Who is ready for another round of accessibility news? The week of March 17, 2017 gave us a bunch of great and inspirational stories to focus on, because couldn’t we all use a bit of good news in our lives? Here is a quick overview of some of the biggest and most interesting accessibility stories that happened this week. This week’s stories include two groups of students in different universities trying to make a positive difference, and a speaker working to engage students and teach them how disability can impact us all.

It’s a Makeathon!

Now, this is a great idea that combines people who love making technology with some of the people who need it most. Over the next two days, students at the UC Berkeley Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation will use some of the latest tech gadgets like electronics fabricators and the ever popular 3D printers to create actual prototypes of things that can help the disabled community – all in just 48 hours. At the end of the creative sprint each team will show what they created.

I think this sums it up best, “’Gidi Grinstein, president of the Reut Group, which organizes the TOM communities: “TOM:Berkeley is mobilizing local talent and resources in Berkeley to help local people who face neglected challenges that have no market solution and no government solution…’”[1]

These problems are often overlooked or ignored because there are other issues that are being focused on more heavily for one reason or another. However, as we all know, just because no one is working on a solution to a problem doesn’t mean the problem magically goes away. This group has found a great and exciting way for these underrepresented and difficult challenges to get the attention they deserve.

While the event has some great concrete outcomes (new technology that could potentially be life changing) it also creates a positive way to look at accessibility and inclusion. From reports, the event seems to be a fun and highly anticipated way for students to tackle new and interesting challenges. Looking at developing new accessibility tools as an engaging and important project instead of a mandatory hurdle can create a more positive perception of inclusion.

You can read the full story and find out more about the event on the Berkley News site.

Students Voice Concerns at University of Michigan

I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in the topic of accessibility in higher education take a look at this article. While many universities tout their inclusive practices and say they have helpful disability resources, it can be tough to tell if that is actually true. This is a huge concern, especially for new and incoming students with disabilities that might impact their education. If students cannot rely on their chosen university to support their needs, they may choose a different school or even worse be discouraged from attending a university at all.

This article gives a fairly comprehensive overview of the good and the bad of the University’s solutions to help the disabled population of the student body. The anecdotal evidence from current students gives a solid picture of some of the complaints. Especially the student who alleges her classmate was given an unquestioned exemption for a religious holiday while she needed to provide documentation of her disability in order to receive the same exemption.

The issue of proving a disability or bringing a doctor’s note in order to confirm an absence or complication is a debate that is being waged at many universities, offices, and just generally around the world. How can we achieve accessibility and inclusion without forcing people to wade through miles of red tape? That’s the question a lot of people are asking themselves.

There were some really positive comments to come out of the article. One engineering student found his core program to be incredibly supportive and accommodating. The transportation services were also praised for their flawless work helping students to get around. Creating accessibility and inclusion is a process for most schools, and these students’ voices deserve to be heard. Go read the whole article, it’ll give you insight into problems you may not have considered before.

Check out the complete article on the Michigan Daily website.

Creating Awareness Through Speaking Engagements

This is a short article just highlighting a talk that Adam Burnett gave for Emporia State’s Disability Awareness week. Burnett stresses the importance of understanding that disability is a universal problem, and highlighting some of the ways that disability services can help people. His talk also explained how giving people access to assistive technology can give them a lot more independence.

Perhaps the most compelling takeaway from this article is one student’s realization that disability is not a rare issue reserved for a small group of people, “’I learned that in class, like the only thing that separates us from disability is time,’ said Kierstan Smith, sophomore rehabilitation services major.”[2] We talk about this problem a lot on the UserWay blog, because temporary disabilities, age-related disabilities, and conditional disabilities are often overlooked while people focus more on lifelong disabilities.

Read more about Burnett’s talk and learn a bit more about what he said to the students on The Bulletin.

What stories did you notice this week? Were there any accessibility issues that you found that you want to share? Add your two cents to the comments below and let us all know what accessibility news is important to you!