AccessComputing is a program at the University of Washington that helps students with disabilities successfully pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in computing fields. The program also works to increase the capacity of postsecondary institutions and other organizations to fully include students with disabilities in computing courses and programs. As a primarily-online mentoring program, building a community is essential to creating a supportive environment for students with disabilities. AccessComputing staff constantly look for new and innovative ways to engage with the student participants – known as AccessComputing Team members.

One way the program has found to build community is by hosting interactive webinars using Zoom webinar software. This allows students to participate from anywhere in the county. For example, AccessComputing hosted an online webinar about disability identity and culture. During the first half of the meeting, an AccessComputing staff member gave a short presentation to set the stage for the conversations that would follow.

Topics covered in the short presentation included

  • the definition and models of disability,
  • common stereotypes and misconceptions of disability,
  • background on the disability rights movement,
  • representation of people with disabilities in the media, and
  • examples of disability culture around the world.

During the conversation segment, participants were encouraged to think about their own experiences and share them with the group. There were a variety of students in attendance representing schools from all across the country. Despite the diversity in locations, disability types, and other factors, there were common themes that emerged during the conversations. One student talked about the difficulties of accessing academic accommodations and posed questions to the other participants. Responses to these questions included anecdotes and advice on how to address these issues when they arise. Another theme to emerge was the awareness of disability history and culture and how it is often left out of history curriculum in schools.

This webinar is a promising practice in modeling how students can connect with one another and build a community through shared experiences of disability.

For more information on how to run a successful online meeting, see AccessComputing Engagement: A Promising Practice in Universally Designing Remote Meetings.