Transcript: Closing the Accessible Technology Skills Gap: Teach Access Study Away
Darren Burton, Accessibility Consultant: I teach a class for our new hires…and yeah they look at me like I’m from Mars, what are you talking about accessibility?
Narrator: Darren Burton’s experience isn’t unique. According to the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology – PEAT – today’s students aren’t learning the skills they need to make technology usable by everyone including people with disabilities, even though it’s a skill that the tech industry is actively recruiting for. And that’s the impetus for Teach Access, according to founding member Larry Goldberg, Director of Accessible Media at Oath.
Larry Goldberg: Teach Access is a collaboration among major tech companies, higher education institutions, and advocacy organizations, all with the mission of making sure that our next generation of technology is born accessible. We’re bringing the learning of accessible design and development to higher ed, and by we, I mean companies like Apple, Adobe, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Oath.
Narrator: Many students and faculty have told Teach Access that their schools could be doing more to prepare them for tech jobs after graduation. To address this need, in May of 2018 Teach Access kicked off a weeklong Study Away program in Silicon Valley, made up of 26 students and 7 faculty members from California State University Northridge, Michigan State University, Olin College of Engineering, and the University of Colorado.
Katie Musial, Major: Experience Architecture, Michigan State University: We haven’t reached a point where we could probably confidently go into the workforce just with experience from our classes.
Kate Sonka, Assistant Director of Academic Technology, Michigan State University: We can be doing more with our students while they’re still on campus. The common theme that we’re hearing from these tech companies is that they really value people who even know just a little bit. This all will of course translate to employment opportunities.
Anderson Day, Major: Experience Architecture, Michigan State University: I got really passionate for web accessibility and so it’s something that I wanted to come learn from the people who do it the best out here.
Ashton Keys, Major: Experience Architecture, Michigan State University: We work on universal design so it was a match made in heaven for us to continue to learn and I guess grow our skill sets in accessibility.
Narrator: This program was an immense success for all involved.
Larry Goldberg, Senior Director – Accessible Media, Oath: We spent the entire week at Facebook and Google and Oath and Adobe with Microsoft joining in as well, started out at Stanford University, and the students are getting this incredibly rich experience in how we actually put accessibility to work in our tech products.
Shea Tanis, Ph.D., Acting Executive Director, Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities (University of Colorado): This is really a once in a lifetime chance for them getting a full picture of what it means to be accessible in technology as a career and as a future pathway for them.
Dave Moon, Professor of Art, California State University, Northridge: You know, through this kind of a program it allows someone like me to go back and share our findings and what are some opportunities that we could utilize to reshape our curriculum.
Jeff Dusek, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Olin College of Engineering:when we heard about the Study Away it seemed like a really good way to expose our students to other students from a wide variety of universities and also to get them out there and see the different tech companies.
Pilar De Haro, Major: Journalism, California State University, Northridge: It’s been really cool…everyone who works in accessibility really understands the need to integrate accessibility within what we’re learning even if it’s not just computer science.
Mackenzie Frackleton, Major: Computational Bioengineering, Olin College of Engineering:There’s very few opportunities to get this kind of tour of different Silicon Valley giants. It was an exciting opportunity for an aspiring computer scientist and software engineer just to see that at all.
Shawn Polson, Major: Computer Science, University of Colorado: Teach Access has really just reaffirmed for me that I learned good stuff in school, but on the other hand it showed me what the perspectives of industry are in this and exactly how important it is.
Annika Muehlbradt, Ph.D. Student, Major: Computer Science (Human-Centered, Computing), University of Colorado: I think we’re like fully prepared to get any job at any of the companies that we’ve visited so far.
Gary Moulton, Mobile Web Accessibility Lead, Oath: the success of this program is definitely gonna mean we’ll be able to recruit talent and they’re gonna be able to hit the ground running.
Mary Bellard, Senior Accessibility Architect, Microsoft: The Teach Access Study Away program is a win win. It’s a win for the students to come out and get an experience of what it’s like to work in the tech industry and it’s also a huge win for the tech industry companies to be able to have these talented and passionate students on our campuses, in our offices, and inspiring us to want to build better products and hire the best talent into our companies.
Amy Chen, Product Manager – Accessibility, Adobe: I hope that they got a little bit of insight into what these companies do in terms of accessibility. That insight can help with their jobs and their resumes in the future.
Jeff Wieland, Director of Accessibility, Facebook: My hope is that they get a chance to understand what it’s like to work in the space of accessibility and technology.
Narrator: This program is also fulfilling a direct need in the tech industry, and for the 1 billion people with disabilities worldwide that benefit directly when technology is accessible out of the box. A recent survey by PEAT found that although demand for accessibility skills is growing, there’s a significant skills gap among employees and job candidates. Notably, 63% of employers reported their current staff don’t have the accessibility skills to meet their organizations’ goals, and 60% said it’s difficult or very difficult to find candidates with these skills. PEAT is partnering with Teach Access to help them expand Study Away’s future impact.
Laura Allen, Program Manager, Chrome Accessibility, Google: This is just the starting point, but I know I’m walking away with a lot of excitement and optimism for the future of this program.
Larry Goldberg, Senior Director – Accessible Media, Oath: What we’re going to do is hopefully bring more and more students into this and over time we’re going to increase that number of people who know something about accessibility markedly.
Mary Bellard, Senior Accessibility Architect, Microsoft: I’m so grateful to all of the colleges and universities that were able to have their students come out and be a part of this week and we can’t wait to do it again.