News

We’re delighted to announce the publication of our open access research paper ‘Workplace approaches to teaching digital accessibility: establishing a common foundation of awareness and understanding‘ in Frontiers in Computer Science. This paper was published on 18th October 2023, and is part of a growing research topic Advancing Digital Accessibility in Academic and Workplace Education.

Abstract

Accessibility in the digital world is a shared responsibility, requiring a common foundation of awareness and understanding. However, little is known about how digital accessibility can be effectively taught, and research on workplace teaching and training in accessibility is highly scarce, despite its crucial role in building accessibility capacity in the workforce. This paper considers workplace accessibility pedagogy to focus on aspects of foundational education, characterized as a pedagogically informed set of teaching strategies, cultivated through organizational and workplace cultures and practices. It contributes an analysis and synthesis of pedagogic research with 55 experienced accessibility educators in higher education and the workplace, in the UK and internationally, drawing on insights from expert panel methods including interviews, forums and focus groups. We find that digital accessibility is identified as a necessary core competency for an inclusive digital world. We examine the prevalent approaches that experienced workplace educators use to establish foundational awareness and understanding of accessibility to enable learners to achieve core learning objectives. We report the challenges that workplace educators face, negotiating different contexts and working practices and adapting foundational learning experiences to meet the pedagogic demands of different roles, responsibilities, and specialist advancement. In doing so, we demonstrate that establishing a common foundation of awareness and understanding is the basis for a pedagogic framework for digital accessibility education, with relevance for both workplace and academic settings.

Citation: Lewthwaite S, Horton S and Coverdale A (2023) Workplace approaches to teaching digital accessibility: establishing a common foundation of awareness and understanding. Front. Comput. Sci. 5:1155864. doi: 10.3389/fcomp.2023.1155864

Back in April, our paper ‘Teaching Accessibility as a Shared Endeavour’ was shortlisted for the Best Communication prize at Web4All 2022. As a result we were invited to write for the October SIGACCESS newsletter – the special interest group on accessible computing. You can read the full report on our project rationale and methods in our article ‘Researching Pedagogy in Digital Accessibility Education‘. Our piece introduces the context of our project, the drivers of our work, our methods and approaches, as well as some of the key challenges in the field for accessibility educators. We also reflect on how pedagogic research methods can make a sustained contribution to computing education practice through research outputs, and a methodological process designed to stimulate dialogue, networks, reflexive teaching and learning development.

We were delighted to present a paper at the 19th International Web for All Conference (W4A’22) on 25 April.

With the theme ‘Accessibility in a Hybrid World’, the conference took place virtually, presenting a range of excellent keynotes, technical and communication papers, the Doctoral Consortium and the Accessibility Challenge.

Titled Teaching accessibility as a shared endeavour: building capacity across academic and workplace contexts, our paper was nominated for Best Communications Paper.

Abstract

The social model of disability, accessibility legislation, and the digital transformation spurred by COVID-19 expose a lack of accessibility capacity in the digital workforce, indicating persistent gaps in academic and professional education. This paper reports qualitative research with 30 expert educators in academia and the workplace to consider the relationship between these sectors in building accessibility capacity. Their insights highlight important disconnects and contextual challenges that educators must manage and navigate. Digital accessibility is increasingly recognised as a shared endeavour in the workplace. However, in academia, faculty cultures and disciplinary silos can result in responsibility for accessibility defaulting to individuals. To prepare accessibility-skilled professionals, cross-role education and training is necessary across disciplines. With a focus on teaching and training practices, we highlight the need for academia and the workplace to learn from each other and adapt together to generate pedagogies that will better prepare learners for accessibility practice.

An open access Authors Draft is available via the Southampton University e-prints repository.

Please cite the paper as follows:

Coverdale, A. Lewthwaite, S., and Horton, S. 2022. Teaching accessibility as a shared endeavour: building capacity across academic and workplace contexts. In Proceedings of the 19th International Web for All Conference (W4A ’22). ACM, New York, NY, USA, Article 4, 1–5. https://doi.org/10.1145/3493612.3520451

The Teaching Accessibility research team is collaborating with Teach Access in the United States and accessibility researchers, educators, advocates, and professionals worldwide to publish a research topic in the Human-Media Interaction section of Frontiers in Computer Science, an open access journal. Our research topic is Advancing Digital Accessibility in Academic and Workplace Education. Submissions are open for articles covering original research as well as general commentary and opinion pieces. If you have insights and perspectives on digital accessibility teaching and learning that you’d like to share, select the Participate button on the Research Topic page to provide your contact details, so we can keep you updated.

Origins of the Research Topic

In our work researching how accessibility is taught and learned in academic and workplace contexts, we have had the benefit of hearing from a global community of researchers, educators, advocates, and professionals working to build digital accessibility capacity through education. We’ve heard about how the topic is (or isn’t) embedded in computer science, information science, software engineering, design, and other relevant disciplines. We’ve heard about the challenges of addressing the complexity of accessibility topics, building disability awareness and ethical practices alongside technical and procedural knowledge and skills. The need for digital accessibility education is clear, as is the investment among educators in developing effective pedagogy to address the unique challenges of the topic. But digital accessibility is relatively undefined and underdeveloped as a subspeciality in academic and workplace education programs. We see an opportunity to develop greater maturity in digital accessibility by setting up a forum for sharing perspectives and approaches to building digital accessibility capacity through education.

Why Frontiers?

In choosing a forum for generating interest and excitement, and building knowledge about digital accessibility education, we wanted a platform that would generate impact, allowing open access to new viewpoints from around the world. Previously, Sarah Horton on our team contributed to the Web Accessibility research topic for the same journal and section. As of this writing, the research topic page and articles combined represent 25,504 views, and Sarah’s opinion article, Empathy Cannot Sustain Action in Technology Accessibility, has 5,728 total views. This type of impact is substantial, particularly for an academic publication.

Frontiers is an Open Access platform, and articles are available to anyone without login, payment, or advertising. With open access, authors, institutions, and funders cover publishing costs through fees. Frontiers has a Fee Support Program to assist authors who have limited or no funding to cover publication fees. You can learn more about Frontiers and open access journals, and get more details about the journal, fees, and the editorial process. If you have questions about publication fees or any other aspect of the publishing process, please contact the Frontiers Editorial Office at computerscience@frontiersin.org for assistance.

Next Steps

We have a team of topic editors, with Sarah Lewthwaite, Sarah Horton and Andy Coverdale from the University of Southampton, UK, Kate Sonka from Teach Access, USA, Gottfried Zimmermann from Stuttgart Media University, Germany, Yasmine Elglaly from Western Washington University, USA, and Scott Hollier from Edith Cowan University, Australia.

Submission deadlines are:

  • Abstracts: We are accepting abstracts starting now through 1 July 2022. Note that you are not required to submit an abstract to contribute.
  • Manuscripts: We are accepting manuscripts from now through 31 December 2022.

Reviews are ongoing, with reviewers assigned to manuscripts as they are submitted. Articles are published once they are approved for publication by the reviewers and editors, which is much more dynamic than traditional academic publications.

If you are interested in participating, enter your details by selecting the Participate button on the Research Topic page. This will add your name and email to the system, where you will receive notifications about deadlines. And please contact us individually or through the TeachingAccessibility@soton.ac.uk email if you have any questions or concerns.

We are very excited to work with experts worldwide to forge a path toward increasing digital accessibility capacity through education, building engagement with digital accessibility, and supporting disability inclusion in the digital world.

GAAD

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

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.

The Teaching Accessibility project is currently recruiting 2 post-doctoral Research Fellows (1 year & 2 year), for educational research into the teaching of digital accessibility in technical disciplines, in Higher Education and the workplace. Successful applicants will join a thriving research community at the Centre for Research in Inclusion, here at the Southampton Education School, University of Southampton, UK.

For more about these roles please take a look at the vacancy listing at https://jobs.soton.ac.uk/1304620CJ and associated documents. The deadline for applications is 27th November 2020. Please feel free to share this call to relevant networks. I’m happy to answer questions. For an informal conversation please get in touch with me via: S.E.Lewthwaite@Southampton.ac.uk

In May we published our Systematic review protocol for research into the accessibility teaching literature in open access journal Social Science Protocols. The paper includes a review of reviews in this area and will be useful for anyone looking to research accessibility teaching, learning or related aspects of accessibility pedagogy (student experience, learning outcomes and so on).

Lewthwaite, S., Coverdale, A., & Butler-Rees, A. (2020) Teaching Accessibility in Computer Science and Related Disciplines: A Systematic Review and Narrative Synthesis Protocol. Social Science Protocols. 

ABSTRACT

Background: Imperatives for digital inclusion mean there is growing demand for graduates with the knowledge and skills to produce digital services that are accessible to disabled people and older populations. Accessibility is mandated by a body of laws that constitute digital disability rights, and internet use among disabled people is increasing (ONS, 2019). However, a lack of progress in the delivery of accessible mobile web-based services, tools and resources mean disabled and older people face persistent digital barriers. There is a pressing need to develop accessibility capacity in the digital workforce. To this end, this systematic literature review seeks to establish what is empirically known about the effective teaching and learning of digital accessibility through the lens of pedagogy.

Methods/DesignThe review will consider research (1999-2019) which focuses on the teaching and learning of digital accessibility in higher education and the workplace. The focus is on how pedagogy is enacted – the pedagogic practice of teaching – rather than curriculum development or other activities that relate to planning or governance. Two databases will be searched, using identified keywords. To identify further papers, backward- and forward- citation analysis is used. Researchers will work iteratively with the data, to ensure no loss of context through data extraction. A narrative synthesis of the findings will be presented.

Discussion: The review will collate literature on the pedagogy of accessibility education, reporting on how the teaching or learning of digital accessibility is effectively undertaken. It will identify the empirical basis for accessibility pedagogy.

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:

  1. How did you first start to learn about #accessibility? What helped you on your learning journey?
  2. How do you continue to learn about #accessibility? Has this changed over time?
  3. 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?
  4. How can the lived experiences of disabled people be best drawn upon for #accessibility training and teaching?
  5. How can current #accessibility teaching and training be developed? What feedback, networks, events and conversations are needed to do this?
  6. 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 LondonCSUN 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. 

Mentorship

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.

Formal Learning

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 CSUNSIGSCEand 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.