Teach Access: Eliminating the Accessible Skills Gap

Concurrent Session 7
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

Teach Access envisions a future where all technology is accessible. This collaboration between industry, education, and disability advocacy groups is preparing the next generation of designers, developers, and creators to ensure technology is born accessible. Join us to learn how our theory of change connects our mission and vision through online learning, emerging technologies, and advancing education about digital accessibility within varying subjects. We will discuss how we intend to reach 1 million students by 2030, who are the future creators of a world where all people, regardless of disability, are able to fully engage in the digital world.


Kate Sonka is the Executive Director of Teach Access and the Assistant Director of Inclusion & Academic Technology at the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University. She holds a Master’s degree in Bilingual/Bicultural Education and more than 10 years of experience in higher ed. She improves teaching and learning with technology through course design and support, experiential learning, and training and mentorship for faculty members and students. In exploring how accessibility exists in professional and academic spaces, she helped establish the Teach Access Study Away Silicon Valley program, implement the Teach Access Faculty Curriculum Development Grant program, and founded the Accessible Learning Conference at Michigan State University.
Cyndi Wiley, Ph.D. (Pronouns: They/Them/Theirs) is the Digital Accessibility Lead for Iowa State University and Associate Graduate Faculty in Graphic Design. They began their career in the late ‘90s in St. Louis, Missouri, working as a graphic designer and creative director, running a business, and developing a deep love of cats. Cyndi has 10 years of experience teaching face-to-face and fully online courses in interactive media, game design, and graphic design. Their research areas are UX/UI, game design, serious games, intersectionality of art and technology, and digital accessibility. Cyndi holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design and a PhD in Human Computer Interaction from Iowa State University.
Sarah J. Huibregtse currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Mount Union. She holds a PhD in Education with specialization in Instructional Design for Online Learning, a MS in Computer Science Education, a Web Development certification, and a BA in Elementary Education with a minor in Computer Science. Sarah's eclectic teaching background includes 20 years of experience teaching collegiate computer application and programming courses, as well as at various levels within K-12 education. She has taught in a variety of modalities, such as face-to-face, online, web enhanced, and hybrid classrooms. My most recent teaching experience has focused on broadening participation in computing with an emphasis on teaching accessibility at the beginning of a design and development project, while teaching introductory and interdisciplinary computing (CS0, CS1, and Python Music), as well as all levels of web development courses.

Extended Abstract

The number of students with disabilities entering college is steadily increasing. Globally, approximately 15% of the population experiences one or more disabilities. That number is similar to what is being reported at colleges and universities in the US, where students and faculty alike experience disability. (WHO Report on Disability) Further, 60% of tech companies surveyed expressed that it was “difficult” or “very difficult” to find candidates with accessibility skills (PEAT).

To address this accessibility skills gap, Teach Access was founded in 2015 by companies including Adobe, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, The Paciello Group, and Verizon Media (née Yahoo), and universities including Georgia Tech University, Michigan State University, Olin College, Rochester Institute of Technology, Stanford University, University of Colorado, University of Michigan and University of Washington.

Teach Access is a collaboration among higher education, tech industry, and disability advocacy organizations working to address the critical need to enhance students’ understanding of accessibility as they learn to design, develop, and build new technologies with the needs of people with disabilities in mind from the start. The central goal is to ensure that future technologies are “born accessible,” by proliferating fundamental skills and concepts of accessible technology design and development in mainstream design, computer science, and related courses and majors.

This featured session will provide information about the organization, ongoing initiatives to close the accessible skills gap, and how it plans to scale up to reach 1 million students by 2030. Topics to be covered include:

  • Discussion of the Study Away Silicon Valley program that was held in person in 2018 and 2019, and virtually in 2021. In this experiential learning opportunity, students and faculty visited Silicon Valley companies like Walmart eCommerce, Google, Verizon Media, LinkedIn, Apple, and Facebook to learn how accessible design and development is practiced in the daily work of staff at top tech companies. In the virtual version, a larger group of students and faculty were able to participate. In both modalities, teams of students work together to develop and present innovative projects, focusing on raising awareness about the need to make technology accessible and providing tools to engage their peers.
  • Findings and results of the Faculty Curriculum Development Grant program which provides $5,000 grants to professors who embed accessibility into their classroom teaching. In addition to turning their materials into OER, recipients are also asked to share what they implemented at their own institutions.
  • Efforts to incorporate accessible design and development principles into the accreditation criteria for engineering and design schools.
  • Development of various resources for teaching accessibility and for supporting companies as they hire recent graduates with accessibility skills and knowledge. Attendees will also hear about the strategic planning that took place during Winter 20-21 that laid the groundwork for how Teach Access will scale up and expand to reach 1 million students by 2030. In order to reach this goal, Teach Access will be developing a robust set of curricular items that will be available as OER for instructors to use in their teaching of the basic accessibility concepts and skills. Further, there will be efforts to create a free and open source curriculum for students to do self-guided learning.

There will be time reserved at the end for audience Q&A.

Reference links:

WHO Report: https://www.who.int/teams/noncommunicable-diseases/sensory-functions-disability-and-rehabilitation/world-report-on-disability

PEAT: https://www.peatworks.org/infographic-the-accessible-technology-skills-gap/