How the Pandemic Improved Accessibility

May 20, 2021 JJ Rogers

Today is the 10th anniversary of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD).

To understand the impact of accessibility on universities, we spoke with Dana Miller Kieran, Director of Disability Services for Longwood University. 

In Dana’s view, for organizations that were slow to adopt technology-driven solutions, the pandemic forced their hand to embrace and ensure all technologies provide an equitable experience for all end-users. She described last year’s pivots as “full of so many blessings” now that newly acquired solutions can ensure everyone an accessible continuation of their educational experience.

At Longwood, prior to deciding to purchase any technologies, they ask end-users, including persons with disabilities, to test them. They’ll get a handful of students or staff to participate and get their feedback immediately, helping ensure that the product meets accessibility needs.

Dana shared that DEI -- diversity, equity and inclusion -- is part of Longwood’s university-wide strategic plan, and accessible product design is a key part of the plan. When products are accessible -- just like if they are translatable into different languages -- they serve broader audiences. 

In the past year, with the guidance of several passionate team members, Watermark has focused on advancing accessibility. “Most companies employ an accessibility team to retroactively make products accessible,” said Srinivasu Chakravarthula, Sr. Accessibility Program Manager. “At Watermark, I’m proud to say we take accessibility into account at the very beginning of product development.” 

“We want to ensure that Watermark products are accessible to users with visual or auditory impairments, those who use screen readers or other assistive technologies, and even those that don't have any of these needs,” said Jess Warren, Product Designer for Outcomes Assessment Projects (formerly Aqua). “We consider everything from color contrast to what the screen reader reads aloud, and even tabbing order and interactivity for keyboard-only users who cannot or prefer not to use a mouse. In Outcomes Assessment Projects (formerly Aqua), you can now drag-and-drop using only the keyboard!”

Learn more about accessibility, including how to test your favorite products and volunteer, visit https://globalaccessibilityawarenessday.org/.

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