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2024 Digital Accessibility Awards

The UW IT Accessibility Task Force is pleased to announce the following recipients and nominees of Digital Accessibility Awards in 2024. Awards were distributed on Global Accessibility Awareness Day (May 16, 2024) to individuals and teams who have demonstrated a commitment to digital accessibility over the last year.

Nominees are community members who have forged new pathways to a welcoming and inclusive university through their efforts to improve digital accessibility. Their work has impact, longevity, is conducted in collaboration with others throughout the community, and aligns with the UW’s accessibility policies and Diversity Blueprint Goals.

Individual Award

Winner: Ather Sharif

Ather is a pioneer in improving digital accessibility and reducing the digital divide for people with disabilities. As part of his dissertation work at the UW, he created VoxLens, an open-source JavaScript plug-in that improves the accessibility of online data visualizations for screen-reader users.

He also developed UnlockedMaps, an open-data map that visualizes the real-time elevator status (accessible, not accessible, experiencing an outage) of urban rail stations, along with nearby accessible restaurants and restrooms. UnlockedMaps benefits people who rely on functioning elevators by collecting hourly elevator outage and station data, and so far, has collected and publicly released millions of elevator outages from 2,336 transit stations in six North American cities, and is actively working toward onboarding additional cities, including Washington, D.C., Tokyo, Seoul, and Singapore.

Ather holds a mic and addresses the audience in front of a projected screen saying congratulations. Terrill Thompson announced the award and is standing to the side.
Ather Sharif, giving his acceptance speech at the Awards ceremony.

Additional Nominees

  • Ana Thompson is the lead Academic & Access Technologist at UW Bothell. She supports students, faculty, and staff in their use of technology and provides consultations and training in creating accessible digital content and in purchasing accessible IT. In this role, she is a staunch supporter of, and advocate for, accessibility. Ana created and launched Accessibility 101, a self-paced training course in 2019, and won a 2024-2025 DEI Faculty & Staff Fellows Program grant to update and re-design the course this year. Ana consistently promotes accessibility with training, presentations, and support for colleagues at UW Bothell and shares her knowledge beyond UW through publications and conference presentations on how to create accessible documents and media.
  • Andrew Shinn works on the University Marketing and Communications Digital Engagement team. Over 70 million emails are sent by the UW annually, reaching students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, friends, and champions, and Andrew provides email marketers and communicators across all three campuses with the templates and launchers needed to design branded but fully accessible email content. Without Andrew’s weekly reviews, continual updates, quarterly overhauls, and active status in email marketing support groups outside of the UW, our email templates would not render properly in dark mode; would not be responsive on mobile devices; would not have accurate plain text accompaniment; would not include alt text on images; and would not use HTML headings properly. Email is often the first contact with the UW that folks have, and Andrew ensures that all are welcome, invited, and able to experience that outreach.
  • Caitlin Brief has led the charge with remediating Professional and Organizational Development’s (POD’s) online courses to improve accessibility for all. POD’s courses are taken by thousands of UW employees, and in some cases are required. They are authored by various content creators and are constantly evolving. Caitlin has taken it upon herself to make them all accessibility, both by remediating existing courses (for example, adding alt text for all images, properly captioning all videos, updating the format of certain questions and content), and, to ensure future courses are created with accessibility in mind, she has created documented processes to follow moving forward.
  • Ceci Skolrud, a Senior Graphic Designer at Cultivate Learning, developed a series of comprehensive training modules to ensure digital accessibility at each stage of resource development. This has resulted in more thoughtfully constructed and delivered products available to an audience with diverse abilities. Ceci’s digital accessibility training modules are being implemented across Cultivate Learning resource development from start to finish. Ceci’s work has increased accessibility awareness and emphasizes the importance of integrating accessibility early, at each stage of production, rather than making it a final step involving late-stage remediation.

Team Award

Winner: CREATE Accessible Data Science and STEM Lecture Team

CREATE is the Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experiences. Their mission is to make technology accessible and to make the world accessible through technology. Their Accessible Data Science and STEM Lecture Team has created an accessibility guide for instructors to reduce common barriers in computer science classrooms. The Accessibility Guide for Data Science and STEM Classes includes detailed instructions, with concrete examples, of how to make course materials accessible, including PowerPoint slides, computational notebooks, and homework write-ups. The internal version of this guide was completed in January 2023 and has been continuously updated and applied in the classroom in CSE 547 (Machine Learning for Big Data) for two iterations (Winter 2023, Spring 2024). The guide will be maintained by CREATE staff members and they hope it will help to transform over 100 courses at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, and potentially be helpful to others as well. This is especially critical as the UW works to meets its requirements under the new final rule on web accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Kelly Avery Mack of CREATE holds the award, standing with Terrill Thompson. Behind them, Rock Pang and Jennifer Mankoff are spotlighted in Zoom and projected onto a large screen.
CREATE representatives accept their award at the hybrid ceremony. In the foreground: Kelly Avery Mack with Terrill Thompson (who announced the award). In the background, accepting via Zoom: Rock Pang and Jennifer Mankoff.

Additional Nominees

  • The self-named “Accessibility Dream Team” is a collaborative partnership between the School of Public Health and Department of Biology to share ideas, resources, and strategies for building faculty accessibility skills through Accessibility Cafes. Accessibility Cafes are informal learning events, in which faculty and staff learn and apply new accessibility skills to their course materials in a supportive, collegial environment. After holding these events separately in their own departments, the Dream Team held their first hybrid, interdepartmental Accessibility Cafe in March. The team has collectively hosted 6 Accessibility Cafes this year, and is highly motivated to continue their efforts in building accessibility skills among the faculty in their departments with more Cafes over the next year.
  • The Digital Engagement Team from UW Medicine Advancement has worked diligently on the accessibility of, a public-facing website that tells the story of the impact of philanthropic support for UW Medicine and to inspire new donors to contribute to UW Medicine. The team approached digital accessibility with a wide-angle lens, not only optimizing it for screen reader users and for visual accessibility, but also for a full range of user experience, including that of neurodivergent users.
  • The Foster School of Business – Instructional Services team started with a commitment to design their 90% online MBA program to be accessible from the start. The team is now expanding their digital accessibility focus to the greater Foster community. The Instructional Design team is creating accessible Canvas course templates and working with faculty and campus partners to ensure course documents and other course materials are accessible.
    The Media Production Team uses color palettes that are accessible to people with variations in color vision. They also ensure that captions and transcripts are available for all videos.
    The Classroom and Event spaces team works to ensure that classrooms technologies and lecture recordings are accessible, and maintain a number of assisted listening devices for checkout by students and faculty.  Half of their staff members are members of the IT Accessibility Liaisons network.
  • The Integrated Social Sciences program has been committed to providing quality online education in social sciences for UW students from around the world since 2012. The program has a high number of international students and students who receive accommodations from Disability Resources for Students. ISS recognizes and embraces this diversity among their students, and has committed to ensuring all their courses are created from the ground up with accessibility in mind. The ISS program team works closely with DRS, Continuum College, and the Center for Teaching and Learning to ensure their courses are created from the start to be accessible to all learners.
  • QSCI 381 – Introduction to Probability and Statistics – is an asynchronous online course, built fully in Canvas. The Course Development Team has focused extensively on the finer details of providing an accessible online statistics course. In addition to alt text for images, the team has written long descriptions of complex visual information (where alt text alone is inadequate) and developed an innovative solution in HTML for presenting these descriptions to users. They have reviewed all 30 of their videos (4.5 hours of content) to ensure captions are 100% accurate and they make a transcript available for download. They have created short summaries at the top of every non-lecture Canvas page to aid neuro-diverse learners in comprehending the concepts on the page. The course launched for Summer Sessions in 2023 but can be duplicated and deployed in all subsequent years, likely with a shelf-life of more than 5 – 10 years considering the foundational statistics concepts it presents.
  • The UW Department of Chemical Engineering adopted lecture recordings during the pandemic, but when UW returned to in-person instruction there was a debate about whether to continue this practice. On the initiative of students and faculty, the DEIA Committee, set out to research the central question: Does providing lecture recordings to students as an accessibility practice negatively impact student engagement? They found that nearly all students use recordings to enhance their learning and attendance is not affected by recording availability. This research has allowed faculty a better understanding of the value of lecture recordings, and the committee has created an extensive Recording Guide to support faculty in creating recordings of their courses. Providing recordings has a significant impact on accessibility for students with disabilities and has overall positive educational benefits. The DEIA Committee has shared their work with others at UW and will present a paper at the American Society of Engineering Education conference in June.

Congratulations to all award winners and nominees, and thank you all for your help with advancing the state of digital accessibility at the UW and beyond.