Accessibility Lessons from Silicon Valley


The study and implementation of accessibility took on a new meaning for the 26 undergraduate and graduate students who had the opportunity to participate in the week long Teach Access  Silicon Valley Study Away program. The program brought together a diverse group of students from around the country along with university faculty members and industry partners with the intent to provide the students with an opportunity to experience and explore the field of accessible technology design and development, from a Silicon Valley perspective.

Coleman Fellows

Group photo of students participating in the Study Away program for Teach Access.

Acting Executive Director:
Shea Tanis (second row, 1st from the left)
Coleman Fellows: 

Annika Muehlbradt (front row, 3rd from the right)
Shawn Polson (front row, 2nd from the right)

Reflections and Next Steps

Upon their return from Silicon Valley, Muehlbradt and Polson met with staff from the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities, to share their reflections on the week, what they learned about accessibility, and how they hope to carry these ideas forward to create awareness at work and around campus about the importance of accessible design.

Both students commented on the complexity of the issues around accessible design, and the lack of design options for people with cognitive and motor disabilities. They learned that while a great deal of progress has been made implementing design that addresses sensory and physical disabilities, accessible design for cognitive disabilities continues to lag behind.

When asked to provide a quote about their experiences and the impact the week made on them, Muehlbradt said, “TeachAccess marked the beginning of my career in accessibility.”   Polson also commented, “Thanks to TeachAccess Study Away program, I now feel more equipped to lead the accessibility charge on my development team at work and I have a direction in which to take my research during graduate school.” 

Looking ahead, both Fellows are already making plans for incorporating accessibility into their current lives.  Polson plans to apply accessibility checks to the data portal he manages at his job at the Laboratory for Atmospheric Space Physics (LASP).  The data portal will be called the LASP Space Weather TREC (SWx-TREC).  His team at LASP, the Web Team, started development on it last month and it’s first release is slated for the Fall.  Its main goal will be to act as a central hub for scientists across the country to access and visualize spacecraft data related to space weather.

On the other hand,  Muehlbradt  decided to turn her love for accessible physical design into educating students about the need for accessibility.  Starting with the two coffee shops in the Engineering building on Boulder campus, she plans to implement an awareness campaign around the question “What if you couldn’t get access to your coffee?”.  The coffee shops will serve as a real-life canvas that  highlights the every day challenges in accessibility people with a diversity of disabilities face.  The project is in its early stages, but expect to see more about it on the Coleman website this fall.

Muehlbradt and Polson will be presenting more on their Teach Access experiences and their individual projects in a breakout session at the 2018 Coleman Conference on Cognitive Disability and Technology.  Look for them on the schedule.