Over the years, I have had several awesome teachers and professors who have helped me learn how to write essays and research papers for my classes quickly and efficiently. Because of them, I have earned consistently high scores on all of my writing assignments and papers in all of my classes, including my college classes, and frequently get asked for writing advice from my friends and other students in my classes. As part of my Writing Success series, here is how I write papers about accessibility-related topics in my classes, even for classes that do not relate to disability or assistive technology.
First, why write about accessibility topics?
As a student with low vision studying assistive technology/accessibility in college, I enjoy writing about accessibility topics whenever I can for assignments for many reasons. While students don’t need to connect all of their assignments to accessibility or disability, there are many benefits to writing about accessibility, including:
- It gives students the opportunity to learn about disability from a unique angle and in a positive way
- As many as 1 in 5 people in the world have a disability, and assistive technology/accessibility can have a tremendous impact on if someone is able to access information
- For disabled students, writing about accessibility can give them the opportunity to educate others about tools that they use to navigate their environment in a positive way
- Accessibility, disability, and assistive technology are all very relevant topics right now, as the number of people with disabilities and the aging population is expected to increase over the next several years/decades.
Of course, I still have a handful of papers I’ve written in college that don’t relate to accessibility (for example, I wrote a paper about Jon Bon Jovi for a leadership psychology course freshman year), but for the most part, all of my midterm and final papers for courses have connected back to accessibility, disability, or assistive technology by my own choice so that I could use them in my portfolio or for a future blog post.
- Why I Study Assistive Technology
- Five Myths About Assistive Technology
- Why I Love Having Friends With The Same Condition
- Ten Fun Facts About Braille for World Braille Day 2019
Looking for intersections in different fields of study
Disability, accessibility, and assistive technology are intersectional topics that are in many fields of study, including education, technology, design, medicine, and so many more. I recommend asking yourself these questions when trying to find intersections and deciding on a topic:
- How would a person with a disability use this service/product? This can be as fancy as using a piece of software or as simple as watching a movie
- What if someone couldn’t access something the way it was- what adaptations would they need? This can include places like the grocery store, or types of content like gifs
- How can I make products or services more accessible for people with disabilities? This can mean reimaging objects so they are easier to use (as seen on TV products are a great example of this), or using virtual/in-person assistants
- What is something I really enjoy, and what is being done to make it enjoyable for people with disabilities as well? Some examples of potential topics can include game design, fashion, sports, live music, theater- there is no limit!
- How Students Can Celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day
- A to Z of Assistive Technology For Low Vision
- 12 Safe Alternatives To The Bird Box Challenge
- How To Write Alt Text For Gifs
- Ways To Use Visual Assistance Apps For Virtual Classes
Should I focus on one disability area?
One of the questions I received from a student was whether they should focus on one disability area (i.e vision loss, hearing loss, physical disability, etc), and in the context of their topic on accessible store layouts, I told them that it made sense for them to talk about various options for different disability areas. However, for another project where a student was talking about accessible menus, it made more sense for them to focus on vision loss because they wanted to focus on reading menus. I tend to focus a lot on vision loss because it is a subject I am very interested in, and it is easy for me to find resources on the topic.
- Seven Elements Of Accessible Store Layouts for Vision Impairment
- How To Embrace Assistive Technology With Limited Funding
Finding sources on accessibility topics
So how do you find sources on accessibility-related topics for research papers? Whenever I’m writing papers, I like to use tools such as my college library database, Google Scholar, and similar tools to find published research papers. However, there are also lots of other great resources that can be found online that exist outside of scholarly journals, including:
- Universities and educational institutions (I recommend writing site:edu prior to searching for topics on Google)
- Posts from non-profit organizations that work with this disability area
- Information from government websites or organizations (use site:gov on Google to find these)
- Awareness campaigns and coverage from reputable news sites
- Blogs from people who have disabilities- just like this one!
- How I Read Research Sources With Assistive Technology
- How I Outline Research Papers With OneNote
- How I Create Citations For Research Papers
Conducting interviews with others
One of the best ways to get information on accessibility and disability-related topics is to talk to someone who is in this field of study or who has lived experience with the topic. If it’s difficult to find people within the community, I recommend searching on Twitter to find people who are talking about accessibility-related topics, and using the search feature to find people that mention specific keywords, and then contacting them via email or direct message on the platform. Search engines can also be a great way to find people.
Here is an email I received from a student who wanted to interview me for their project. Details have been redacted to protect their privacy:
Hello Veronica! My name is First Name, and I’m a seventh grader from State. I’m doing a paper about accessible menus in restaurants. Can you answer these five questions that I have listed below?
- How do you currently read menus in a restaurant?
- Do you use any technology to help you read menus?
- Have you ever gotten a large print or Braille menu? If so, where?
- Do you prefer to read menus online or on paper?
- Has anyone ever offered to give you a large print or Braille menu, or do you have to request it?
Thank you so much!
- Ten Form Emails To Send To Your Professors
- How I Organize Emails In College
- How Do People With Visual Impairments Go To Restaurants?
Examples of papers I’ve written
Some examples of papers I’ve written in various classes as a data science major include:
- Recommending assistive technology for a character in a book we read in my Literature class, and for a character in a movie for another class
- How Bookshare books and accessible materials are created for students in a Business Fundamentals class
- Considerations for designing an accessible ATM for my Software Design class
- How audio description can be implemented in theater for my Advanced Composition class
- How accessibility barriers can impact nutrition for my Global Health class
- The trauma of newly acquired sight loss for my Traumatology/synthesis class
- Considerations for accessible graphics in my Data Visualization class
- How to implement alt text on websites in my Web Design class
- Creating a lesson plan to teach adults with low vision about phishing and creating safe passwords for my Cybersecurity and Data Ethics classes
- How Bookshare Books Come To Life
- How To Request Accessible Textbooks In College
- Promoting Cast Involvement In Audio Description
- Addressing The Trauma Of Sight Loss
- How To Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions for the Visually Impaired
- How To Create Secure And Easy To Remember Passwords
- How To Recognize Phishing Attempts With Vision Impairment
Learning how to write papers that connect with assistive technology is one of the most useful skills I have developed in college, and has helped me in my classes, internships, and beyond. I hope this post on how I write papers about accessibility-related topics and finding intersections is helpful for others as well!