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by Lauren Gaber, University of Michigan - Dearborn

If you are registered with [Student and Employee Accessibility Services] and are pursuing a career in computing, you might want to consider joining the AccessComputing community. The Alliance for Access to Computing Careers (AccessComputing) helps students with disabilities successfully pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in computing fields, and works to increase the capacity of postsecondary institutions and other organizations to fully include students with disabilities in computing courses and programs. They support students with disabilities from all across the country in reaching critical junctures toward college and careers by providing advice, resources, mentoring opportunities, professional contacts, and funding for tutoring, internships, and computing conferences.

I am a member of AccessComputing myself; recently I received a scholarship from them to attend the 2015 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing where I had the pleasure of meeting an inspiring professor from Brown, Chad Jenkins. I asked him if he knew of any disability organizations or AccessComputing members on Brown’s campus, and he didn’t know. He encouraged me to investigate the situation at Brown and see if anybody would be interested. So here I am writing this article for you.

I joined AccessComputing near the end of my first year of college; I had been struggling the first semester because I was forced to be absent for a little less than a month because of medical reasons having to do with my disability. It also set back my plans to apply for internships and scholarships for the summer (and catching up on the work was exhausting). One day near the start of the winter semester, I got an e-mail from my disability office that mentioned AccessComputing. I had never seen anything like them before; I was kind of still amazed it existed as I was applying for membership. AccessComputing works mainly through an e-mailing list that you will be added to, and it is both a forum for discussion and how they notify you about opportunities like the DREU summer internship program I ended up applying to and working over that summer.

As of now, there are approximately 300 other members of AccessComputing; you don’t always hear from all of them, but they are there for you when you celebrate a success or are working through struggles and need advice. Some subjects that we’ve discussed include adaptive technology, dealing with people who don’t understand your limitations or talk down to you, celebrating someone’s graduation, and sharing opportunities for internships with each other. It is nice to have a support network with people who can relate to you and who share the same professional goals. The AccessComputing Coordinators also send you opportunities pretty regularly; I found out about the Tapia conference through them and about NASA’s internship programs (and I was interviewed for a position last week).

The Tapia conference was also very affecting; I got to meet so many new people and learned about new fields in computing I could pursue like Library Science and Human-Robot Interaction (both of which I had no prior knowledge or exposure to at my own university). Chad Jenkins made me aware of open source robotics learning materials I could look into and study independently, and I sent information about the trackerPro his friend Henry Evans uses to a relative of mine who is also a quadriplegic.  My experience at the conference ultimately made me want to pursue graduate school, and I was able to be around the largest group of professionals with disabilities pursuing computing careers I had ever met in my lifetime.

I’ve had the opportunity to gain some very good professional experiences since becoming a member of AccessComputing, and so I would highly recommend joining. If you have any questions or want to learn how you can join, contact them directly via e-mail at accesscomp@uw.edu or check out their website at https://www.washington.edu/accesscomputing/. For educators and employers, AccessComputing offers institutes and workshops to build awareness of universal design and accommodation strategies, and to aid in recruiting and supporting students with disabilities through the development of inclusive programs and education on promising practices. To learn how you can participate in AccessComputing, you can contact them at accesscomp@uw.edu.