Accessible technology has the power to create a more inclusive and equitable world for the 1 billion people who live with disabilities. However 60% of companies say it is difficult or very difficult to find candidates with the accessibility skills needed. Similarly, academic programs in design, engineering, computer science, and human-computer interfaces seek ways to better prepare students to address the needs of diverse global populations.
We set out to tackle this significant accessibility skills gap by co-founding Teach Access, a groundbreaking partnership of top tech companies, major universities, and leading advocacy organizations with a mission to infuse accessibility concepts and skills into higher education curriculum.
Teach Access’ focus is on systemic change - with the understanding that no single entity or sector can alone make the necessary progress at the scale required. Together, we empower students studying design, computer science, and human-computer interaction with the knowledge necessary to create a more inclusive and accessible world.
Teach Access is currently comprised of over forty companies, universities, and disability advocacy groups who volunteer up to 10% of their time to advance the initiative’s goals. A brief list of notable partners include Adobe, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Verizon Media and Walmart; California State University, Cornell University, Georgia Tech University, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Stanford University, University of Washington, University of Colorado and Utah State University; and the Hearing Loss Association, American Council of the Blind, American Association of People with Disabilities, and many others.
Partners are implementing strategic initiatives to support faculty, inspire students and engage industry.
1. Faculty Support: Empower faculty with the necessary tools to teach accessibility through Faculty Bootcamps and Grant Funding.
2. Student Immersive learning: Inspire students with on-site learning experiences.
Teach Access launched the Study Away Silicon Valley program, bringing together students, faculty, and industry partners to provide higher ed students with the opportunity to experience how top tech companies establish and pursue their accessibility goals. For a week each Spring, 20-30 students from up to six universities visit a different company (e.g. Adobe, Apple, Facebook, Google, Intuit, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Walmart and Verizon Media) to gain an understanding of the work being done in each location and engaging in substantive conversations to advance their own knowledge. Throughout the week, small cross-institutional teams of students work together to solve an accessibility challenge, and receive feedback from industry partners each day. On the final day of the program, student teams present their work to all participants, including representatives from Teach Access member companies.
The goals of this learning program include:
Equipping students to be advocates and champions for accessibility
Building and expanding student professional networks
Learning about career paths in accessibility
3. Corporate Commitment: Provides an avenue for companies to engage.
Teach Access companies are focused on the continual improvement of the accessibility of their products and services and know that the success of this effort relies on a workforce familiar with the fundamentals of designing, developing, testing and proliferating accessible technologies, including the common standards and specifications and alternative interfaces used by people with disabilities.
To achieve this goal, Teach Access helps member companies add language to job descriptions that emphasize this skill set. By highlighting the need for new talent to enter the workforce prepared with this knowledge, companies are shining a spotlight on their dedication to this shared mission and raising awareness among job-seekers. Companies believe this effort will result in significant savings of time and effort presently spent training existing staff on the requirements they face in the global marketplace.
Teach Access has achieved immediate, tangible results as well as long-term, systemic investments that will help ensure future technology is accessible to all, including people with disabilities. Results include:
Launched “Faculty Bootcamps,” piloted at the University of Southern California and University of Michigan to empower faculty with the necessary tools to teach accessibility.
$100,000 allocated to faculty Curriculum Development Grants to accelerate the creation and delivery of accessibility-infused college curricula. Twenty faculty awardees developed modules, presentations, exercises or curriculum enhancements that introduce the fundamental concepts and skills of accessible design and development in their classrooms. Award recipients presented their work at national conferences, symposia, and workshops.
Accessibility skills and concepts introduced to approximately 1,000 undergraduate students in courses taught by Faculty Curriculum Development Grant recipients. Results show student confidence increased in understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
More than 40 undergraduate and graduate students participated in Teach Access Study Away Silicon Valley program, resulting in several students securing internships and jobs on accessibility teams.
Major engineering and design accreditation boards are incorporating accessibility principles into their requirements.
Launched industry guest speakers program for universities to provide lectures about how people with disabilities use technology and media in their products.
Launched a free, public open-source online website accessibility tutorial, now used by universities, corporations and accessibility consulting companies.
Companies such as Adobe, CapitalOne, Facebook, Google, Intuit, LinkedIn, Microsoft and others have updated their job descriptions to include accessibility skill requirements.
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