PEAT Blog

PEAT Talks Recap: Expanding Accessibility Awareness in Higher Ed

Here at PEAT, we spend a lot of time talking about the importance of accessible technology in the workplace. But how do we ensure that budding computer engineers and programmers have the skills they need to develop accessible tech in the first place? Kicking off 2018’s PEAT Talks series, Larry Goldberg, Senior Director of Accessible Media at Oath (formerly Yahoo), and Jeff Wieland, Director of Accessibility at Facebook, shared their experiences creating Teach Access. This initiative bridges academia and industry to resolve accessibility issues long before consumer technology reaches the public. The mission of Teach Access is to expand and enhance the teaching of accessible design and development principles in undergraduate education. This work ultimately serves many purposes, including the promotion of accessible workplace technology that breaks down barriers to employment for people with disabilities.

The Challenge

Jeff identified one of the fundamental accessibility challenges the technology industry faces today: the sheer volume of technologies available and the huge amount of software being written to power them. More than three million apps are available for download, and millions of websites exist on the Internet. Jeff believes the only way it will be possible for all this content to be accessible is for people with the necessary fundamental knowledge to build in accessibility from the start. Recognizing that many of today’s developers and designers missed out on accessibility skills during their undergraduate studies, Larry and Jeff launched Teach Access in 2015.

The Solution

Larry and Jeff devised a solution for industry partners to “bond together” with the universities they already had relationships with and work to infuse accessibility principles and skills into the standard undergraduate curriculum. Teach Access aims to expose students to accessible design and development principles as early as possible in the pathway to their careers in technology. They work with universities to design scalable initiatives to make accessibility part of the curriculum, share best industry practices, and ensure that professors have all the resources they need to teach accessibility skills. Stakeholders in the disability advocacy community are on board, and with their help, Teach Access has already made strong progress. Just one example is the basic training tutorial they’ve developed for making accessible mobile and web apps, which is free and available for anyone to use.

The work of Teach Access is a key part of meeting the growing demand for more accessible technology. To get to the place where all technology is “born accessible,” as Jeff put it, all professionals involved in the creation of technology need to understand the basics of accessibility. And each aspect of the technology development life cycle—from design, to research, to computer science, to software engineering—has something to bring to the table when it comes to accessibility.

Learn more about the Teach Access initiative by checking out the archived PEAT Talk. And in the comments, please tell us what you’re doing to make learning about accessibility part of technology-focused higher education.