S3xE4: Accessibility with Richard Ladner

June 6, 2022
S3xE4: Accessibility with Richard Ladner

Today’s episode is with Richard Ladner from AccessComputing and AccessCSforAll, Professor Emeritus from the University of Washington. Our discussion focuses on accessibility. How do we improve accessibility in our teaching? What do AccessComputing and AccessCSforAll do? And how do we be considerate of our students that are hard of hearing, blind, or have some other accessibility need?

Edited by Michael Ball

You can also download this episode directly.


Kristin [00:10] Hello and welcome to the CSED Podcast, a podcast where we talk about teaching computer science with computer science educators. We’ve decided to start something new. Rather than a season with a clear number of episodes, we’ve picked a theme and we’ll run with it until we run out. The season’s theme is “What’s next?”, where we focus on how we rethought our teaching since COVID-19 came and upended everything. I’m your host, Kristin Stephens-Martinez an assistant professor of the practice at Duke University. And joining me today is Richard Ladner, professor emeritus at Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Washington. Richard, how about you introduce yourself?

Richard[00:45] OK, thank you very much, Kristin. It’s great to be here. Of course, I’m Richard Ladner, Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington. I started here at the University of Washington in 1971 after getting a Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley in mathematics. And so I kind of converted myself from a mathematician to a theoretical computer scientist and did that for about 35 years. In the back of my mind was my childhood where I grew up with parents who are deaf. And I saw the kind of innovations in technology that really benefited them. And so after being a mathematician, theoretical computer scientist, but learning about, you know, the technology, the kinds of systems that are built, compilers and all the things that computer scientists do, I wanted to take what I’ve learned and get into the technology for people with disabilities, which I call access technology.

Richard[01:43] But I should add another piece to my background and that’s my interaction with students other than just college students. Of course, I taught classes all the way through that, 46 plus years that I was at the University of Washington. But as a graduate student, I was part of a program teaching math to elementary school kids. I would come into a classroom and it was mostly kids in low resource areas in African-American communities and stuff like that around Berkeley. And I’d go in for an hour because I didn’t have to control the class. Thank God the real teacher was there to do that. But giving out the mathematical ideas at the time that kids were learning and that was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed that and it was always in the back of my mind.

Richard[02:30] Also when I came to University of Washington, I started working with kids at a local middle school in a deaf program. The kids were all deaf, and this was in the 1980s, and what did I do? Well, I taught them Logo, and that was really a lot of fun, too. So I’ve always been doing this sort of outreach stuff forever. And so that’s kind of how I got into the K-12 education work that I’m doing now, as well as the accessibility work for research and also the AccessComputing project, which is trying to get more students with disabilities in computing fields at the professional level. So that sort of summarizes my background.

Kristin [03:10] Awesome. So I think the thing that I struggle with a little bit to understand and maybe a better way of putting it is: the thing that I know is a large gap in my knowledge is what exactly is accessibility or what are the considerations as a teacher that I should have about accessibility? And I know that’s probably a big question.

Richard[03:35] It is a big question, and it doesn’t have a simple answer because accessibility is a wide spectrum of different kinds of abilities. In fact, in my old age, I’m beginning to get more disabled, my hearing is going down and all sorts of things are happening that I didn’t even worry about when I was younger. So I think that there is no simple answer.

Richard[04:01] It’s very individual, but there are groups. For example, blind children or blind people, they have access through speech, through screen readers. They also have tactile access through braille or tactile graphics. So there’s deaf people. They have to have access through either captions or sign language. So those are the kinds of options. And then there’s students with learning disabilities or with other cognitive issues that maybe they don’t process information in quite the same way that you and I do. And so they need more time. So, there is no sort of, you know, formula. Each person is an individual and they have their individual issues. Even within the blind community. There’s some people with low vision. And so they use something like large print or they use magnification and things like that as opposed to screen readers. I wish I could give you a simple answer.

Richard[05:00] As a professor or a teacher you’re very likely to get a student with disability in your class and you’ll know about it because the office at the university will inform you with a letter that the student has a disability and these are the accommodations you should provide. And sometimes they can be pretty onerous, for example, that the student needs to have the class lecture ahead of time, you know, the PowerPoint, for example, or Google Slides and you know, we’re not very good at that. We’re preparing things at the last minute. And so you might have to change your behavior a little bit as a teacher to accommodate the student. And I know some faculty members, even here at the University of Washington, don’t change their behavior. The student has to adapt to them. But I’ll tell you what. If you’re a good teacher of any subject, including computer science, you do have to adapt to your students’ needs. You can’t just do it the way you used to do it, the way you were taught. And so the continuous improvement is something we should all be doing.

Kristin [06:03] Yeah, definitely. So here at Duke, we call them SDAO, Student with Disability Accommodations Office. I’m curious how your accessibility office compares to ours. We only just changed the system where the office sends us the letter directly. Before I would have to tell my students many times to convince them to give me their letter if they had one. It was their voluntary choice. Like in some ways, I understood and respected the fact that they should get to choose whether or not to “out” themselves, I’m doing air quotes here, to need an accommodation. But another part of me was always saddened because before they made this change, I felt like I always had at least one student come to me after the first exam and admit they had a letter the whole time and wish they had used it. But I’m like, I can’t go in the past and undo the past. Do you have any thoughts on that or how your university handles it?

Richard[07:08] Yeah, this is a really important area called disclosure. So a student who has a disability, they could feel that their disability is stigmatizing them. And that if they disclose it, that they will be treated differently and maybe not so well. That they will be dismissed. For example, if you need extra time on an exam, you might even have to take that exam at a different time than the other students or even in a different location. Things like that. So, you know, you’re separated out. And so, you know, there is the peer pressure. There is all sorts of things about that. And part of the transition from high school to college is that in K-12 actually to college, in K-12 if you have a disability and you have an accommodation, everybody knows about it. The other students know about it, the teacher knows about it, and stuff like that. You’re under IDEA. When you come to college, there is no IDEA. IDEA is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. But you still have to have accessibility, so you’re more on your own. So the student might not be aware, might not have the self-efficacy skills that they should have gotten in school because they were sort of taken care of in K-12. So that can cause problems.

Richard[08:33] I imagine, Kristin, that the class you had was more of a freshman class because, you know, the student, I’m pretty sure the student learned from that experience that no, they bring that letter at the beginning of the class next time. It is a difficult situation. It’s good that you even asked for those letters. That was really a positive step on your part and telling everybody, you know, the whole class if you have a letter, if you want to get the most out of this class, then please bring it to me. Now, you were saying, what about other universities? Well, I don’t know. The University of Washington, I believe the students used to bring me those letters as well, but I haven’t taught in, you know, five or six years. So I don’t know what the current status of that is. It might have changed.

Richard[09:16] By the way, there is an organization of the people that work in these offices in the universities called AHEAD and I can’t remember what it stands for, but they have their kind of standards of the right things to do. And so if you wanted to learn more about that, you could go to the AHEAD website and try to explore it to see what the current standards for processing, if you like, students and universities is.

Kristin [09:44] I hadn’t thought of it that way where the student at that point for their entire K-12 experience was more being taken care of rather than having self-advocating. But on top of that, like that means they potentially had an entire K-12 experience of everyone knows and potentially does not treat them well for it. And so then when they come to college, they realize that they could potentially hide it, and no one would know, and they might not be treated differently because of it.

Kristin [10:15] So I hadn’t thought that was one of the motivations behind them not giving me the letter. I like this added nuance to my understanding of why they wouldn’t give me the letter. But the way that I did it before it was an automatic process, I explained it to the students as, I want to measure what you know in the best environment possible for you. And it does not matter if that means you need extra time or whatever. What I care about is an accurate measurement. And I felt like when I finally hit on that messaging, I got more letters from the students.

Richard[10:49] That’s great, and that’s good messaging. I was thinking about what you said earlier about that the student already feels stigmatized in high school. That could be the case, I mean, there are bullies out there, but I would say, generally speaking, there’s more acceptance of difference. I think I’ve observed that over the last 50 years that coming from my own children and from my children’s children and things like that, that people are more accepting of differences. Now there are still, you know, awful people out there that do bad things and don’t, and the politics today seems to verify that. But I think the younger people, I think there is some hope.

Kristin [11:31] I would believe that. I think it’s nuanced and complicated. Like there’s many layers to what the student is thinking when it comes to providing that letter. If it has to be them that decides whether or not to provide the letter.

Richard[11:45] Yeah, actually, to go to disability services in the first place. They have to decide that I’m going to do that. Because they don’t have to. Their parents aren’t in control anymore. They are.

Kristin [11:56] Yeah. And on top of that, I don’t know what it’s like at your institution, but I feel like most institutions probably make the process more complicated than it needs to be for students to apply to get those things. And from my own very limited understanding of some kinds of disabilities, paperwork is the last thing that you want to put in front of them to help them get access to what they need.

Richard[12:21] Yeah. So one suggestion I have for a student that brings you a letter or you get a letter from a student is to have a private meeting with that student to make sure that you do meet their needs because some of the accommodations, for example, might be new to you. And so there might be things that you could do for everybody in the whole class that would benefit the whole class. Like, for example, having those slides a day ahead of time so people can sort of look at them and so on. So, I think there are some benefits to that for both the teacher and the student.

Kristin [12:54] The thing that I have done is I have met with students when it’s an accommodation I’m not familiar with, but I actually sometimes go to the office directly because I know that as a professor, I have more power in the situation. I try to respect the student by first going to the office because the office knows what they can and cannot disclose to me without making the student feel that they have to disclose more than they’re comfortable disclosing to me.

**Richard[13:22]I don’t think that when you meet with the student, you don’t ask them to disclose anything except what their accessibility needs are. As opposed to, you’re not going to ask them about what their condition is. No, that’s not important.

**Kristin [13:35]I guess for me, the thought that I had behind this philosophy is that the student will feel that the only way to explain their accommodation, like why they need something is by first disclosing what they have. I think it’s hard for students especially to go “I need X” and stop there, rather than say “I need X because of Y.” Like they can’t stop themselves from not getting to the because, because they want to rationalize to the person in power why they need the thing they’re asking for.

**Richard[14:05 Yeah, that could be true. I’m sure that does happen, but I think if a student has good self-efficacy skills that they’ve picked up hopefully during their transition to college, they would know how to handle that situation.

Kristin [14:21] Yeah. So going on your prior comment about how to improve your class, not just for a particular student but for all the students, do you have any other suggestions or things to think through to help me or help anyone who’s teaching improve their class?

Richard[14:39] Yeah, a couple of things. One of the popular things, I don’t know if you do this Kristin and classes do kind of live programming where you have, you know, your IDE open and you’re showing on the screen and you’re doing things and explaining things and maybe even showing a program that has a mistake in it and asking, you know, where is the mistake or something like that? So somebody who’s, you know, visually impaired or has a cognitive disability where they, it’s hard to follow what you’re doing. I think there are things that you could do just to improve that experience, for example, while you’re doing what you’re doing, explain what you’re doing with the mouse. I’m putting the mouse over this and I’m going to click on it. That’s kind of fine detail, but that’s what a lot of people need. They want to know what you’re doing. How did you do that, you know? So just flicking that mouse around for different places and clicking things without saying a single word is not that beneficial. So I think you want to go down to the fine detail of what you’re doing on the screen and have everybody follow. Now you’re going to go slower because you have to add all that verbiage.

Kristin [15:46] Yeah.

Richard[15:47] But believe me there, students will thank you. Now, there are these advanced students who will, you know, be kind of bored by that. That’s always going to be the case, no matter how you teach. So, I would say worry about the average and below average is my advice.

Kristin [16:03] Yeah, That’s usually what I worry about also. But I hadn’t thought of describing - now that you’ve said it, it makes complete sense. I should describe, like where I’m moving my mouse and all of that. And it is a great trick to help slow you down. And I don’t know about anyone else, but when I teach, I speed up. I talk faster and I try real hard not to talk faster, but I know that I do talk faster.

Richard[16:28] And yeah, so that’s you brought up another thing.

Kristin [16:32] Oh?

Richard[16:33] And we’re mentioning things here that require change of behavior. And this is what I said very early on, you know, in our conversation is that you have to be willing to change to improve your teaching and constant change. And so slowing down definitely is good for everybody. And I think it’s even good for the top learners because they can get busy with something else they’re working on if they want, if you go more slowly. If you go fast, even they’re trying to keep up, then you’ve lost too many, you know? So go slowly and deliberately and say what you’re doing.

Kristin [17:10] So, here’s a counter-argument that I could imagine someone providing where they say, I record all of my videos, like all my lectures are recorded automatically because they happen to be in a room at their school where it just like automagically the screen gets recorded and their audio gets recorded. So should that person still be concerned about, say, slowing down or describing what’s going on in that kind of thing since there will be a video recording of what they’ve done?

Richard[17:44] Yeah, that’s a good question. Here’s my advice, and every once in a while, you want to do something that you haven’t done before. And so you go to YouTube and you look up a video how they did it. And I always hone in on the video that goes to the fine detail that says everything, that there’s nothing missing, you know, and I figure out I can do it, you know what I mean? So I think even the recorded videos should be at the same detail as the regular lecture. We could probably together come up with like 20 different things that would improve people’s teaching.

Kristin [18:18] Could you tell me more about AccessComputing or AccessCSforAll Like, what do you all do exactly?

Richard[18:23] Yeah. Good question. AccessComputing goes back to about 2006. It’s a Broadening Participation in Computing alliance, one of the first ones. And it’s gone through, I think we have had four grants now. We’ve just got a new one.

Kristin [18:39] Awesome.

Richard[18:40] So it’ll be, you know, until 2024, maybe. And I mean, the main goal really is to get more students into computing fields and also to support their success in those computing fields. Computing fields includes computer science, information science, informatics, data science, you know, all the computing fields that we know about. So it’s not just computer science. And we work directly with students supporting them. We have webinars, we send them to conferences like the Tapia Conference or the Grace Hopper Conference, actually we’ve sent quite a few to SIGCSE as well. In fact, we’ve had at SIGCSE, we’ve had a couple of panels over the last few years of students with disabilities talking about their issues. And that was kind of fun. I think that the only panels I’ve ever seen with undergraduates at SIGCSE, and so maybe we should have more students, you know, give presentations and talk about their experience.

Richard[19:40] . Of course, we’ve had workshops for students with disabilities. Several of them that were funded actually by the Google CSR program, which is kind of an interesting program that people should learn about. I should mention another program that’s not AccessComputing, but TeachAccess.

Kristin [19:57] Oh?

Richard[19:58] So TeachAccess is an organization actually founded by industry, but it has academic partners as well. And AccessComputing is a member of TeachAccess, as is University of Washington and several other schools out there as well. And so they have a mini-grant program too if you want to include accessibility topics in your courses, I think they’ve given out maybe 50 so far in the last few years. So that’s something you can apply for as a computer science teacher. So look that up. Just do a Google search on TeachAccess, one word.

Kristin [20:31] Do they have resources also on like, curriculum or material you could adopt?

Richard[20:37] They have some limited resources and AccessComputing is very interested in teaching accessibility, and we’ve worked with over about 1,200 students directly over the last 15 years, and a number of them are professors now, actually. So a few of our students have gone on and we didn’t help them that much because they were already super, doing very, very well. But we definitely supported them. We helped them go to conferences. We promote them. So anyway, and then I mentioned the TeachAccess or working with TeachAccess to include accessibility in computer science curricula, and Amy Ko and I are working on a book to sort of help people do that. And, you know, we just started like two weeks ago. This is on the new grant. So we have nothing to show and we will in about a year, maybe a year and a half, but we will be recruiting people to help us with that. And so some of you may get a call from either Amy or I to help with this book. It’s going to be completely online. It’ll be updatable very easily. It’ll be high production value, but it’s not going to be a hard-bound book. We’re self-publishing it, and it’s through AccessComputing.

Richard[21:52] And then the final thing is just institutional change. And I guess me talking to you now is part of institutional change. I’m helping people out there in the computer science community do better with students with disabilities. And I’d say that’s a big part of our work, and I don’t want to go into all the deep things that we actually do, but we do have a bunch of partners, over 50 academic partners, and we are always recruiting new partners. And partners don’t have a big commitment, but they have to be committed to our goal and they should be coming to our monthly meetings. And so we have a monthly meeting with all our partners. We also have industry partners and we have organizational partners as well. And one of the philosophies we have in AccessComputing is that disability is just another dimension of diversity.

Richard[22:42] And furthermore, disability cuts across all the other demographics. Women, African-American, Hispanic, whatever you want. And so we love to partner with other organizations like CMDiT and NCWIT, CAHSI, all the other organizations that work in this space, of broadening participation. And so we’re kind of partnering with them as well. So that kind of gives the big picture anyway. And there’s so many details. Go to our website and see what we do in more detail.

Kristin [23:15] So in some ways, it sounds amazing that there’s so much out there, but in some ways I’m feeling overwhelmed. How do I potentially help my small set of students compared to the rest of the world in improving the experience, or at least, raising the floor of the experience? Because I imagine that the students with some kind of disability are probably having the worst experience, maybe in my class compared to the typical experience.

Richard[23:48] Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think a lot of it, to me personally, it’s attitude. It’s not what you do, it’s what you say and how you say it, and your feeling about disability generally. And I was just looking the other day at this thing from the CRA. It has a title: “Feeling like an Outsider in Computing? You are not alone”. And that was published in the CRA News, February 2019.

Richard[24:18] And so they asked, I think it was over 2,000 students. To do on a Likert scale, I feel like an outsider in the computing community. And if you were a majority man, it was 17 percent. If you were a person with a disability, it was 32 percent you felt you didn’t belong. If you were a woman with a disability, it was 46 percent you didn’t feel like you belong. So there is this intersectional effect, you know?

Kristin [24:50] Yeah.

Richard[24:51] So getting, you know, these diverse groups to feel like they belong to computer science. It’s not just changing techniques, it’s an attitudinal thing.

Kristin [25:03] Yeah. But I feel like, I don’t know if “do” is the right word, because you could change your attitude, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your behavior will easily change. Because your behavior in some ways is a product of habits. And I recently heard of some research that talked about how racial biases, because I think that’s where this work was from. One way to combat racial biases is to take the literature on how to break bad habits and apply those best practices to breaking racial biases.

Kristin [25:43] The example I think that they gave was if you have a bad habit of biting your nails or something like that. And so, I think the way they describe it is urge surfing, so you have the urge to do something and you just sit with the feeling and notice it and basically be mindful about it until it passes. Like you recognize what it is and all of that. And so they took that and applied it instead to a racial context. In the sense of your first goal is to notice when you have a racial bias thing happening. So we can be concrete in saying like, you see a large black man walking towards you on the sidewalk. And so your potential first reaction is to be scared, because that’s in some ways what culture and the movies has conditioned you to be like. And so the first thing for breaking the bad habit is to first notice that that’s the reaction you had, naming it, and then recognizing that it’s irrational and does not actually make sense to do. And then hopefully over time, your bias will slowly fade away because you’re recognizing it for what it is. So the thing that I think I’m trying to get at is, sure your attitude could change, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your behavior will automatically change from there. So I think the thing I’m struggling with is, attitude is first, I agree with you, but I feel like it’s not sufficient.

Richard[27:08] Yeah, I guess I have a broader definition of attitude.

Kristin [27:11] OK.

Richard[27:12] That it’s kind of like what you just said, that you’ve changed your attitude, you’re more open. You look at yourself. You self-reflect on your biases. Because everybody has biases, you know, hidden biases that aren’t even aware of. And so part of the attitudinal change is doing exactly what you described just a moment ago. So I guess a change in attitude is not like a theoretical thing. It’s actually more an operational thing like you described.

Richard[27:42] I should say that this reaction that you have or somebody might have seeing a Black person walking down the street, you know, this is human nature. Our brain is set up so that we can’t tightly analyze every single situation, that we kind of generalize, and then we have our stereotypes and stuff like that. They helped us survive over antiquity. You know?

Kristin [28:07] Yeah.

Richard[28:08] So the human race is alive because we’ve done this in the past, but that doesn’t mean we have to continue doing it. We can reflect. We can do better. And I think that goes back to the first thing I said at the beginning of this whole conversation is that we should all be trying to improve ourselves all the time. Here I am, 78 years old and I’m still not there yet.

Kristin [28:28] What? You’re not perfect? I can’t look forward to being perfect at 78?

Richard[28:35] Hardly. You can ask my wife about that.

Kristin [28:40] What are ways to increase the odds of changing your attitude?

Richard[28:47] I think, you know, we in academia, we’re learning things all the time, and so I think it’s not that hard in the sense that you can read books, you can read articles, you can learn from others and stuff like that. Taking an intellectual approach to start with, I think really helps. And then, we’re not just driven by our emotions, we’re driven by our intellect. And so trying to understand how biased or bias comes from, that it’s natural, that it’s part of our heritage and trying to combat it, if you like. I believe that’s the right, quite the right word, but kind of, you know, do better. So I think we’re kind of lucky, I think as academics, we can think about these things and try to analyze them, read books and look at resources, and so on. So for disability, even I have read many, many books. It’s not just, you know, my personal experience, but I’m learning things all the time.

Richard[29:41] Like just today, I was talking to a colleague of mine who is an expert on children who can only use switches to access computers. And I know a little bit about it, but she knows a lot more than I do. And so I’m so excited to learn what she knows and bring it into my repertoire of information about accessibility. And so it’s kind of like, just use your intellectual abilities you already have, to sort of trigger those changes that you want to make.

Kristin [30:12] Now I’m curious about these switches. Any like, short surprise?

Richard[30:17] Yeah, I could tell you what it is. In fact, my younger daughter is an occupational therapist, and she works with clients who use switch access to computers. So Switch Access is supported by iOS and macOS, and I think maybe Android, I can’t be sure about Android. And there’s Switch things you can do on Microsoft products as well. So a switch is just a binary switch. So suppose that the information on the screen is scanned at a certain rate and the thing you want to do gets scanned over. Then you hit the switch and that choice is made. Now you can’t easily move a mouse with that, so you have to have more keyboard-type control of the screen. And that’s something for everybody to think about when they’re developing a program. Can you run that program without using the mouse or just using the keyboard? Because that would make it much more accessible. Because a lot of people can’t use a mouse, it’s not just people that are very physically disabled that use switches, but there is people that have tremors, there’s all sorts of things that the mouse just doesn’t work for them.

Kristin [31:27] I’m assuming it potentially might be reading aloud as well what those things are, so they know when to hit the switch when they want to.

Richard[31:35] Yeah. You can add speech to it, or it could be completely visual and, you get a choice. There’s always going to be a vision component to this because it’s a natural thing. So the thing that is scanning over currently is highlighted.

Kristin [31:48] I see, OK.

Richard[31:49] And you have to hold that for long enough to do a switch.

Kristin [31:55] So you mentioned AccessComputing. I feel like you haven’t talked much about AccessCSforAll.

Richard[32:00] So AccessCSforAll is kind of a derivative of AccessComputing. When the computer science for all movement started, one of the first things I noticed was that, all these cool things that kids can do with Scratch and Alice, all these cool things. Well, blind kids can’t do any of it. There’s nothing there for them to do because they can’t access it. These are not screen-reader accessible. So they’re probably not even switch accessible. So that got me talking, I called my colleague, Andres Stefik at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, who is the developer of the Quorum language, which is a born-accessible programing language and IDE which I highly recommend and everybody should be looking at Quorum just to see what it does and how it does it.

Richard[32:47] And so I said, well, let’s get together and do this AccessCSforAll. And so it kind of has two parts. One is the development part, which Stefik leads at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, is developing more tools that are accessible that could be used in the classroom and K-12 classroom. And our newest grant, which we just got, Stefik is going to build a block version of Quorum that’s on the web. So it would be something that a blind kid could use, somebody a switch user could use and stuff like that, and they could just get rid of that Scratch they can’t use. So that’s one half.

Richard[33:22] And the other half is professional development. We’ve already worked with in-service providers in the early days of computer science for all. So there’s a whole new space of in-service providers course. Of course, code.org is the biggest one, and code.org is one of our partners and they believe in what we’re doing. Not that their stuff is that accessible yet, but hopefully in the next five years it will be. And so working with them will be good. We also work with the College Board, is one of our partners. The College Board does provide accommodations to taking their exams, but we don’t know how many students ask for accommodations, so they don’t give us the data on that. And we’d like to have that data.

Richard[33:59] You know, I have some very interesting news. I want to go back to the college setting we had earlier and everybody heard about the Taulbee survey, have they? The Taublee surveys women, minorities, and things like that. Well, this year, for the very first time, they’re asking about disability.

Kristin [34:18] Oh.

Richard[34:19] And they’re also asking about Pell Grants, and they’re asking about things that they haven’t asked before because they’re broadening their definition of diversity.

Kristin [34:26] That’s awesome.

Richard[34:27] And so, yeah, this is awesome. They’re really asking for institutional information. How many students in computer science in your program ask for accommodations or actually receive accommodations is what they’re asking. And that should be data that should be available in the university database. They don’t have to ask students about. So everybody out there and you should encourage your chair, whoever runs the Taulbee, make sure you try to answer that question, don’t say, oh, I can’t do it. By the way, a number of universities said in a pre-survey that they can’t do it, that it’s somehow secret. No, it’s not because they do report that at least to the government, because it’s money, they need to know how many students they are serving with this because they need to know how many people to employ and what equipment to buy and things like that. So it’s not something that people don’t know about. It’s not a hidden thing.

Richard[35:16] I’ve done a lot with data in the last few years and Brianna Blaser and I wrote a paper for the Respect conference in 2020. We found that the data about disability really varies a lot from state to state at the K-12 level. So there are some states like Texas that have very few students, less than 10 percent who are under IDEA. Well, Pennsylvania is like 18 percent, and it’s like twice. That’s like double. And so there is not a uniform treatment, if you like, or recognition of disability, even from state to state.

Richard[35:52] Now, in the latest report that came out of the state of computer science education 2021 out of code.org. And they have a wonderful table in there at the very end on the distribution from state to state of different demographics, including disability. And that would be under both section 504 and IDEA, two different classifications of students with disabilities, plus different minority groups and women and gender, and just as a benchmark. So if you have that data for your state and you have the same data for your computer science students, you can see if they’re kind of commensurate with your state. And of course, you could do that at the district level and other levels as well. So that’s the first time I’ve seen such a comprehensive table like that. And this has nothing to do with computer science. This table is just about the demographics in these 50 states.

Kristin [36:49] It makes me wonder what the numbers will look like between, like, you know, the entire state versus a computer science department in that state and how those numbers would compare.

Richard[37:04] Yeah. Well, I think 19 states actually already have reported this, if you look at the same report. And so you can at least compare for those 19 states, the distribution for that state. And I think the final result for the 19 states, the bottom line is that students under IDEA are underrepresented about as much as women are underrepresented in computing at the K-12 level, while students under Section 504 are approximately equally represented. So you’re asking why are they different? What’s 504 versus IDEA? Yeah, and that could be another conversation.

Kristin [37:41] So we’re almost out of time and I definitely respect your time. So let’s transition to the next piece, which is called TL;DL, too long didn’t listen. What would you say is the most important thing you want our listeners to get out of our conversation?

Richard[37:55] I think one is to bring into your self-improvement world. I know all of you or most of you are trying to do better, trying to do better in your teaching and stuff like that. So consider those students who have a disability. Can you change your behavior to be better for them? And then as a result, everything would be better for everybody else as well. Like the things we talked about, you know, slowing down being very deliberate about when you do live programming that you’re saying what you’re doing and so on. So I think that would be for this particular audience my message.

Richard[38:34] Another thing I think people should think about is that bringing more people with disabilities into our field will make our field better. And this is true of other groups as well. So I think we want to have this diversity because it’ll just make us better. We’re going to do things differently, maybe, so we’re not trying to make them exactly look like us, but you know, there’s going to be something better. Because of them.

Kristin [38:58] So maybe another nice note to end on is to, one part of the way you can change your attitude is if there is a student who has a disability, give yourself an extra couple of seconds to think about how to invite that student to stay within the community. Just take a couple of extra seconds and think about that.

Richard[39:20] And then double that for a woman.

Kristin [39:24] Yes, please do. All right. Thank you so much for joining us, Richard.

Richard[39:30] Yeah, it’s great to be with you, Kristin.

Kristin [39:33] And this was the CSED Podcast hosted by me, Kristin Stephens-Martinez and produced by Amarachi Anakaraonye. And remember, teaching computer science is more than just knowing computer science, and I hope you found something useful for your teaching today.


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