Reports from Working Group Discussions (AccessComputing: Building Capacity to Promote the Success of Students, Including Veterans, With Disabilities in Computing and Information Technology Fields 2011)

CBI participants represented a wide range of stakeholder groups, including postsecondary faculty, disability service staff, other academic staff, and employees of veterans-serving organizations. They came together to brainstorm ideas for serving student with disabilities, including veterans, in postsecondary education in general, and, specifically, to encourage students with disabilities to pursue computing and IT careers. Their discussions are summarized below.

Applications of Universal Design

Photo of a large group of students collaborate on a team project at a table

Question 1: What are your thoughts about specific steps your institution or computing/IT department could take to embrace universal design?

  • Universal design isn't just about helping students with disabilities, it is also about good education strategies and pedagogy. Everyone has different learning styles, and incorporating tenets of universal design helps ensure that all students can be successful.
  • At some institutions, there have been efforts to ensure that introductory courses are more welcoming and better designed overall. This hasn't always carried over to upper level classes.
  • Many faculty are unfamiliar with steps to take to incorporate universal design principles into their courses. It may be helpful to provide short seminars, information sessions, and/or resources with tips on how to make classes more accessible.
  • Working with a campus organization that already exists to help teachers improve their teaching may be a good way to disseminate information about universal design.

Implementation Strategies

Question 2: What kinds of services, supports, and institutional or departmental changes can be implemented to promote the participation and success of students with disabilities, including veterans, in computing and IT studies and careers?

  • There is still a stigma attached to disability; be prepared to push back against negative comments and outdated arguments.
  • Be prepared for colleagues who will argue that adaptive equipment costs too much because few students will use it or that captioning on the Megatron at graduation will be unattractive.
  • Build relationships and partnerships that can benefit you. Non-profit groups may have resources that can help. Partners on campus may be able to help students find resources or mentors.
  • Consider inviting speakers with disabilities to speak to your department. It helps to demonstrate to the larger community that people with disabilities can succeed in computing fields.
  • Create opportunities for students with disabilities to speak to faculty about their experiences. This may be in a formal panel discussion or in an informal group discussion.
  • Make accessibility research visible in your computing department by teaching a class or bringing in speakers to raise awareness of these issues.
  • Help students prepare for their transitions to the professional world. This might mean internships, mentoring, or mock interviews with local professionals.

IT Strategies

Question 3: How can universal design and accessibility issues, with respect to IT, be integrated into campus disability and computing services, computing and IT curriculum, and other units?

  • When developing new websites or technology, think about accessibility early in the design stage. Retroactively making a website or software accessible can be time intensive and costly.
  • Think about integrating a section on accessibility into computing classes. Doing so could help to raise awareness of accessibility issues among a larger group of computing professionals. This could also be accomplished by getting students involved with the development of new projects either at your institution or with local tech companies. Require class projects to employ accessible design practices.
  • Seek out accessible educational software. If you work with vendors, ask them about accessibility and present it as a marketing advantage over their competitors.
  • Caption videos.

Plans for the Future

Question 4: What are some preliminary ideas regarding how disabled student services, computing departments and veterans-serving organizations in your region might work together to increase the participation and success of students with disabilities in computing and IT fields?

  • Auburn University plans to integrate their computer and robotics camps designed for K-12 students with Landmark College. They would like to have Landmark College undergraduates with disabilities teach at the K-12 camps. They also plan to encourage their center on campus that promotes excellence in teaching to collaborate with the team from Landmark College.
  • The Caribbean Computing Center for Excellence will engage with AccessComputing to promote the success of students with disabilities among the participants in their center as well as add appropriate members to their team.
  • Carnegie Mellon University plans to engage more individuals on campus in their efforts to support AccessComputing. Currently, the university hosts computer science presentations at local schools that are inclusive of women and minorities. They plan to ensure that they include a student with a disability on that presentation team as well as include images of individuals with disabilities in slides and information on accessibility research.
  • Gallaudet University plans to arrange video conferences that allow their students to interact with students from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.
  • Landmark College plans to partner with and support other institutional partners.
  • New Mexico State University would like to increase collaboration and partnerships across campus and with their community colleges. Among the issues they are interested in addressing are how to get resources to students, testing websites and other systems with students with disabilities, and getting assistive technology into mainstream computer labs.
  • North Carolina State University plans to create a small accessibility working group that would work with a student advisory group. They would also like to enlist their computing students in building solutions for accessibility issues.
  • Rochester Institute of Technology and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf plan to extend their video conferencing program to help students with disabilities meet remotely with peers. They plan to partner with Gallaudet University on some of these conferences.
  • Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville would like to write a grant that creates a collaboration between education and computer science to build tools to work with students with autism.
  • University of Maryland, Baltimore County would like to build a closer relationship between faculty and disability support services. They would also like to create initiatives that encourage mainstream students to become more aware of issues that students with disabilities face. Another plan they have is to partner with institutions that serve large populations of students with disabilities to build community, work together on accessibility research, and exchange best practices.
  • University of Rochester plans to build awareness among faculty of resources on campus for students with disabilities.
  • University of Washington would like to promote the field of computing to veterans. They would like to work with community colleges, local veterans groups, the Veterans Affairs, and individuals at Fort Lewis to encourage veterans to think about computing as a career. In addition, they plan to ensure that someone is representing disability and accessibility issues in the new online learning committee that is developing and doing trainings for faculty at local community colleges.
  • Washington State University plans to increase communication between their disability resource center and veterans affairs. They'd also like to reach out to veterans in Washington State as they leave the service. In addition, they plan to meet with brand identity stakeholders on campus to discuss creating a universally designed and accessible website as well as providing captioned videos. They would also like to create better relationships between service and support units, to raise awareness of universal design and related issues.