Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2023: Amplifying Accessibility

The University of Minnesota hosted an accessibility event to engage in conversation, thinking, and learning about access and inclusion on May 18, 2023. The event was put together by a volunteer group of dedicated University employees.

Event schedule

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TimeTrack A: Pedagogy and educationTrack B: Research and community outreachTrack C: Digital accessibility
9:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m.Warm beverage warm up (watch warm up recording)
9:45 a.m. to 9:55 a.m.Welcome (watch welcome recording)
10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.A1: Performing arts accessibilityB1: Teachers and students on accessible learningC1: Data visualization
11 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.A2: Alternate text for scientific graphicsB2: Accessibility in researchC2: PDF accessibility
Noon to 12:45 p.m.Keynote: Disability justice action in higher education with Lydia X.Z. Brown
12:45 p.m. to 1 p.m.Key resources (keynote follow up)
1:15 p.m. to 2 p.m.A3: Math accessibilityB3: Data accessibilityC3: Trauma-informed design
2:15 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.Coffee chat and debrief

Session 1: 10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.

A1: Disability and inclusive pedagogy in the performing arts

Elizabeth McLain, she/her, Instructor of Musicology at Virginia Tech

Disability accommodations and inclusive pedagogy can be challenging under the best of circumstances, but they become especially daunting in the performing arts classroom. However, disabled artists have always been here. Based on lived experience as a disabled student and current instructor in Virginia Tech’s music department, as well as a professional member of RAMPD: Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities and cross-disability facilitator for documenting the inaugural CripTech incubator, I will offer some practical frameworks for approaching true inclusion for disabled student-artists. Next, we will brainstorm strategies together. I invite you to bring hypothetical or anonymized real-world situations for us to problem solve together. The majority of the daily experience of disability is creative problem solving, which is why wisdom from the disability community is the secret ingredient of inclusive pedagogy of disability.

About Elizabeth McLain

Elizabeth McLain, PhD. is Instructor of Musicology at Virginia Tech. Her lived experience as a chronically ill cane-wielding autistic compels her to transform music scholarship through the principles of disability justice. Co-chair of the Music and Disability Study Group of the American Musicological Society and a professional member of RAMPD: Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities, her research on disability culture and the arts has an (auto)ethnographic bent, capturing an insider’s perspective on the creative lives of disabled artists. Her current book project is Krip Time: the Rhythm of Disabled Music, Life, and Activism.

Watch A1 session recording | Powerpoint Slides for A1

B1: Teachers and students working together to amplify accessibility


  • Gordon Legge, Psychology, Distinguished McKnight University Professor
  • Walter Wu, Psychology PhD program in Cognitive and Brain Sciences
  • Ben Munson, Speech Language and Hearing Sciences, Horace T. Morse-University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education
  • Jessica Gritner, USenate Disabilities Issues Committee member, PhD candidate Department of Rehabilitation Medicine

Watch B1 session recording 

C1: Designing data for cognitive load

Doug Schepers, he/him, Director at Fizz Studio
For staff and faculty with intermediate knowledge

There's a growing movement toward making data visualizations accessible to people with disabilities, rooted in social equity. But in practice, this can be complicated, especially because accessibility standards like WCAG don't provide much guidance for dataviz, and there are many different issues for different disabilities.

One helpful tool in approaching making content accessible is Cognitive Load Theory (CLT). CLT is a scientific approach to education and communication, and this talk will apply its principles to making effective and accessible charts and diagrams.

Cognitive disabilities have been largely overlooked for a long time, partly because they are harder to address than sensory or mobility disabilities. But cognitive load is an issue for how all of us, including people with disabilities using assistive technology like screen readers. Knowing how the brain processes charts and graphs helps inform how we should create them.

This talk will go over the general principles of Cognitive Load Theory, and apply each of them with direct examples that you can use to create effective, efficient data visualizations that build a mental model of the data in your reader's head.

About Doug Schepers

Doug is the founder and director of Fizz Studio, a small startup focusing on making data visualizations accessible to people with disabilities. He began this work while working as a project manager for the W3C, organizing and authoring web standards for over a decade. Since then, he's been doing consulting, software development, and research to make access to data universal. He uses his own adult-diagnosed ADHD as a tool to help synthesize ideas from across different domains, and as an intuitive gauge for cognitive load.

Watch C1 session recording 

Session 2: 11 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.

A2: Alternate text for scientific graphics

Madeleine Rothberg, she/her, WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM)

What is the best alternative text for graphs, charts, and complex diagrams? Provide consistent and clear text alternatives for images from simple to complicated by applying research-based solutions. Start with the basic principles of brevity, data, clarity, and drill-down organization. Then use proven techniques to provide well-structured and useful alternative text that does not overwhelm the reader. Images in assessments use the same techniques, with a bit more care to ensure the assessment is valid. Using these ideas, you will be ready to approach any image and break it down into text. Bring your questions and examples for discussion.

About Madeleine Rothberg

For more than 25 years, Madeleine has led NCAM’s efforts in educational standards, metadata on the web, health IT solutions and transit communications. She promotes accessible solutions such as captions, talking software and audio description, as well as improvements to infrastructure through standards and consistent application of accessibility guidelines. Madeleine led creation of the Access For All specifications for personalized accessibility and participated in the publication of that work as ISO/IEC standard 24751. She serves on the EPUB Accessibility working group. Her background in science and math contributes to success in making STEM education accessible to learners with visual impairments.

Watch A2 session recording | Guidelines: Effective Practices for Description of Science Content within Digital Talking Books

B2: Improving research accessibility for researchers

Erin Durban, they/them, Associate professor in Anthropology at University of Minnesota and Jessica Cooley, she/her, ACLS Emerging Voices Fellow at University of Minnesota

"Research accessibility" usually refers to accessibility for research subjects or participants, or making research findings accessible to various audiences, but researchers themselves (including faculty, graduate students, and staff researchers) may have disabilities, impairments, health conditions, or other considerations that can make carrying out their research more difficult. This event will help such researchers connect with each other and contribute to making the U more aware of their experiences and possible ways to improve institutional support.

About Erin Durban

Erin Durban’s scholarship works at the intersections of interdisciplinary feminist and queer studies, transnational American studies, critical disability studies, and critical ecologies. Durban is currently the Co-Chair of the Association for Queer Anthropology and Co-Chair of Critical Disability Studies at UMN.

About Jessica Cooley

Jessica A. Cooley (she/hers) is a scholar-curator working at the intersection of curatorial and museum studies, crip theory, and Modern and contemporary art. Currently, Cooley is serving as the ACLS Emerging Voices Fellow for the University of Minnesota’s Liberal Arts Engagement Hub.

Watch B2 session recording 

C2: PDF accessibility for beginners: how to check and update PDFs for usability with text to speech tools

Ann Kaste, she/her, Electronic Resources Librarian at Minitex

In this introductory-level session to using Adobe Acrobat for creating accessible PDFs, we will discuss the basics: running the accessibility checker, finding and editing tags, determining reading order, and handling images. Note: You will need access to Adobe Acrobat Pro (not Adobe Reader) for the functions that we will review.

About Ann Kaste

Ann Kaste is an Outreach and Instruction Librarian at Minitex. She enjoys sharing information about ElibraryMN, ebooksMN, and other Minitex services with all Minnesotans. As a licensed school library media specialist, she has a special interest in connecting students and teachers to their local media centers and media specialists for research and resources.

Watch C2 session recording | Google slides for C2

Keynote: noon to 12:45 p.m.

Disability justice action in higher education

Lydia X.Z. Brown

Watch keynote session recording | Keynote session transcript 

Session 3: 1:15 p.m. to 2 p.m.

A3: Listening to math: the promise of speech access for STEM learners with visual impairment

Brian Richwine, he/him, Adjunct Professor at Indiana University and Mary Stores, Principal Accessibility Analyst at Indiana University

Watch A3 session recording | Google slides for A3

B3: Empowering access: a disability studies perspective on critical accessibility and digital data

Randy D. Colón, PhD Student Disability Studies at University of Illinois at Chicago

Join us for an engaging presentation focused on critical accessibility and digital data from a disability studies perspective. Led by a PhD student in Disability Studies at UIC, this session will explore the ongoing problem of inaccessibility in digital resources and the importance of incorporating critical accessibility into all aspects of digital data management and organization. Attendees will also gain insights into the personal experiences of a blind/disabled researcher working with digital data, and see a demonstration of what it's like to access data on his computer.

This session is designed for students, faculty, and staff with an interest in accessibility, digital data management, and/or disability studies, regardless of experience level. Whether you're a beginner, intermediate, or expert, you'll benefit from the overview of key ideas and personal experiences related to accessibility and digital data management. You'll also have the opportunity to engage in discussion and ask questions following the presentation, making this session a great way to learn and connect with others.

About Randy Colón

Randy D. Colón is a PhD student in disability studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where he focuses on participatory action research, critical accessibility, and contributing to empowering disabled people. Randy has presented on the topic of digital accessibility at a variety of conferences and events, and is committed to promoting critical accessibility as an essential component of all aspects of research, teaching, and scholarship. As a disabled researcher, Randy brings a valuable perspective to the field and is dedicated to creating more inclusive and accessible spaces for people with disabilities.

Watch B3 session recording | Powerpoint Slides for B3

Trauma-informed design field-work in practice

Eriol Fox, they/them, PhD researcher and Human Rights Centered Designer

When we think about the future and progression of design, how do we think in a way that explicitly includes places and communities still "coming online" and how technology and society operates differently across borders. The talk summarises recent research and UX design for humanitarian projects and how to approach difficult topics when researching these areas or these countries along with some tips for those looking to work or learn more about how to conduct UX research in these places. The case studies from this talk come from NGO based, industry practice.

About Eriol

Eriol is a full-stack, Human Rights Centred Designer (HRCD) and PhD researcher from Bristol in the UK. They have been working in the non-profit, humanitarian technology sector immersed in how to build technology products and services that empower and give access to people in the global south or ‘developing countries’ often around difficult topics like Genocide, Democracy, gender-based violence and in difficult circumstances such as informal settlements (slums) and areas where radicalisation is high.

Watch C3 session recording