Capacity Building for Accessibility @Carnegie Mellon University (AccessComputing News January 2017)

Carol Frieze, AccessComputing Partner
Carnegie Mellon University Logo.

On November 3rd we ran a capacity building workshop at Carnegie Mellon University. The workshop was sponsored by AccessComputing, CMU’s Equal Opportunity Services and the School of Computer Science. The goals of this first of its kind workshop for CMU were to increase awareness of current resources for faculty, staff and students with disabilities; look for ways to improve; hear personal perspectives and experiences and recommendations; and showcase cutting edge accessibility related research going on at CMU. The full day workshop was open to faculty, staff and graduate students.

We were delighted to have Dr. Richard Ladner as our keynote speaker. Following Richard’s inspiring talk—in which he stressed the need to move from access to access and inclusion—he announced the 2016 AccessComputing Capacity Building Awards. To everyone’s surprise, they were given to Jeff Bigham and Carol Frieze, both from the School of Computer Science.

We also heard from CMU’s Digital Accessibility Committee who discussed the school’s work on legal compliance related to accessibility along with current accessibility resources. One of the highlights of the day was the “Perspectives from the Ground” panel, which featured four CMU-affiliated people with disabilities, who discussed and answered questions about their personal experiences. This group, along with the faculty moderator (who also has a disability), stayed throughout the day and contributed to a particularly engaging open floor discussion. It was, as one participant pointed out, essential and enlightening to have the “voices of people with disabilities.”

The afternoon was a showcase of accessibility research going on in CMU’s School of Computer Science. The talks ranged from “Assistive Wheelchair-Mounted Robot Arms” to a “Cognitive Navigation Assistant for People with Visual Impairments or Blindness.” A recent development at CMU has been our campus-wide Bias Busters program, which aims to promote awareness and discussion on unconscious bias. We are fortunate to have an expert in this field among our faculty; in a talk titled Exploring Individual and Community-Level Approaches for Mitigating Unconscious Bias, he discussed how unconscious bias relate to people with disabilities.

The workshop concluded with several lab tours. People left with a commitment to take one specific step towards increasing accessibility and inclusion in their work. The commitments included focusing “more on universal design”, “making sure our website meets accessibility rules,” “talking to my class about accessibility,” and working “to expand the definition of diversity for my peers.” Workshop participants also left with a greater sense of community and many commented on how they planned to keep in touch and work together and “continue the conversation.” According to one participant, one of the best moments of the day was when someone asked for suggestions for “micro-inclusions,” encouraging us all to leave thinking more about ways to improve our behaviors.