Summers, Director of accessibility at SAS. While our paths frequently crossed over the next few years, it wasn’t until late 2016 that Ed and I found ourselves sitting at a lunch table during an event, where we started discussing my research in machine learning. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I found myself interviewing for an internship with SAS. Within six months, I showed up to the SAS campus, ready for new-hire orientation and to start work on a very exciting machine learning project. Unfortunately, as all good things do, that summer sped by in a blur and eventually ended, sending me back to the halls of academia with new skills ready to be applied to my research.

During the 2017-2018 academic year, I kept in touch with Ed, expressing my interest in coming back during the summer. We discussed potential projects, and what I wanted to do to enhance my skillset and experience. After I expressed my interest to work on a real, shipping product, Ed eventually put me on the SAS Graphics Accelerator project, one of the coolest and potentially most impactful projects that I’ve ever done.

This summer, I’ve been learning about web development and how to make complicated web applications accessible to screen readers, software that blind people use to interact with computers and the internet. As a developer, I have spent my time between fixing bugs and developing features that our users have requested. One of my favorite events from this summer is when I had the opportunity to teach a group of blind and visually impaired high school students how to turn charts into sound using our software, and how they can use it in their classes. Being able to work on projects that have a real impact, while continuing to develop my technical skills, and even getting to teach is why I love working at SAS.