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UW Accessible Technology in 2023: End of a year & end of an era

As 2023 draws to a close, we celebrate many milestones on our journey toward a fully accessible University. We also celebrate the long careers of two of our colleagues, both early leaders in the accessible technology field, and both retiring in December.

End of a Year

Here are a few highlights from 2023:

  • In January, University Marketing and Communications (UMAC) published a UW Colors Contrast Table to help designers and content authors to choose combinations of UW brand colors that satisfy contrast requirements.
  • On May 18 (Global Accessibility Awareness Day), the UW hosted its first annual Digital Accessibility Awards event. Awards were distributed to 17 individuals or departmental units who had demonstrated a commitment to digital accessibility over the last year. The 2023 Digital Accessibility Awards Recipients web page identifies the award recipients, and an earlier blog post describes the event. Planning is already underway for the 2024 awards.
  • On May 31, UMAC updated the UW Brand PowerPoint Templates for improved accessibility. If you are using UW Brand templates that were downloaded prior to this date,  please download the new versions. If you have created customized templates or reusable slides based on an earlier version of the UW Brand templates, be sure to check them for accessibility using PowerPoint’s built-in accessibility checker. The checker is able to detect all of the issues that have been fixed in the new templates.
  • In September, UW Procurement Services updated its IT Accessibility Rider to version 1.2. The Rider is part of the UW Terms and Conditions, and is routinely used in contracts for IT products and services. The Procurement Policies & Procedures web page provides additional information about the Rider and how to integrate accessibility into the procurement process.
  • Throughout the year, a wide variety of professional development opportunities were offered to help UW employees get up to speed on digital accessibility. The Training Opportunities web page is regularly updated with new offerings and details. Continuing to expand on these opportunities will be a major focus in 2024.

End of an Era

In December, we celebrated the retirement of two pioneers in the field of accessible technology. Combined, they have devoted 75 years to the field, all at the University of Washington.

Sheryl Burgstahler, Director of Accessible Technology Services & DO-IT

Sheryl BurgstahlerSheryl came to the UW in 1984 to build a Microcomputer Support Group to assist faculty, staff, and students in the early days of personal computers and the “Year of the Macintosh”. She brought with her a personal interest in assistive technology and a belief that everyone could benefit from using computers, including individuals with disabilities.

In 1992, she began to “dabble” (her word) in grant writing, which led to federal and state funding for DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology), a center that works to increase the success of people with disabilities in education, research, and careers. Over the years, DO-IT has received over $50 million in grants, primarily from the National Science Foundation, and under Sheryl’s direction has worked tirelessly to break down barriers for people with disabilities.

Although she will no longer be serving as Director of ATS and DO-IT, she intends to remain engaged in accessibility, doing more writing and continuing to promote universal design.

Dan Comden, Manager, Access Technology Center

Dan Comden in shades, with his dogDan began his career at the UW in 1989 as database admin and tech support for the UW employment office. In 1992, Sheryl hired him as her first DO-IT employee. In his new role, Dan providing computer and assistive technology support for high school students with disabilities nationwide. He was present in Santa Clara, CA on April 6, 1997 with Tim Berners-Lee and other web dignitaries for the very first meeting of the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (a meeting which ultimately led to publication of the first Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). Since then, he has been a constant advocate for web accessibility and an invaluable contributor in a wide variety of ways to the work of UW-IT Accessible Technology Services.  He has managed the Access Technology Center, provided assistive technology and IT accessibility consultation and support throughout the university, and provided Braille and tactile graphic conversion services. He has been a national leader in the field, working long hours as a volunteer in support of the annual Accessing Higher Ground conference in Colorado. He has been a dependable, friendly resource for students and employees with disabilities when they needed technical assistance, and for UW employees who needed support ensuring the work they were producing was accessible.

Congratulations to Sheryl and Dan on their long, productive careers and the positive impacts they’ve had on so many lives!