Associate Professor of Computer Science Pam Cutter will introduce the fundamental concepts and skills of accessible design and development to her Kalamazoo College courses thanks to the Teach Access Faculty Grants program.
Teach Access announced May 18 that Cutter will receive $2,500 to develop assignments, discussions, and activities that promote accessibility skills for students in her first-year seminar, Exploring Technology for Accessibility, while sharing her resources with other faculty members in K’s computer science program and submitting her materials to a curriculum repository.
The third Thursday of May, which was May 18 this year, annually serves as Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). The day’s purpose is to promote the global awareness of digital access and inclusion for the 1 billion people worldwide who have disabilities or impairments.
In total, Teach Access is giving 19 college faculty members from around the country a combined $50,000 for their projects.
“Getting students to think about designing tools for accessibility early in their college careers would give them the opportunity to carry that knowledge into any discipline they choose,” Cutter said. “This might be computer science, where they can delve deeper into the technical aspects of designing more inclusive tools, such as websites and mobile applications, for accessibility, or it might be something like economics or political science, where they can be more informed advocates for helping their organization meet the demands of digital accessibility. Having an adult child with special needs, I’ve seen how the right tools, and digital tools designed with special needs in mind, can have an impact on the success of an individual. I’m excited to bring this topic to my classrooms and look forward to the contributions of my students.”
Leaders from Yahoo and Facebook founded Teach Access in 2015 while attempting to narrow an accessibility technology skills gap in recent graduates. Other companies experiencing the same concerns quickly joined the initiative including Adobe, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Intuit, Walmart and Apple.
Bringing together industry, education and disability advocacy organizations, the mission of Teach Access is to address the digital accessibility skills gap by equipping learners to build toward an inclusive world. Through targeting education institutions to provide opportunities for learners to gain accessibility skills, more candidates considering careers in technology are doing so with knowledge and commitment to designing and developing accessible technology.
Speaking on behalf of Teach Access, Rochester Institute of Technology Associate Professor Elissa Weeden, a past faculty grant recipient, said the grants also allow faculty to buy various assistive technology devices such as switches, eye trackers, adaptive controllers and a Braille notetaker to use in courses.
“Before the grant, I was only able to talk and show videos about how these devices can be used,” she said. “Now, my students are able to explore and interact with the devices to experience how they can be used to provide access and interaction with digital content.”
While Cutter does not plan to use her grant to buy any equipment, she plans to take her seminar students to visit the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons Training Center and to meet with the Assistive Technology Team at Kalamazoo RESA to learn how technology is being used to assist members of our local community. She also plans to discuss the Americans with Disabilities Act and what it requires regarding digital accessibility.