The purpose of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, or GAAD, is to raise awareness about digital accessibility and disability inclusion. For this year’s event, on May 20th, the Teaching Accessibility research team partnered with the US-based initiative Teach Access to host an international coffee hour, bringing together educators from around the world to discuss the unique and rewarding work of teaching accessibility.

Our Accessibility Teachers’ Coffee Hour guests came from 16 universities and colleges, in the UK, Ireland, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Australia, and the US. They provided viewpoints of both aspiring and experienced accessibility educators, teaching accessibility topics in education, design, and engineering courses and providing outreach, support, and mentoring.

We started the event with a plenary session and then split into four breakout sessions to discuss the following topics:

  • The challenges of teaching accessibility
  • Our values and approaches
  • Strategies for student engagement
  • Teaching and learning tasks and activities

We reconvened for reports back from the groups and wrapped up with a discussion of ways forward for accessibility education.

Several important themes emerged from the sessions. 

The values discussion led to clarity around the societal imperative to teach accessibility, because digital accessibility is key to disability rights and disability inclusion and enabling everyone to contribute to society.

Challenges inherent in teaching accessibility include complexity and scope, and the tension between covering complex, multi-faceted accessibility topics in an already overloaded curriculum. Deficiencies include a lack of awareness and understanding, since students and teachers are unfamiliar with disability and how people with disabilities use technology, and a lack of visibility and urgency, as the need for accessibility skills is not visible and prioritized.

Educators overcome these challenges using various strategies, tasks, and activities. They seek out ways to embed accessibility into culture and practice, both at a strategic level, making accessibility a core value, and at a practical level, weaving accessibility into courses and activities. They find ways to engage diverse perspectives through activities like user research with people with disabilities and projects aimed at addressing accessibility needs. And they show the career impact of accessibility knowledge and skills through role modeling and mentoring with accessibility professionals.

Participants contributed to lively discussions and shared resources, including the growing Universal Design into University Curriculum (UDUC) repository of accessibility teaching resources at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the MOOCs for Accessibility Partnership (MOOCAP) Open Educational Resources, developed by an EU partnership of eight European universities.

We look forward to continuing our discussions with accessibility teachers worldwide and sharing resources to enhance accessibility education. Please subscribe to our newsletter for announcements of future events and project updates. You can also subscribe to updates from Teach Access by completing their Contact Us form.

Teach Access
University of Southampton

Teaching Accessibility at the University of Southampton and Teach Access are hosting a Global Accessibility Awareness (GAAD) event for teachers of accessibility. We hope you will join us in celebrating the role of teaching in building accessibility awareness, knowledge, skills, and action.

Thursday, May 20, 2021 from 15:30 – 16:30 BST (10:30 – 11:30 am EST)

Details and registration

Our Accessibility Teachers’ Coffee Hour is a chance for educators from around the world to gather virtually and discuss the unique and rewarding work of teaching accessibility.

The hour-long event will start with a welcome and introduction, followed by breakout groups focused on special interest topics:

  • Challenges of teaching accessibility
  • Values and approaches
  • Strategies for student engagement
  • Teaching and learning tasks and activities

Following the breakout groups we will reconvene for a short report back from groups, and end with a discussion of ways to advance the field of accessibility education.

Event hosts will include members of the Teaching Accessibility research team and accessibility teachers from Teach Access university partners. See the Teach Access website for more details and to register.

Teach Access
University of Southampton

On the 15th April 2021, Sarah Lewthwaite will be presenting to the Sociology of Education stream at the annual British Sociological Association (BSA) Conference. Her paper ‘Dichotomies of disability and ageing in the teaching and discourses of digital accessibility’ draws on ongoing Teaching Accessibility research with expert teachers and considers how and where disability and ageing discourses are intersected in formal and informal accessibility education. The full abstract follows:

Dichotomies of disability and ageing in the teaching and discourses of digital accessibility.

Sarah Lewthwaite and Angharad Butler Rees,
Centre for Research in Inclusion, University of Southampton.

COVID-19 has brought about unprecedented change in our society and the mediating role of technology in everyday life. The pandemic has left many, especially older and disabled people, isolated and reliant on digital platforms and services which are not always accessible. Digital accessibility is a technical discipline within Human Computer Interaction that seeks to make technologies accessible to all. Yet within teaching, disability and ageing are frequently articulated separately. Technical communities recognise a need to consider the ways in which accessibility and inclusive design practices must cater for both groups, yet they are rarely inter-related. This paper considers this discursive divide within accessibility. We broach where there is capacity for these boundaries to be more productively and critically engaged. To elucidate the issues, we draw upon qualitative research with international pedagogic leaders, to ask where older people fit within contemporary discourses of accessibility teaching. This is theorised, in light of the biopolitics of Web accessibility standards, and their pedagogic influence in a context of ‘digital first’ public services, growing regulatory frameworks, compliance culture and litigation in industry. What are the pedagogic roles of such standards, and how do teachers negotiate and answer the subtle hierarchies of impairment and ageing that standards can convey? How can the socio-technical and cultural experiences of disability and ageing be imbricated and realised within this frame, to build a more inclusive digital future? We invite delegates to engage in this dialogue and discussion.

We’re delighted to announce that Dr Andy Coverdale and Sarah Horton have joined the Teaching Accessibility project.

Following a highly competitive recruitment process, Sarah and Andy were appointed in January. Each brings a wealth of expertise and experience to bear on the project, to kickstart the New Year.

Dr Andy Coverdale is a Research Fellow in Southampton Education School with recent experience on the ‘Self-build Social Care‘ research project, using inclusive and participatory methods to work collaboratively with people with learning disabilities and their allies. He is currently working with the National Centre for Research Methods on their project ‘Changing Research Practice: Undertaking social research in the context of Covid-19’.

Andy draws on over ten years’ experience of working with, supporting and teaching people with learning disabilities, including 4 years as Learning Manager with the charity Inspire Nottingham.  He has previously conducted research in the educational use of digital media and technology through his work with iRes at Falmouth University and the Visual Learning Lab at the University of Nottingham. He completed his MA in Educational Research Methods and PhD in Education at the University of Nottingham. His thesis examined the role of social and participatory media in doctoral education.

Sarah Horton began as a designer and developer in 1991 at Yale University, making instructional CD- ROMs on cardiothoracic imaging. She was an instructional technologist at Dartmouth College, helping faculty across disciplines use technology to teach. Later she worked at the institutional level, as web director at Dartmouth and then strategy lead on Harvard University’s web transformation project.

As an accessibility engineer with The Paciello Group, Sarah performed design reviews and audits of websites, applications, apps, and devices, and conducted user research and usability studies. She was lead for TPG’s strategy services, providing strategic consulting to teams and organizations seeking to incorporate accessibility into culture and practice. She has worked with a broad range of companies and organizations, gaining insights into how accessibility is currently managed and manifested in our digital world.

Welcome, Andy and Sarah!

In November, Sarah Lewthwaite presented to the bi-annual UK Cross-Government Accessibility Meetup, talking about ways to build accessibility capacity in teams. In January, Richard Morton (Head of Accessibility, Government Digital Service) and Josie Partridge published a blog about the event – discussing some of the key themes and activities discussed during the day. The next Meetup will be in March 2021.

Join the UK Government’s Accessibility Community group to keep up to date and discover more about the diverse accessibility work taking place across UK government and government agencies.