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25 College Students, 5 Tech Companies, 1 Week

Olin College Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Jeff Dusek, Assistant Professor of Computer Science Paul Ruvolo and four Olin students attended the very first Teach Access Study Away: Silicon Valley program for technological accessibility. 

The program is designed to fill a need identified by accessibility teams from both Facebook, Oath, and other technology companies who say that newly-hired software developers have unrivaled computer skills, but they often lack a basic understanding of online accessibility. The main goal of Teach Access goal is to provide an industry-academia collaboration with the goal of improving accessibility awareness and training in computer science programs.

Students from Michigan State, California State University, Northridge, and University of Colorado Boulder all attended Teach Access Study Away: Silicon Valley, along with Olin, to equip themselves with the skills and context to be accessibility advocates through an experiential learning with some of the world’s largest tech companies as partners. Companies like Google, Oath, Adobe, Microsoft and Facebook all visited the conference to speak to how and why it is important to focus attention on accessible practices. Student were even invited to the campuses of most of these companies, where they were able to directly interact with the leads of accessibility teams.  They spoke about website design, app accessibility in both IOS and Android, closed captioning, and more.

“Being able to see these tech companies in back to back days,” Dusek said, “and getting a chance to work with the accessibility teams at each one, was pretty cool. You don’t [often] get a chance to do that. And the folks that work on these teams are really incredible.”

Louise Nelson, an Olin student who attended Teach Access said, “I really appreciated the honesty of [the] industry partners and how much [they] got to see of the different companies' approaches to accessibility.”

Dusek and Ruvolo worked for months with the Teach Access driving academic engagement task force to making this week a reality.

As technology companies are increasingly dedicated to accessibility, Dusek said, it is critical to prepare designers, engineers and researchers to think and build inclusively. Similarly academic programs need to prepare students to address the needs of diverse populations. The mission statement of Teach Access makes their goals clear: to build a foundation of knowledge in higher education, with enhanced training and collaborations with people with disabilities. Students in fields such as design, computer sciences and human computer interaction must be better prepared to enter the workforce and create future technologies that are truly inclusive. Only then will technology reach its true potential for connecting and enabling everyone in the world.

The creators of Teach Access see the program growing and evolving over the course of the next few years. Plans are already underway for next year, when they hope to see more universities represented as well as more tech companies involved. All-in-all, the week was a success.