Helping Computer Science Students Learn How to Build Accessible Computing Technologies

Catherine Baker
Assistant Professor
Creighton University

People with disabilities rely on developers to create accessible products for them to have equal access to information and tools. However, only 20% of CS faculty teach about accessibility [2] and it is most commonly integrated into elective courses such as HCI and web development [1]. Our project seeks to address this gap. We are developing modules that will fit into core computing courses (e.g. introductory programming, data structures, etc.). These modules can be introduced by a faculty member without expertise in accessibility and they will not add to the number of topics in a course as accessibility will be the application used for the practice of an existing course topic.

Guiding Questions:
We focus on the following research questions:
1. How well do modules with an emphasis on accessibility allow students to learn both the underlying computer science and accessibility content?
2. What is the instructor response to incorporating these modules?
3. What types of pedagogical framing works best for including accessibility?

Our outcomes are in two main areas. The first is the development of modules which will be publicly accessible on our website and the second is empirical data on the impact of these modules on students and instructors.

The modules will cover computing topics that are in required courses. These modules will incorporate accessibility in a variety of ways, from developing a portion of assistive technology, to the technical implementation of accessibility, or using technology to solve accessibility problems. As part of our study, we are also looking to develop criteria to guide development of future modules.

We also will collect empirical data about the use of these modules. This data will cover the student perspective, looking at how the modules enhanced their knowledge of accessibility and their impressions of the modules as well as aggregate data on their performance to measure their learning of the computing topic. We will collect data from the instructors to understand how the modules integrated into the course. This will ensure we are developing modules that are easy to use and still meet the objectives of the course.

Broader Impacts
Accessibility is important skillset for all developers if we want to ensure a society where all people have equal access to tools and information. By integrating accessibility into core computing courses, we are ensuring that more developers are thinking about how best to create inclusive products for both those with and without disabilities. In addition, exposure to topics around disability may also help create a more inclusive classroom environment for students with disabilities.

[1] Catherine M. Baker, Yasmine N. El-Glaly, and Kristen Shinohara. 2020. A Systematic Analysis of Accessibility in Computing Education Research. In Proceedings of ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE ’20).
[2] Kristen Shinohara, Saba Kawas, Andrew J. Ko, and Richard E. Ladner. 2018. Who Teaches Accessibility?: A Survey of U.S. Computing Faculty. In Proceedings of the 49th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE ’18), 197–202.


Kristen Shinohara, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY; Yasmine Elglaly, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA