On 7th February Sarah and Angharad participated in a discussion with Neil Milliken (ATOS), Debra Ruh (Ruh Global) and Antonio Santos (ATOS) about the teaching of accessibility, as part of the AXSChat series. The discussion gave us the opportunity to introduce ourselves, provide an overview of our research and its aims, and pose questions around the main issues in the field.
The discussion was followed by a live Twitter Chat on 11th February. As part of the chat we posed 6 questions:
- How did you first start to learn about #accessibility? What helped you on your learning journey?
- How do you continue to learn about #accessibility? Has this changed over time?
- How can someone starting out get from #accessibility basics to a specialist/expert level? What does it take in terms of support, mentors, time and resources etc?
- How can the lived experiences of disabled people be best drawn upon for #accessibility training and teaching?
- How can current #accessibility teaching and training be developed? What feedback, networks, events and conversations are needed to do this?
- What does excellent #accessibility teaching and training look/feel like? Are some formats (hackathons, sprints, MOOCs etc) better than others? Why?
The Chat helped draw attention to the current state of accessibility teaching, with around 200 users engaging in the chat, including accessibility leaders, practitioners and advocates at various levels, across the UK, Europe and the US. Discussion explored the nature of accessibility learning journeys and what might constitute ‘good’ teaching and learning in this sphere. Themes from the Chat included the importance of mentoring, apprenticeship (that is, working closely with experts) and the role of informal learning events/communities, in supporting individuals in their learning journeys. We summarise these below:
Routes into Accessibility
Participants expressed accessibility journeys that were often spurred on by a personal experience of disability (either through being disabled themselves or supporting someone else with a disability) or working in disability-related fields (such as Special Educational Needs), corresponds with many faculty experiences, reported by Shinohara et al (2018) Survey of US Computing Faculty. Learning journeys began based on intrinsic motivation. Notably, no-one identified a route into accessibility instigated by an extrinsic legal or business imperative. Whilst it would be unwise to generalise from this discussion, the focus on intrinsic motivation says something about the routes to engagement for those contributing to informal accessibility networks such as AXSChat – people who are passionate about accessibility and engaging in additional learning opportunities outside of the workplace. For educators, this highlights the importance of harnessing personal experiences to engage learners, and (potentially) the difficulty of educating accessibility ‘conscripts’, those without intrinsic motivation or authentic experience of inclusion. Further, those involved in the Chat frequently noted the importance of engaging with disabled users in order to increase their understanding of accessibility, identify areas of priority and address missing voices. Maintaining contact with disabled users was reported as pivotal in driving individuals’ activities/ambitions along with ensuring a continued passion for accessibility.
Informal Learning Events
With the majority of accessibility practitioners within the Chat being self-taught – informal learning opportunities and events such as A11y London, CSUN and ID24 conference, were deemed as useful components in individuals’ learning pathways. These settings were said to offer new routes to learning across organisational, disciplinary and national boundaries. Such events were also reported to encourage the sharing of practice, something which was deemed as much needed within this sphere, where accessibility training can often be too expensive and teaching resources frequently only shared internally within organisations.
Online Accessibility Platforms and Communities
Contributors recognised that learning was a continuous process and one that required continuing professional development throughout their career to ensure knowledge is up-to-date. Open online communities operating through platforms such as Twitter (i.e. #Accessibility, #ATChat, @AXSChat, #A11y and #SpEdTechChat) and resources available through GitHub, Slack and YouTube were therefore deemed as valuable, in connecting with others in the field and aiding in the sharing of knowledge and resources. Many also saw value in following big names within the field and keeping up to date with their activities through Twitter.
Participants also noted the role of mentorship and the importance of working in excellent teams in advancing their learning, advising them on appropriate training/events and providing them with both a soundboard and role model. Some of this incorporated the values of apprenticeship – that is, the gains of working closely with experts – observing their work processes, modelled behaviours and decision-making processes. Mentors were highly valued and unsurprisingly in great demand! Notably we are seeing some big names in the industry (e.g. Matt May at Adobe) offering open Office Hours for mentoring and Q&A sessions as a way of contributing to the community.
Whilst a surprisingly large part of the discussion focussed on informal learning, there was also recognition of formal routes to learning (those which were certified and professionalised) such as the IAAP certification. There appeared to be a great desire for further certifications of this kind and for the establishing of an accessibility Apprenticeship in the UK. Apprenticeship is meant here in terms of a vocational course with a formal qualification, through which someone learns a job, art or trade under guidances. Several contributors noted that such accessibility training should not solely focus on developing technical skill but the soft, interpersonal-skills that are crucial for those working in the field.
There was also a call amongst participants to ensure inclusive training to be developed, catering towards disabled people as learners. As one practitioner @SarahGBoland noted, ‘accessibility training and teaching should be universally accessible and have the capacity to support anyone who wants to learn at any level’.
Along with formal and professional training, attendance at professional conferences such as CSUN, SIGSCEand ITiSCE were reported as useful experiences, spurring and deepening learning, and helping to broaden their networks and informing them of recent developments in the field. The cost of attending these conferences was however commented upon as being prohibitively expensive, making them out of reach to some.
Every journey is different and includes a patchwork of formal/informal learning driven by learners
The Chat suggests that for the community that engages in AXSchat each accessibility journey is different, incorporating a combination of informal and formal learning (e.g. IAAP certification) driven by the learners. Whilst the chat only provided us with a small window into individuals’ reflections, and cannot be construed as research data, it appeared that there were a few common threads, again, these include – the importance of mentorship/role models, the role of informal learning through networks and communities and an expressed need for more formal and certified learning pathways and training.
In terms of teaching quality, Chat participants associated the following factors as important in constituting ‘good’ accessibility teaching/training:
- Experiential learning (providing students with first-hand experience of solving an accessibility problem)
- Inclusive and adaptable teaching (catering to students varying experiences and abilities)
- Accessibility teaching should be grounded within the experiences of disabled people with disabled people included in the development and delivery of training and
- incorporate both technical and soft skills.
Overall, our experience of engaging in AXSChat was a positive one, igniting conversations around accessibility pedagogy, providing us with some insight into the diversity of accessibility learning journeys and connecting us with others in the field. We thank AXSChat for inviting us and for the opportunity to be involved in this welcoming and vibrant community.