AccessComputing News - May 2023: All Articles
This page features all the articles from the AccessComputing News - May 2023 newsletter. This newsletter can also be viewed article by article on the AccessComputing News - May 2023 page.
- New Projects and Resources from the Community
- Do You Have a Disability Gain?
- AccessAdvice: Getting Involved in Research
- New Webinar Recordings Available
- AccessComputing Student Hosts Neurodivergent-Focused Birds of a Feather Session at SIGCSE in Toronto
- Crossroads Conference Brings Together Leaders in K-12 Computer Science (CS) Education
- CRA Workshop: Accessible Technology for All
- Ability: A Group to Know!
- SIGCSE 2023 Trip Report: A Chronicle of Ideas, Good and Bad
- Submit your Suggestions and Feedback on Product Accessibility to Google and Adobe via the Tech Accessibility Initiative
- IDEALS Workshop
- NCWIT re:think Magazine Issue Focused on Accessibility
- CS2023: ACM/IEEE/AAAI Computer Science Curricula includes Teaching Accessibility
Over the last few months, we’ve been excited to see new projects and resources coming out of our community.
NCWIT published an issue of re:think magazine on disability and accessibility. AccessComputing PI Richard Ladner and I authored an article, as did several of our community members: Hana Gabrielle Bidon (Cornell), Chris Murphy (Bryn Mawr), Ather Sharif (University of Washington), Victoria Chavez (Northeastern), and Maya Israel (University of Florida).
The Computing Research Association (CRA) was awarded funding by the National Science Foundation for LEVEL UP, which aims to “build consensus around a united vision of inclusive undergraduate computing education.” The effort will bring together CRA, the Association of Computing Machinery, IEEE, and several NSF Broadening Participation Alliances in a series of regional workshops across the country to build consensus. Brianna will represent AccessComputing on the LEVEL UP BPC Alliance Committee.
A new resource, Quorum Today, seeks to expand the use of the Quorum programming language to allow blind and visually impaired students to participate fully in competitive robotics. Quorum Today encourages manufacturers and curriculum providers to allow Quorum as an accessible coding language and integrated development environment (IDE) and provides tips on how to include accessible features in educational opportunities. Additionally, Quorum Today invites EVERYONE to celebrate QDay on May 4th by using the power of social media to show that we all can benefit from an evidence-based programming language. On the website, Quorum Today shares videos from AccessCSforAll PI Andreas Stefik (University of Nevada Las Vegas), AccessCSforAll RPP partner Gina Fugate (Maryland School for the Blind), and John de Lancie, who played Q on Star Trek.
University of Washington alum Eric Fan published a book titled The Inclusive Code: Pursuing Equity Through Computing Education. The book covers broadening participation in computing efforts, inclusive equitable learning experiences, and the need to teach about the social impact of computing in the core computing curriculum. Richard Ladner, Sheryl Burgstahler, Brianna Blaser, and AccessComputing partner Andreas Stefik were all interviewed for the chapter on “Empowering Students with Disabilities.”
I recently read an article, The Silver Linings of Parkinson’s disease, published a year ago in the journal Nature, talking about a survey of people who have Parkinson’s Disease (PD), a neuro degenerative brain condition that affects the nervous system and gradually leads to uncontrolled movements, like shaking and difficulty with balance and coordination. The reason it caught my eye was that the authors conducted a survey on social media, asking people with PD if there was an “upside” or, in the words of one respondent, a “silver lining” to having PD. Keeping in mind that it was a social media survey—which the authors noted was “exploratory” only and not a research project with rigorous methodology—the response was still a bit surprising. Out of 150 respondents, 14% said their life was worse after diagnosis, and 4% provided neutral responses – neither better nor worse. But 82% of respondents identified at least one, and often multiple, “positive outcomes,” “silver linings,” or “disability gains” regarding their diagnosis.
This prompted me to start thinking about how we, as people with disabilities, view ourselves and the particular barriers we encounter in relation to our disabilities. We know the challenges we experience in school, at work, and in everyday life. But what about the silver linings? Are there any? I know a few people with ADHD who have said that the ability to hyperfocus can be an advantage at times—they’re able to concentrate so intensely that they can accomplish a lot, or that they can achieve breakthroughs in thinking.
This isn’t a completely new concept; some people with disabilities have been expressing it over the last few years, although perhaps phrasing it a bit differently. In her essay Armchairs and Stares: On the Privation of Deafness (In Bauman and Murray’s, Deaf Gain: Raising the Stakes for Human Diversity), the philosopher Teresa Blankemeyer Burke discusses “Deaf Gain” from which “Disability Gain” is derived. While Blankemeyer Burke goes into a much deeper philosophical examination, she notes a couple of “gains.” For one, Deaf people don’t experience hearing distractions and usually can more deeply concentrate. Because sign languages are visual, with more attention, eye contact, and body language required, there is a “communication intimacy” that is not achieved by hearing individuals—who are more likely to be dividing their attention between the person they’re talking to and their phone, the TV, or their surroundings.
More recently, some people with disabilities have been thinking about their disability as a superpower. For example, in 2019, the children’s book Maybe Autism Is My Superpower was published, recounting a conversation between 13-year old Ben Blanchet and his mother, where Ben described the “unique ways he hears, sees, and thinks about the world around him.” But it’s not only kids who are realizing that their particular disability can be empowering. Thirty-two year old Andrea Dobynes Wagner was interviewed for Elle magazine a couple of years ago in “My Disability Is My Superpower. If Only Employers Could See It That Way.”Andrea is black, female, and legally blind. As a child, she was told that her future was to live with her parents and that she’d never live a “normal” life. But today she has multiple advanced degrees and says “For most of my life, I’ve viewed my disability as a superpower – it’s made me adaptive, innovative and empathetic.”
So, what about you? Do you have a disability gain? What about your disability makes it your superpower?
[This question has been lightly edited for clarity and to remove identifying detail]
Currently, I have a full-time job where I work from home. My manager is flexible with my work schedule, so I can take some time out of my work day to have meetings and work on my day job later that day. Down the road, I'm thinking of enrolling in a master's program to hopefully pursue a research career in human-computer interaction (HCI) in industry or academia.
How do I complete an independent research study to see if I want to pursue a research career? One option is to do an independent research study through my alma mater’s continuing education program, but I'd have to enroll and get approval from a professor beforehand.
I’d also like to know:
- How do I contact professors about this and how do I ask for approval for an independent research study from a professor?
- How do I highlight my research experience; what should I highlight in my resume?
- What other options might I have to do an independent research project?
Research Into Master's
I really like this guide from a colleague of mine on how to get involved in research as an undergraduate. Your situation is a little different, but many of the key points are the same: Figure out what you’re interested in and who you’d like to work with, then reach out, following any instructions on their websites about how to do so. You’ll want to keep your initial email fairly short and highlight any key points that might make them interested in talking to you. In your case, you might write something like the following (edited to make sure it sounds like your voice and not mine):
“Dear Professor [Lastname],
I’m writing to find out if you have any opportunities for research in your group. I’m an alum of [University] and am currently thinking about going back to grad school to pursue a research career in human-computer interaction. Before I do, I was hoping to get some hands-on research experience in [the professor’s field]. [something complimentary, like “I always really enjoyed my CS classes, especially your class on [x]” or “I read your paper on [y] and was really interested in your approach to [z]”]. Because of this, I am especially interested in working with your group if possible.
Attached please find my resume; I would be happy to answer any questions or set up a time to meet if that would be helpful. Thank you for your time and consideration.
You’re likely to have the best luck with faculty with whom you have a prior connection; if there was someone you worked with in undergrad, they would be a good person to reach out to. If you know a colleague of the person you want to work with, you can also mention this in your letter; something like “I worked with [name] at [university] during my undergraduate years, and completed a project on [topic].” Just be sure that the person you mention would have nice things to say about you; faculty do reach out to each other to ask about students!
In your resume, make sure you highlight any relevant experience or projects; just like when you’re applying for any other job, you want to make sure you mention major accomplishments. Just keep in mind that faculty typically won’t be interested in business-related accomplishments like sales or process improvements; instead, you’ll want to mention projects and activities that show off your relevant skills. For HCI, this might be something like leading the addition of a new feature to a software project (especially a UI or UX feature) or conducting a focus group. You can also mention personal projects that show these skills, like building a cool 3D clock or making a contribution to an open-source project.
As you reach out, keep in mind that faculty receive many requests for this type of project. If you get a “no”, don’t take it personally, just move on to the next potential advisor. If you find that you seem to be underqualified, you can start to build up your experience with personal projects (for HCI, writing a fun or useful app for yourself, making contributions to open source projects, or doing something cool with your personal website would all be good options). Once you’ve completed some of this type of project, you’ll have more to show off and more to talk to prospective research supervisors about.
I recommend also working through your network as best you can; the best way to get someone to agree to supervise a research project is to have some demonstrated research experience, even if it’s not in the same field. So if you know someone who would be willing to do a project with you, you can start there and then work your way towards your desired field. Finally, if you really can’t get anyone to talk to you and you don’t have good connections to work with, then you might be better off trying to find a formal program like the one at your alma mater. If you decide you want to go for a Ph.D., then the CSGrad4US program might be a good option for you, or you can see if your alma mater has any programs to connect returning students to research projects.
Recordings are now available for recent webinars hosted by AccessComputing and AccessCSforAll.
Considerations for Technology Design for People with Chronic Illnesses
Presenters: Emma McDonnell, Kelly Mack, Sarah Coppola (UW); Litany Lineberry (Mississippi State)
Supported by AccessComputing
In this session, University of Washington PhD students Emma McDonnell (HCDE) and Kelly Mack (CSE) present their work around how technology design can better consider people with chronic illnesses. Following the presentation, there will be a panel where other community members will share their thoughts on the topic.
Turning Neurodiverse Learners Into Leaders
Presenters: Beth Rosenberg, Halenue Komsul, Haley Shibble (Tech Kids Unlimited)
Supported by AccessCSforAll
Tech Kids Unlimited (TKU) works with neurodiverse students to teach them computer science principles, technology and social emotional skills. Learn how neurodiverse teens can become advocates for their own learning through TKU's Digital Agency enterprise—where students work on real digital products for clients and get paid.
Last year at the SIGCSE Technical Symposium, I selectively disclosed myself as autistic, receiving reactions ranging from ableist bewilderment (“Oh, really? You talk so eloquently for being autistic”) to quiet flickers of community as other attendees disclosed their own neurodivergence. As most disclosures happened in corners and hallways around the conference, I wanted a more explicit space for folks to find each other, unmask, and find community. So, this year, I organized a Birds-of-a-Feather (BoF), “Finding Neurodivergent Community in Computing Education.” BoFs, for those unfamiliar, are a 50-minute conference slot, intended to co-locate shared interests that otherwise would be diffused across a 2000 person conference.
Primarily, I wanted to build community, but I didn’t want this space to be any more uncomfortable than being at a normal conference where folks may have to explain themselves, or neurodivergence generally. Given the gorgeous breadth of neurodivergence, and that folks might need different spaces at different times, I offered a few group options: folks that wanted more excitable conference energy, folks that wanted to share conferencing-while-neurodivergent aches, and folks that just wanted to hang, among others. Drawing from caucusing techniques within teacher education, I opted to separate out everyone that considered themselves an ally from neurodivergent-identifying and neurodivergent-questioning folks. And, as oral speech shouldn’t be a requirement to connect with community, I made a discord server as well where folks could communicate over text instead of talking.
We had about around 25 attendees with lots of unmasking and peer support. One group talked through the decision to pursue a diagnosis; another discussed ways to heal the shame imposed by ableist expectations. I had a wealth of concerns around allies attending and making an explicit space (and asking a trusted ally to moderate discussion) assuaged many of my worries. However, creating this space required a decent amount of advocacy. BoFs require a two-page proposal at SIGCSE that’s peer reviewed; one reviewer argued that this space shouldn’t exist at the conference, another argued that there might need to be more neurodivergent scholarship before they could justify the existence of a community space. Both of these responses felt frustrating. While the space was not accessible to all neurodivergent members of the SIGCSE community (e.g. those who could not attend an in-person conference located outside the United States), I was immensely grateful for a conference space where I could show up with all of my delightful eccentrics proudly on display, with little concern for how I might be perceived, and deeply grateful to share that space with others.
The Infosys Foundation USA sponsored the Crossroads 2023 Conference at the Infosys Innovation Center in Tempe, Arizona, near the Arizona State University campus, on February 7 – 9, 2023. The conference brought together more than 230 leaders in K-!2 computer science education from around the nation. The conference was organized into three tracks: Empowering Inclusive Communities, Enabling Diverse Pathways, and Driving Innovative Partnerships. Each track consisted of a sequence of one hour panels that delved into specific issues confronting K-12 CS education.
A panel titled “CS for All: Inclusion and Accessibility Unlock the Talent of Every Student” was about best practices for including students with disabilities in CS and was moderated by AccessComputing PI Richard Ladner. The panelists were Shireen Hafeez, creator of Deaf Kids Code, Beth Rosenberg, creator of Tech Kids Unlimited, and Andreas Stefik, the creator of the accessible Quorum programming environment. The three panelists described their programs, gave advice to teachers on how to include students with disabilities in computer science courses, and presented ideas on how to close the participation gap that currently exists for students with disabilities in computing classes. There was consensus among the panelists that progress has been made in making K-12 CS more accessible, but there is still a long way to go.
The Computing Research Association through three of its committees, CRA-I, CCC, and CRA-WP, sponsored the Accessible Technology for All Workshop in Washington DC on February 21 – 22, 2023. Two of the organizers are long-time friends of AccessComputing, Shaun Kane and Jeanine Cook. The workshop brought together about 60 participants from industry, academia, government agencies, and advocacy organizations, of which about 40 were on site and 20 remote. The purpose of the workshop was to “vision ways to make all technology accessible and why that is important and necessary for society as a whole.” The workshop featured Richard Ladner, AccessComputing PI, giving the opening keynote address followed by panels of industry representatives who work on accessibility, academic accessibility researchers, and advocacy group representatives who have a stake in what both industry and academic researchers do to benefit their constituents. There was a focus on more short-term solutions, rather than long-range solutions. A summary of the workshop was prepared by Helen Wright, a CRA staff member.
Ability is an Allen School student organization whose mission is to provide a community for students with disabilities and their allies, as well as educate the Allen School and broader UW community about disability and accessibility. Disability carries a lot of stigma, is often misunderstood, and tends to be overlooked in conversations about diversity and inclusion; however, it’s an identity that millions of people have—including many students at the Allen School. I am the chair of Ability, having founded the group to create a space for students to support one another and learn about disabilities in an open, welcoming environment. Since its inception in Spring 2021, Ability has grown to an officer team of 5 and over 100 members! I am now a master’s student at the Allen School and continue to run and expand the club with the support of her officers.
Ability supports students with disabilities in a variety of ways, including helping them get connected to the myriad of disability resources available at UW. We kick off each school year by hosting an information session (with delicious cookies and frosting!) for incoming students about disability resources on campus. Officers meet with students individually to help them navigate aspects of accessible education like course accommodations and academic success meetings with DRS. Other events, such as Ability’s “Impasta Syndrome” dinner event where pasta is served, are aimed to create space for talking about difficult topics in the disability community, such as being “not disabled enough,” not being the “right kind” of disabled, and feeling like a disability imposter. Additionally, Ability runs a mentorship program that matches students one-on-one with a mentor in industry who has a disability and shares similar interests.
Ability isn’t just for students with disabilities; promoting allyship is another core component of our work, and Ability is open to students who are allies of the disability community, as well as to those wishing to learn more about disability identity. This past winter, Vice Chair Lucille Njoo (she/her), a PhD student at the Allen School, led a presentation and workshop on how to be an ally to the disability community. Students participated in candid discussions about disabilities and learned about how they can recognize ableism in their daily lives and be an ally to their disabled peers.
Ability also highlights other opportunities available on campus, such as accessibility research. They host an annual Accessibility Research Night where they invite accessibility researchers at UW to present their current work and share opportunities for students to get involved. Additionally, Ability has collaborated with organizations such as the LEAP Alliance to highlight graduate school opportunities and Husky Coding Project to host a workshop for designing accessible websites.
Since a large piece of our mission is to build community, Ability also hosts fun social events for member bonding. We have had trivia nights, game nights, hot chocolate bars, and even an event called “Bags and Boba,” where students decorated tote bags while enjoying boba tea with other Ability members.
Ability welcomes students, faculty, and staff of all identities. Regardless of whether you identify as disabled or not, you’re welcome to join Ability to make friends, have fun, and learn about disabilities. Feel free to reach out to Ability at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions!
My first SIGCSE Technical Symposium was in 2013. I can’t understate how much has changed personally since then. At the time, I was just past tenure and promotion, just leaving my startup, and just beginning to realize I couldn’t run from my gender identity any longer. I had just starting computer science education research, doing all of the things a naive newcomer does: Asking the wrong questions, missing related work, and missing the forest for the trees. My students and I were doing interesting work mostly by virtue of our unconventional perspectives, not because we had a deep understanding of the community and its work.
I approached this year’s SIGCSE trying to take stock of what has changed, however small, mostly out of a need to stay motivated. So instead of a bunch of paper summaries, this is instead going to be a chronicle of noticing signals of progress and concerning constants.
On Wednesday I helped co-organize a pre-conference workshop on accessibility. The day drew about 30 attendees overall, most of whom viewed themselves as allies, and who had a wide range of interests from K-12, higher education, workplace issues, programming languages and tools, curriculum, and professional development.
Throughout the day, there was a whole spectrum of ideas, ranging from problematic to justice-centered. Here are some of the ones I found problematic:
- Blaming disabled students for “failing” to disclose their disabilities
- Avoiding conflict with powerful corporations
- Deficit mindsets about autism
- Looking to the APA for how to frame our work
- Encouraging access to broken systems instead of fixing systems
- Reducing disability to complete blindness
- Reducing equity to accommodation
- Well-meaning but misguided saviorism
And here are some of the ideas I was more fond of:
- Evolving our language past notions of “special” accommodations
- Resisting ableist systems by leveraging institutional power
- Expanding literacy about accessibility
- Getting the word “accessibility” into learning standards and guidelines
- Embracing the diversity of autistic experiences
- Intersections between accessibility, culture, and language inclusion
- Including chronic mental health challenges in disability
- Decoupling audio and visual representations with underlying structure
- Thinking critically about the power and peril of labels
The Tech Accessibility Initiative (TAI) improves product accessibility by optimizing partnerships between leading consumer-facing technology companies and university students with disabilities. TAI facilitates direct feedback, suggestions, and dialogue for product accessibility improvements.
TAI is led by two legally blind Brown University students; I, Geneva Bass, and Anna Ohrt are spearheading this project. I study applied math, economics, and entrepreneurship, while Anna studies computer science and disability studies. To learn more about our work or collaborate on a project, please contact us at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
By taking five minutes to submit your suggestions and feedback for product accessibility improvements, you work to build a more accessible world for yourself and others.
The 2023 Grad Cohort Workshop for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Leadership Skills (IDEALS) was held March 23 – 25 in Hawaii. 2023 marks the third year that the Computing Research Association’s Widening Participation (CRA-WP) initiative has hosted IDEALS, and the third year that AccessComputing has provided Bronze sponsorship for the event. The two-day workshop convened over 100 graduate students and 30 professional mentors in computing for sessions spanning practical advice for early, middle, and later years of graduate studies, with topics ranging from “Master’s vs. Ph.D.” to “Navigating Microaggressions and Finding Your Voice.” Organizers’ commitment to disability inclusion was demonstrated by self-reported 40% disability representation among attendees and continuation of robust COVID-19 safety measures.
AccessComputing leadership, partners, student members, and alumni were present throughout the schedule. Dr. Raja Kushalnagar (co-PI) presented “Building Resiliency and Overcoming Failure,” Dr. Shaun Kane (alum) presented “Summer Internships,” Dr. Stacy Branham (co-PI) presented “Presentation and Other Verbal Communication Skills,” and several members (including Dr. Susan Rodger) participated in the career advising and resume advising post-workshop sessions.
Ather Sharif, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington and an AccessComputing Team Member, hosted a highly engaging plenary panel entitled “Empowerment of People with Disabilities.” In framing the panel conversation, Sharif explored the meaning of “empowerment” as a quality that originates from individuals with disabilities when their social and physical environments lack barriers. Dr. Kane expressed the nuances of intersecting identities; whereas disability can be a source of oppression, being a white male can be a source of privilege. Dr. Rodger shared her experience of diagnosing her non-apparent disability later in life. Dr. Kushalnagar impressed the audience of computing students with a call to include people with disabilities by introducing the popular refrain “nothing without us.”
Drs. Stacy Branham, Sheryl Burgstahler, and Raja Kushalnagar hosted the AccessComputing Community Meetup immediately after the workshop’s conclusion. Two dozen attendees joined to discuss AccessComputing’s mission, resources, and ways to get involved. Participants took turns asking questions about the experiences of AccessComputing members and alumni, and they requested help filling out the application to join.
We are excited that the latest issue of re:think Magazine from the National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT) focuses on disability and accessibility. Like AccessComputing, NCWIT is an NSF Broadening Participation in Computing Alliance. They are also an AccessComputing partner. AccessComputing PI Richard Ladner and I provided guidance to NCWIT on this issue of the magazine.
Check out the article Richard and I wrote on Reflecting on Disability and Information Technology. In addition, there are several articles from AccessComputing colleagues and team members:
- Not All Disabilities Are Visible by Hana Gabrielle Bidon
- Making CS Education Inclusive for Students With Mental Health Conditions by Chris Murphy, Bryn Mawr
- Nothing About Us Without Us by Ather Sharif, University of Washington
- Advocacy and Activism in the Disability Community by Victoria Chavez, Northwestern University
- Access and Inclusion in K-12 CS Education: Inclusive Mindsets and Pedagogical Practices by Maya Israel, University of Florida
Approximately every ten years the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery), IEEE-CS (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-Computer Science), and AAAI (Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence) convene to help revise the computer science curriculum guidelines for colleges and universities. The last curriculum guidelines were from 2013. The 2023 guidelines are still in beta version and soliciting feedback. The guidelines enumerate 17 different knowledge areas. For each knowledge area, there is a list of topics that should be covered, some of which are so important that every computer science (CS) major should know them (CS-Core) and the rest are part of the core for that knowledge area (KA-Core). The expectation is the a student coming out of a CS major will have competency in the CS-Cores and in some KA-Cores. Competency in a knowledge area includes not only the knowledge, but the skills to apply that knowledge and the professional dispositions to work in that knowledge area. The 2023 guidelines also cover certain curricular practices, such as the inclusion of accessibility into the CS curriculum.
I (Richard Ladner), Stephanie Ludi, and Robert Domanski wrote a short article titled “Teaching about Accessibility in Computer Science Education” for the new guidelines. In the article, we cover what accessibility means and why it is important to include accessibility topics in the CS curriculum. We describe different kinds of disabilities and how people with those disabilities access computers. We give some curricular examples of how accessibility and disabilities can be incorporated into various CS courses. The entire 2023 guidelines in beta version, including the article about teaching accessibility, are available for comments.
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