When I was in high school, I made the decision that I wanted to go to college and study the fields of assistive technology and accessibility so that I could make technology better for people with disabilities. While a lot of people understood that I wanted to make a difference for people with disabilities, they didn’t quite understand why I wanted to study assistive technology and wondered if I would get a job after graduating college- this lead to a parent at an event telling me that my would-be degree was useless and that I should study something else, and my fellow students getting confused over the name of my field of study and writing messages in my yearbook wishing me good luck with studying a degree or topic that was nowhere close to what I was actually planning to do. Once I got to college though, I knew that I had made the right decision and instantly found myself immersed in a field of study that celebrates how technology makes things not only easier, but how it can make things possible. Today, I will be sharing answers to questions I have received from others about why I study assistive technology, and why I am deeply in love with this field.
Who inspired you to study assistive technology?
A lot of people in the field of assistive technology have a person who inspired them to pursue this field and to become passionate about accessibility and inclusion. For many people, this person is a fellow teacher, a student, a family member, or maybe even a friend. In my case, there are a few people who inspired me:
- I spent a lot of time volunteering in nursing homes as a child/teenager and regularly talked to older people who lived with disabilities. I would notice that they had trouble completing activities of daily living or that they struggled with using technology to communicate with their loved ones, and I wanted to find a way to help them
- I met an assistive technologist when I was in high school who admitted that they weren’t sure how to support me as a student with low vision and a neurological condition, and they challenged me to learn everything I could about assistive technology because I was going to need it in the future
- When attending a conference at my future college, I went to several booths that talked about using assistive technology and the people there talked to me about how I could combine my love of technology and my love of helping people
- My college’s assistive technology specialists offered to meet with me before I applied to the program and have served as role models and mentors as I enter this field- one of them had told me that it was uncommon for a student to know about assistive technology, let alone want to major in it, so they were thrilled to help me
- Addressing The Trauma Of Sight Loss
- What To Know About College Assistive Technology Specialists
- All About AIM-VA
What should I major in if I want to study assistive technology?
Assistive technology is primarily a graduate degree, though my college gives students the unique opportunity to get a minor in assistive technology to complement their major. Since accessibility intersects with so many things, assistive technology can be a great pairing with a lot of different majors, including but not limited to:
- Engineering disciplines, i.e bioengineering
- Technology-related fields such as computer science
- Marketing and communications
- Pre-med or other health sciences
- Data science- this was my major!
For students who are unable to take classes on assistive technology, there are still opportunities to study assistive technology within other classes by doing a project or essay- I have an entire post on this linked below
- How I Write Research Papers On Accessibility Topics
- How Students Can Celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day
When did you start speaking/writing about assistive technology?
Something that I love about the field of assistive technology is how social it is- there are accessibility groups all over the physical and digital world, as well as opportunities for people to speak and write about accessibility and assistive technology. I started my website about a year after I started taking college-level coursework in assistive technology in November 2016 and started my freelance public speaking work shortly after. As part of my speaking and writing work, I have also engaged in advocacy work on local, state, national, and international levels where I have used my training as an assistive technology specialist to address issues such as inaccessible stairs on my college campus, educating others on how to use accessible voting machines, talking to members of Congress about how assistive technology benefits people with low vision, and even talking about content warnings for strobe lights in a popular children’s movie.
- Ways To Support New Accessibility Advocates
- Blindness Canes and Accessibility Issues: Navigating College Campuses
Where can I study assistive technology that isn’t a college?
While requirements for assistive technology and accessibility jobs may vary depending on the position, there are several ways that people can learn more about assistive technology. Some of my favorite resources include:
- Professional organizations such as the International Association of Accessibility Professionals
- Resources from accredited educational institutions (search “site:edu when doing web searches)
- Social media accounts dedicated to educating others about accessibility or disability
- Government resources on assistive technology
There are also several online and physical conferences that take place yearly that talk about assistive technology. Some of these conferences include:
- California State University Northridge Assistive Technology Conference (shortened to CSUN conference)
- Assistive Technology Industry Association Conference
- Closing The Gap
- Microsoft Ability Summit
Why do you study assistive technology?
- I want to be the resource I needed when I was younger and show people how technology can be used to help others
- I want other students to be able to focus on learning and spending time with their friends, not trying to figure out how to make things accessible and missing out on social opportunities.
- I want every person to have access to the tools and skills that they need to thrive. I want people to be able to come home from school or work and be able to do their favorite things, whether that is cooking a delicious recipe, watching TV, playing a video game, creating a craft project, or something else entirely.
- I want to be a part of closing the employment gap for people with disabilities and ensure that people have access to meaningful employment.
- I want to empower everyone to achieve more than they ever thought was possible
- I want to make a difference.
One of my ultimate goals is to work for a major technology company where I would be able to help students all around the world with achieving their goals and getting the skills they need for the future, and using assistive technology and inclusive design tools to make that possible. And I’ll do everything I can to make it happen.