The Summer Academy is an academically challenging program designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing students with skills in math or science who may be considering careers in computing, with the goal of encouraging them to consider college majors and careers in computing fields. The Summer Academy has occurred annually at the University of Washington (UW) since 2007. It is supported by the National Science Foundation as part of the Alliance for Access to Computing Careers (AccessComputing, NSF #CNS-0540615, CNS-0837508, and CNS-1042260). AccessComputing started in 2006 as a collaboration between the DO-IT Center and the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

Participants and Location

Ten to fifteen students who are deaf or hard of hearing have participated each year. Students may apply any time between their sophomore year in high school and their junior year in college. They must be at least sixteen years old and must be US citizens or permanent residents, or already have a valid visa in their possession.

Recruitment and Admissions

Students are recruited in multiple ways, including targeted emails to educators and counselors who work with deaf and hard of hearing students. Groups are contacted via email discussion lists as well as Facebook and LinkedIn groups including the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), Deaf and Hard of Hearing Professionals, and DeafAcademics. In addition, an active Facebook group for Summer Academy alumni and contacts is used to spread information about the program.

Students are required to apply for the program. The application consists of four pieces: an application form including essay questions, at least two recommendations from teachers or professors, transcripts for the past two years, and scores from the PSAT, SAT, or ACT. If students are under eighteen when they apply, a parental consent form is required.

Admission is very competitive. Students are selected to participate in the program based on an assessment of potential ability in computing, and enthusiasm to participate in an intensive experience. The review committee rates applications on several criteria, including academic excellence (transcripts, scores and teachers’ recommendations), motivation (arc of interest), maturity (college readiness), and background (academics and preparation). Applications submitted by the December deadline are given first priority; applications submitted by the January deadline are considered if space is still available.

Program Staff

The program is led by Richard Ladner, Summer Academy director and principal investigator of AccessComputing. Additional staff include a Summer Academy coordinator, a program assistant, an instructor for the animation class, and other support staff. Each year, teaching assistants (TAs), who are typically Summer Academy alumni, are hired to assist in programming and animation classes.


While students are staying on the UW campus, they live in dorms where the teaching assistants double as resident advisors. Students also participate in many aspects of college life such as eating in student cafeterias, finding their way around campus, making new friends and finding time to study. Students attend classes held across campus and in the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering. Holding the academy on campus, and particularly in the computer science building, helps expose students to an academic computing environment. Such immersion may help encourage them to consider majoring in a computing field.

Activities and Logistics

The Summer Academy is designed to showcase all things computing to deaf and hard-of-hearing students who may be considering computer science, computer engineering, information science, information systems or information technology as a career, either in industry or academia. The Summer Academy is an engaging experience that requires students to work and study hard in order to be successful.

Students take a programming course for college credit, and create animation shorts in small groups. Participants also take field trips to visit computer hardware and software companies where they learn about careers and emerging technologies. Students also meet successful deaf and hard of hearing computing professionals and graduate students working on cutting edge research.

Preparation and Orientations

Prior to students’ arrival, instructors participate in a “Deaf Students 101” class to learn about teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students. During this session, Richard Ladner gives a presentation and the TAs who are deaf and hard of hearing participate in a panel discussion. Instructors learn about using interpreters and captionists, how to best engage deaf and hard-of-hearing students in their classes, and the typical backgrounds of the deaf and hard-of-hearing students they will teach.

When students arrive, they attend a series of orientations that cover such topics as time management, study skills, use of campus services for students with disabilities, and use of interpreters and/or captionists.

Although students identify as deaf, hard of hearing or deaf-blind, they do not provide documentation of their hearing impairments or any additional disabilities when they apply to the Summer Academy. Before arriving on campus, students provide documentation to the University of Washington's Disability Resources for Students office and, when appropriate, to a similar office at the community college. The disability service offices arrange for interpreters, captioning, assistive listening devices or other accommodations/equipment as necessary, just as they would for any student with a disability.

Student Classes

A typical student week includes a one-hour computer programming class four days a week, a two-hour animation class four days a week, and a ninety-minute Academy Base class three days a week. During Academy Base classes, students meet guest mentors, hear graduate research presentations and student presentations on careers in computing, and observe demonstrations of current accessibility research. One day a week is set aside for field trips to local computing companies.

Based on their academic transcripts, students are placed in a computer programming class that best matches their knowledge and skills. Students may take a class in person at the UW or an online class through a local community college. Classes that students have taken include the UW’s Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) 142: Computer Programming I, CSE 143: Computer Programming II, CSE 190: Web Programming, CSE 332: Data Abstractions, and North Seattle Community College's online CSC 110: Introduction to Computer Programming. Students who take the online class also participate in a tutoring group run by one of the Summer Academy TAs.

A certificated class in Animation, using Maya and the Adobe Creative Suite, is held exclusively for Summer Academy students. Students learn basic concepts of animation, including lighting, movement, shading, and storyboarding. Small teams work together to develop their own animations, providing students valuable lessons in leadership and collaboration. Samples of animations created in the Summer Academy are available online.

Academy Base classes help students with personal and professional development. During the Base, students learn about financial aid options for deaf and hard of hearing students. Also during this time, deaf and hard of hearing computing professionals serve as mentors. They talk to Summer Academy students about their educational and work experience, how they addressed accessibility issues, and the projects they work on. Presentations are followed by one-on-one mentoring sessions with students. For most students, this is their first professional networking experience. Guest speakers have worked for companies such as Amazon, Cray Supercomputers, Google, IBM, and Microsoft, among others. Also during the Academy Base, UW graduate students give presentations about their research. Students have presented on topics related to transportation access, cell phone touchscreens, robotics, computational biology, computational chemistry, open source computing, an online dictionary of American Sign Language terms in computing, and a project to make video conversations in ASL possible over cell phone networks.

Towards the end of the Summer Academy, students deliver presentations about a computing field they have researched. Students have presented on topics that include computational biology, artificial intelligence, human computer interaction, computational theory, and computer security.

Field Trips and Special Events

One benefit of holding the Summer Academy in Seattle is the wealth of local computing companies. During the program, students take weekly field trips to learn more about these employers. Students learn about career and internship opportunities and how to prepare for such opportunities. Field trips have been made to Cray, Google, Microsoft, Adobe, Isilon, and the DigiPen Institute.

A number of special events are held throughout the summer. On a few weekends or weeknights, students participate in recreational activities to break up their study time and create community. Students have taken a tour of Seattle, attended a Seattle Mariners professional baseball game, gone hiking, taken a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island, visited the Space Needle, and watched the Fourth of July fireworks.

During College Night, recruiters from the UW, Rochester Institute of Technology and Gallaudet University present information about their schools, program offerings, and admissions procedures and a panel of Summer Academy students discuss why they chose their particular college. Through these presentations, students are able to compare and contrast a mainstream university with one that has programs specifically for deaf and hard of hearing students. Graduate Studies Night includes a presentation on possibilities afforded by pursuing a graduate degree, followed by a panel of deaf and hard of hearing persons who have, or are working towards, a graduate degree.

At the end of the summer, the Community Premiere is an opportunity to show their animation shorts to the community, including parents and friends of the program. This event also serves as an informal graduation ceremony, congratulating the students on their hard work over the summer.


The Summer Academy for Advancing Deaf & Hard of Hearing in Computing has been primarily funded by the National Science Foundation through AccessComputing. It has also received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, Google and other generous donors. Funding covers student tuition, room, board, and transportation to and from home, as well as incidental fees such as those for van rental and summer bus passes. Funding also covers salaries for the Project Director, Project Coordinator, other staff, and TAs.


Students who come to the Summer Academy succeed in their computing classes and report that they enjoy the experience. Between 2007 and 2012, sixty-six students attended Summer Academy and sixty-four completed it successfully. Fifty-eight of those students are still attending high school or college, and four students have graduated from college. In 2011, twelve out of thirteen Summer Academy students received a B or better in their computer programming courses. Three students received 4.0s. In evaluations, students report increased knowledge of computer programming, particularly those students with less programming experience. Likewise, students report increased skills in animation.

Student comments demonstrate that the experience is positive and that the benefits of the experience go beyond learning computing skills. Students learned skills that will help them succeed in college and beyond. One student said, “I loved the Summer Academy. I could see that I can overcome communication barriers between Deaf and hard of hearing persons and hearing; I can apply what I learned to hearing people back home. The Summer Academy was like a big, happy family; we’re there for each other.” Another student said, “I learned about study habits, which is important in college; I also learned about the college lifestyle.” Another student reported that he enjoyed the “networking opportunities: going on field trips to different companies. I liked the web development class a lot, it inspired me to start my own website.”

Parents’ responses to evaluations mirrored these comments from students. They reported that their children had increased knowledge in computing as well as improved self-esteem, social skills, and self-advocacy. These last three skills are critical for deaf and hard of hearing students to succeed in college. One parent remarked, “We note greater maturity, seriousness in purpose, and understanding and enthusiasm for the field. The UW class was excellent (great instruction) and the Academy-based class and trips expanded our student’s understanding. Finally the animation project was a very good skill building experience in working on a team. Every component of the program is first rate and the combination uniquely advances the important goals of interest, knowledge and desire to pursue a career in computers. Our son was fortunate, indeed, to have this experience.”

For more feedback, read these testimonials from students and their parents.

Many news articles have been written about the Summer Academy. Examples include:

Lessons Learned

For individuals who wish to conduct a similar activity for participants who are deaf or hard of hearing, project organizers suggest the following:

  • Be flexible with your curriculum. Initial plans for the Summer Academy did not include having students take classes through the community college. Some students, however, did not have a strong enough background to take a UW course and needed this option. By providing this option, more students are able to participate and benefit from the program.
  • Be sure to include information about careers in your programs. Students not only enjoy the opportunities to talk to professionals and tour companies, but they learn about possible career options and career paths that they might choose to pursue. Talking to professionals and networking and can help them become motivated to achieve their goals. This program aspect is especially important because deaf and hard-of-hearing students often miss out on information that their hearing peers readily access.
  • Introduce students to college life. Experiencing college life by living on campus and creating community with other deaf and hard-of-hearing students can help students become excited about attending college. Learning about students’ experiences at both mainstream universities and colleges that have targeted programs for deaf and hard-of-hearing students can help them decide which environment is the right fit.
  • Contact a local social services agency that provides assistance to people who are deaf and hard of hearing to ask for a referral to a counselor. Having a counselor available to the students on an as-needed, contractual basis is important in case a student has adjustment issues. Such services have not been needed each year, but have proven to be invaluable at times.
  • Ensure that students know what the expectations are. At the outset, have each student sign an agreement with rules about expectations regarding homework, attendance, and conduct. Students should know that there are consequences for their actions. This includes being asked to leave in extreme cases.
  • Communicate with the students as they submit pieces of the application. Keep in mind that the application process may seem daunting to students, especially those not yet in college and those who are unsure if they are qualified. Your engagement with them through the application process can be encouraging.
  • Marketing to a relatively small audience is challenging. Parent groups, professionals, and educators who work with deaf and hard of hearing students can help with marketing. We have found it particularly useful to ask the parents of Summer Academy alumni to share information with other parents and local organizations and newsletters.


The following resources may be useful to those who wish to sponsor computing-related activities for students who are deaf or hard of hearing: