At Blackboard, accessibility has become a key part of our company culture. We believe it is an imperative, not an afterthought. Our mission is to reimagine education and in a recent post, Robert Solis from UMassOnline talks about how Blackboard’s shifting culture and mission is positively impacting the educational experiences of teachers and students with diverse abilities. But it’s not just about having a mission, for many of us at Blackboard, and especially for the two of us, equal access to education has become a passion that we’re driven to fully understand, talk about, and achieve. Let us introduce ourselves:
My name is JoAnna Hunt. I’ve been one of Blackboard’s lead interaction designers for almost 10 years. Over the last 8 years I’ve also become an advocate for people with diverse abilities. At the outset of my career, becoming an advocate for the differently-abled was not my objective. As a designer I was focused on solving problems in education. I was working to understand how people use technology to teach and learn. I wanted to create simple and useful experiences for teachers and students. At some point I was asked to focus on how blind teachers and students use technology and what we needed to do to ensure they could successfully use our technology. It started as just another problem to solve. Then my nephew was diagnosed with ADHD and Autism. I met a Deaf lawyer who became one of my best friends. I started rock climbing with a single arm amputee. As my personal life started to collide with my professional life, I developed a passion for ensuring equal access to digital and educational experiences.
My name is Scott Ready and my journey started very differently. While I don’t have a disability, my parents were both deaf. Growing up in the late 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s, I witnessed an overwhelming number of situations where my parents were not able to participate, all because they couldn’t hear. Can you imagine going to a doctor’s office and having your 10-year-old child try and communicate between you and the doctor about a serious illness? When I was 16 I became a nationally certified Sign Language Interpreter. It was my initial attempt to bridge the huge chasm in accessibility. My career expanded into various areas around accessibility when I worked in organizations like the Kansas Commission for the Deaf and the Kansas Relay Services with Southwestern Bell Telephone. My passion for accessibility and eLearning converged when I was the Department Chair of an online Interpreter Training Program and most recently for the past 12 years with Blackboard. Throughout my life I have strived to tear down the accessibility barriers I have witnessed throughout my personal life and career while coupling that with my desire for individuals to access education when they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Am I passionate about accessibility, yeah, you could say that.
We have both learned a great deal in our collected 30+ years of experience advocating for people with diverse abilities. Over the coming months, we’re going to be sharing what is taking place in the world of accessibility and how it impacts teaching and learning in today’s digital environment. As we embark on this effort, we look forward to hearing more about how the changing landscape around accessibility and a greater understanding of it’s impact on education is affecting your perspective and practice. Let’s take this journey together.