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Why take this class?

To learn how computing can enable new solutions to accessibility, including both access to the world and access to computers? Similarly, how can a disability studies perspective guide us in developing empowering and relevant solutions to accessibility problems? This course explores both of those questions through a combination of discussions, reading, and building. In addition, by studying access technology, we can gain valuable insights into the future of all user interface technology.

What it is about?

Access technology (AT) has the potential to increase autonomy, and improve millions of people’s ability to live independently. In addition, accessibility is a human rights issue and it is the law. If you’re creating interactive technologies, you should know how to build regular interfaces that are accessible as well as understanding the value of innovating new approaches to accessibility. Disability touches almost everyone either directly or indirectly at some point in life, temporarily or permanently. Let’s create a future we will also want to and be able to be part of.

In this course we will focus on a combination of practical skills such as how to create accessible of documents, websites and apps and how to do disability based UX; advanced skills such as how to address accessibility in visualization, AR/VR and AI/ML; and forward looking topics such as intersectional concerns, accessible healthcare, and accessibility in disaster response. The largest project in the class will be an open ended opportunity to explore access technology in more depth. We will also cover disability justice and advocacy.

What are the Prerequisites and Expectations?

The only requirement for this class is that you are comfortable programming and picking up new languages and tools that you have not been exposed to before. You will have some control over this, however, basic web skills are likely to be useful. The primary programming project in this class is one you design yourself.

In addition, please familiarize yourself with the course academic conduct policy. Looking beyond policy, plagiarizing is a violation of disability justice and in direct conflict with the learning goals of this course.

What is the Teaching Philosophy and Approach?

Many of the goals in this class center around learning by doing. This means that hands on time trying out everything from implementation to evaluation is critical to learning. Active learning has been shown to increase student performance in STEM subjects.

Thus, class time will be used as much as possible for in class exercises and discussion for understanding using a variety of technologies. We also highly encourage questions in lecture. Often many students share the same question and those questions can help the instructor gauge student understanding.

Preparation outside of class and participation in class are both very important and will improve your class experience. Preparation may include online discussion, pre-class readings and videos, and post-lecture reflections in addition to homework. Participation in class will include discussion, question asking, and active engagement in learning exercises.


This is an in person class. As much as possible, we ask that you attend in person. That said, we know that many individual concerns may make this a barrier. We will do our best to support remote participation when there is a need for this due to a family obligation, disability, or other concern.

When and Where is the Class Held?

See Canvas for all zoom meeting links for classes and office hours.

How do I reach the Instructors?

Jen Mankoff Jennifer Mankoff (she/her) Instructor
Aashaka Desai Aashaka Desai (she/her) TA

Office Hours

Day Time Who Where
Monday 10-11 Jen Online (also this is tentative))
Wednesday 2-2:30 Jen CSE 2, room 214
Thursday 12-1 Aashaka Online (Zoom TBD)
Asynchronous   Any Post to discussion board*
By Appointment   Any Post to discussion board

*You can discuss matters with us privately on the discussion board. This notifies the whole course staff at once and is usually faster than email.

Staff mailing list: Mail

How do I reach other students in the class?

We have a class discussion board, where you can make public posts that benefit the whole class, and are answered more quickly because your fellow students can help the course staff by responding also.

Another great way to meet students is to come to class in person!

How does Synchronous Remote Participation work?

When you are remote, ideally you will still participate synchronously. To participate synchronously, you need to do the following:

  1. Post in the class discussion to find or report who your zoom buddy is
  2. Attend via zoom and participate in discussions with the help of your zoom buddy
  3. Report who your zoom buddy was, and how you participated, in your weekly survey
Will lectures be recorded?

Class sessions will be recorded when possible (guest lecturers may refuse this). Recordings will only be accessible to students enrolled in the course to review materials.

The University and Zoom have FERPA-compliant agreements in place to protect the security and privacy of UW Zoom accounts.

Students who connect by Zoom but do not wish to be recorded should:

How is COVID safety handled in this class?

Masking is currently optional, however people in the room include those who are high risk with respect to COVID and people who live with vulnerable family members. Masks offer another layer of protection to further reduce the risk of transmission for all of us, and help to support these individuals. Thus, in this class, wearing a mask indoors when around others is recommended, and I ask that you attend class remotely if you are sick or have potentially been exposed to COVID-19.

Why are masks passed around in class?

According to the UW face covering policy.

As part of the University’s multi-layered strategy to limit the transmission of COVID-19, face coverings, particularly well-fitting, high-quality masks (e.g., N95, KN95, surgical mask) remain a useful tool in helping to limit the spread of COVID-19.

To help support the access needs of these individuals, masks will be available in the classroom as you enter, and if you would like to mask, you are welcome to make use of them.

When should I attend remotely?

If you are sick or have potentially been exposed to COVID-19, stay home. We will not be assessing you on attendance, so you will not be penalized for missing class to keep our community safe.

Below, we briefly describe the accommodations for students having to miss class due to potential illness, with full information in the linked pages.

Do I need to maintain social distancing?

Vaccinations and masking provide strong protection against the spread of COVID. Currently, UW does not require social distancing in the classroom or office hours for students who are vaccinated and wearing a mask.

Of course, some students might feel more comfortable keeping a little distance. If you would like to keep space between you and another student, please kindly ask them to leave a space between you and them if there is room available. Similarly, if someone asks you to maintain a space between them, please respect that request if possible.

What if I get sick or may have been exposed to COVID-19?

See this FAQ by UW on what you should do if you get sick. You should also check out the Remote Access options listed above!

If you believe you have been exposed to COVID-19, follow the recommendations outlined in this flowchart by EH&S.

What if Jen or a TA gets sick?

The course staff is committed to keeping you safe, so we will not make you risk a potential exposure to COVID to attend class. If one of the course staff feels ill, we will move any in-person activities we are hosting to be purely online or have someone else on the course staff fill in for us while we are potentially contagious.

Please make sure you check your email frequently for announcements from the discussion board and before you attend an in-person event to make sure it is still happening in-person. We will always try our best to give as advanced notice as possible for any changes from in-person to remote for a day.

Is this class Accessible and Inclusive?

We hope so! The class is a shared learning environment and it is important to us to make it a welcoming environment for everyone, from all backgrounds. We strive to treat everyone in the class with respect and understanding.

How does this class support Accessibility?

We know that students in this class may need materials to be accessible by screen reader, or may need extra time on exams. We have structured the class to be as accessible as possible to all students by default.

If you have a temporary health condition or permanent disability (either mental health, learning, or physical health related) that impacts your academic experience, please let us know how we can accommodate you.

You are NOT obligated to disclose any of these issues with the instructor, only specify if there’s any accommodations required. For more on accessibility in this class and how we accommodate you (and each other), please see our Accessibility Policy

What about health and wellness beyond accessibility accommodations?

It is very important to us that you take care of your mental health throughout the course. We have built flexibility into course assessments with the goal of reducing stress. However we know that sometimes that is not enough. Everyone on the course staff is available to chat, and you can always attend office hours for a non-academic conversation if necessary. Beyond the course staff, the University of Washington provides the following resources for mental health concerns. Your anonymity and privacy are protected.

How do you accommodate religious holidays?

You may observe religious holidays that overlap class times. We ask that you complete the class attendance requirements for remote students in this case. If you have additional concerns that this policy does not meet, please contact the instructors. In addition, here is some potentially helpful information about UW policy: Religious Accommodations Policy. Accommodation can be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form on UW’s site.

What should I do if something happens that makes me feel unsafe or excluded?

If you have been subject to sexual harassment, you feel you have been discriminated against, our you have been made to feel uncomfortable in any way, please tell us. You might choose to speak with your instructor, teaching assistant, the chair of the department, depending on the circumstances.

Should you feel uncomfortable bringing up an issue with a staff member directly, , there are a number of Community Feedback Mechanisms and Resources including the Anonymous Feedback form, but understand we can not respond to you directly if you use the latter. Responses, if possible, will be broadcast to the class as a whole or systematic changes to the class when necessary.

You can also file a complaint with the UW Ombudsman’s Office for Sexual Harassment. Their office is located at 339 HUB, (206)543-6028. There is a second office, the University Complaint Investigation and Resolution Office, who also investigate complaints. The UCIRO is located at 22 Gerberding Hall.

If something about the course materials makes you feel excluded, please let us know. We also review them ourselves with inclusion in mind each time we prepare to teach.

We have tried to make the course inclusive of people who have work, childcare or appointments that have to be prioritized at specific times. However if we can do something to improve this further, or you have needs we haven’t thought of, please tell us.

Expectations and Grading

While grading is a necessary part of what we do at UW, I want to focus this class on learning; and to ensure that my approach to assessment is inclusive and focuses on a justice based approach. There has been a lot of innovation in assessment in recent years, driven partly by COVID-19. We have tried to learn from this in our grading.

There will not be quizzes, or a midterm or final exam. Instead, your knowledge will be assessed Competency based grading in alignment with the disability justice focus in this course. A portion of your grade will also be based on participation and effort.

What is “Competency Based Grading”?

Competency based grading separates out how you learn a skill from whether you know it. Many of these competencies are assessed repeatedly. I don’t care if you get them wrong at first, as long as you eventually learn them. If you learn them all, and participate fully in the class, you will get an A.

In the image below, you can see how traditional grading assigns a score for each assignment and adds them together. If you score badly on your first assignment, that negatively affects your grade, even if you demonstrate that you’ve learned everything you needed to know in it during later assignments. In contrast competency-based grading is structured around learning goals. All of the different things you do that demonstrate progress on those learning goals are grouped together to help assign a score on that learning goal.

Explanation of competency-based grading. In a competency system teaching learning and grading are centered around learning outcomes. This changes how we plan assess and grade. It shifts us toward learning and away from completion/compliance. From the NYC Department of Education Competency Collaborative

Nice philosophy and all… what does that mean for me?

The competencies needed for this course are listed on the assignments page, and can all be found in canvas as well.

Each time you turn in an assignment, you tell us which competencies we should assess. We may also decide to assess competencies such as whether a document is accessible, with accessible image descriptions. If an assignment is not accessible we will not assess any competencies in it. Once you achieve competency, we expect you to maintain it – for example, repeatedly turning in inaccessible images after achieving competency in image descriptions will lower your score.

When you we assess a competency, we rate your skill as “no evidence” “below competent” “basic knowledge” or “excellent”. Various combinations of “basic” “excellent” and “below competent” result in various final grades in the class, with all excellents being a 4.0 and the grade going down based on the number of competents versus excellents. However, if even 1 skill is below competence, the highest possible grade in the class is a 3.2.

You can view your progress on each competency in Canvas (Excellent is called “Mastery” there). Click on the competency to see details on whether you are “competent” or “excellent”.

What else will I be graded on?

85%: Competencies

Competencies are 85% of your grade in the class. See the previous question for details on how a grade is calculated from your competencies.

Your scores on these competencies determine your grade as follows:

Base grade: Number of Competents/2.5 + Number of Excellents/2 Final grade: Base grade - (Number of Non-Competents/2)

15%: Assignment Completion, Participation and Effort

Your effort grade will reflect your participation in the class across multiple dimensions such as whether you answerd reading questions; participated in discussions and exercises in class (self reported); and to what degree you completed all assignments.

If you participate remotely, or miss a class, you may be asked to engage in additional work before, after, or during lecture to ensure that you have the most similar experience possible to students who are in person.

Does the class have a regrading policy?

Reflecting on feedback is one of the most valuable ways you can learn from your mistakes, and we encourage you to do so. It is also possible for the graders to make mistakes. If that happens we certainly would like to correct the error.

However, please note the following:

If you have a question about a grade you received or if you feel the grade you received is incorrect, please email an instructor for an appointment to discuss the assignment and your grade in detail.