How We Did It...
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The Accessibility Lighthouse Program at the University of Illinois was made possible by a $200,000 grant from Microsoft. Here’s how and why we did it...
NEED: As one of the most disability-friendly campuses in the United States, the University of Illinois has long been committed to serving people with disabilities and recently identified a need to improve career placement of students with autism, as well as accessibility for all. Microsoft’s strategic work around accessibility and autism drew the company to the university and both saw opportunities to improve the digital accessibility of the University of Illinois campus.
WHO/HOW: Through a series of phone calls and campus visits over 3 – 4 months, university relations, corporate relations, faculty, and associate deans for research identified three core programs that aligned with Microsoft’s priorities around autism hiring and improving accessibility in the classroom. The product of these visits and resulted in the development of a program to illuminate a path to digital accessibility and improve career readiness for students with autism.
IDEA: The Microsoft Accessibility Lighthouse Program is an initiative designed to build a digitally accessible classroom, increase the number of computer science students who design accessible software, encourage students with autism to pursue studies and careers in the STEM disciplines, and support the use of Microsoft digital accessibility tools in the classrooms.
WHEN/WHERE: In June 2018, the College of Applied Health Sciences, Department of Computer Science, the Autism Program in the College of ACES, and the Department of Special Education kicked off the program supported by a $200,000 grant from Microsoft. The program launch included a site visit by key leaders from Microsoft for a full day program engaging with the program leads followed by a visit to Microsoft the following month for the faculty leads to engage with the key Microsoft program directors.
The program supports current students with disabilities and provides a foundation for better accessibility in the future by instilling a deep understanding of accessibility in future coders, developers, and IT professionals. Lighting the way also means providing strategies for working with and on behalf of people with disabilities by supporting their peers, professors, and eventually, employers. These projects were conceived of by people who are passionate about making higher education—and careers— more inclusive. Ideally, the Lighthouse Accessibility Program at the University of Illinois will light the way for other universities to commit to accessibility.