Honoring GAAD: Our Student Advisory Council Reflects

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We are proud to recognize the 10th annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). The purpose of GAAD is to get everyone talking, thinking, and learning about digital access, inclusion, and the more than one billion people on the planet with disabilities/impairments. At Blackboard, we are committed to making learning more equitable, inclusive, and accessible for all learners.

This year, our Accessibility Manager delivered an empathy exercise to members of the Blackboard Student Advisory Council—the same one that was made available to Blackboard employees. The exercise took the council members through the experiences of four types of disabilities/impairments – deafness, blindness, limited mobility, and cognitive impairments – to help them better understand the importance of inclusivity.

Following the exercise, we asked them to share their thoughts. Responses were edited for length and clarity.

Ayan: “This exercise helped me unlearn some biases and better empathize with how certain disabilities or conditions can make everyday tasks difficult for students with disabilities. In addition, it was great to learn that Blackboard shared this same exercise with their employees. I’m very excited to know that Blackboard is committed to making sure that the people behind their products & services understand accessibility. This will lead to a lot more inclusivity in new features and solutions.”

Bruno: “It was a great opportunity for me to put myself in the shoes of other people. It taught me a lot about the privileges that we have and how attentive we need to be to the needs of people who have different learning needs. Blackboard’s commitment to accessibility is an amazing and concrete step towards ensuring less educational inequality and opens up opportunities for everyone to reach their true and whole potential.”

Carolina: “The exercise taught me a lot about how disabled people experience the world and the difficulties they may encounter in a learning environment that doesn’t consider their needs. It was a great exercise in empathy that helped me realize the often-normalized situations that put disabled individuals at a disadvantage in terms of their education. It excites me to see Blackboard raising awareness about the importance of inclusivity and truly caring about its users. Their commitment to inclusion makes it clear that empathy is in their core values.”

Charlotte: “The insights I gained by participating in the exercise gave me a greater awareness of the daily challenges many students with disabilities face. It showed me that even if we can’t always see it, many people have disabilities. Dyslexia is something we touched on. You can’t see it and you don’t know who is dyslexic, but we always need to consider it. I’m very excited about Blackboard’s commitment to accessibility. They are really considering everyone in their solutions. In addition, it helps me better myself and my work for the future.”

Connor: “As a student with a learning disability, I enjoyed the inside view of how Blackboard approaches accessibility issues. Not only was I able to better understand the need for accessible technology, but I was also able to see the multitude of ways that Blackboard makes education accessible. What excites me most is how Blackboard incorporates inclusion across all their design, and it is not an afterthought. Too often, technology is initially made in a way that is not accessible, only to be corrected months or years later. Blackboard strives to ensure their technology is accessible to all at release, which is admirable.”

Danielle: “I gained a partial understanding of what it is like to learn as a student with a disability. I think it can be easy to assume what these students need, but when you are in a position of learning like them, it puts it into perspective. Providing accessible materials for all students, where they do not miss key information, is so important to consider. Professors, lecturers, teaching associates/assistants can take all of this into account and be intentional with their resources to create an inclusive and accessible learning environment for all learners. I think Blackboard’s commitment to accessibility could not come at a better time and will be well received by students with disabilities.”

Sammy: “Our exercise was rewarding for the entire council because students who may have never struggled with learning differences experienced learning from a different perspective. Ultimately, the accessibility session helped me reflect on the parts of my education journey that were accessible and the classes that I have taken that weren’t accessible. Blackboard’s intentionality with supporting people with disabilities or other learning challenges excites me. Through its commitment to providing inclusive learning environments for all students, Blackboard has the power to democratize learning in an unprecedented way.”

Stay tuned for more from the council right here on the blog!

*Members of the council receive compensation for their time.