Gaming for the Greater Good: A Promising Practice in Teaching About Both Technology and Disability
In the electrical engineering and computer science department at the University of Michigan, David Chesney teaches two courses that include accessibility. The first, Gaming for the Greater Good, an introductory course focused on creating a game with accessibility features for a specific disability, is used as a recruitment tool for students interested in computer science. The second, a software engineering capstone class, focused on children with disabilities in the community and how to create accessibility solutions using the latest and greatest technology.
In each class, students learn about specific accessibility issues, usually around one individual’s needs. Students proceed through a sequence of steps to solve the problem: proposing and pitching a solution, describing the requirements and design, building the product, and testing and maintenance. For example, one team designed a tool that allows a user to use facial movements to control a keyboard. A number of the projects developed in these courses have commercial potential. A non-profit organization is being formed that will commercialize software products created in the class. Half of the revenue will go towards purchasing assistive technology for children with disabilities.
Gaming for the Greater Good and the capstone course are a promising practice in teaching engineering students not only about technology, but also about disability. In these courses social context and individual focus matter. Working with an individual with a disability helps students to better understand the engineering problem that they are trying to solve. Not only do these classes result in products that people with disabilities can use but students in the class bring an awareness of accessibility into their careers as engineers.