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26 May 2021

An Interview with Brianna Blaser, #Tapia2021 Accessibility Chair

Brianna Blaser Photo

Brianna Blaser is the Chair of the 2021 Tapia Conference’s Accessibility Committee and Project Manager for AccessComputing at University of Washington.  We caught up with Brianna to talk about what is new this year and what her hopes are for Computer Science in the coming years.

What new projects are you working on for this year?

I have a new project I’m working on called AccessADVANCE. The NSF ADVANCE program works to get more women into faculty roles in Science and Engineering. Our grant is focused on strategies for increasing the participation of women with disabilities in STEM faculty careers.  We’ll be thinking about recruitment, retention, tenure and promotion.  Faculty careers are different from many other jobs and issues related to accessibility change between grad school and becoming a faculty member. I’m looking forward to this work. Cecilia Aragon, who is the Ken Kennedy Distinguished Lecturer at Tapia this year is a co-PI on that project.    

We have also been thinking a lot about conference accessibility. I presented with my colleague Terrill Thompson and Lucy Greco from UC Berkeley about Accessibility of Online Conferences at the 2021 CSUN conference. https://www.csun.edu/cod/conference/sessions/. Terrill also wrote an article about conference accessibility for our AccessComputing newsletter – https://www.washington.edu/accesscomputing/resources/accesscomputing-news-december-2020/accessibility-and-online-conferences.  A lot of online meeting software isn’t accessible, but we’ve seen it get better over the last year.  Hopefully it continues to improve.  

How have you been dealing with connecting with students virtually?

Everyone is balancing a lot on their plates right now. Many folks can’t do the same number of things as they did before.  We ran a three-day student workshop and the number of students that didn’t fully participate was high, many assumed they would come back and watch the videos later.  Many students are balancing their school schedules and jobs and life’s necessities and are feeling overwhelmed. We are working with students and our partners to find what is an appropriate amount of participation to ask for.  In our community we have found that for many students with disabilities they have had more freedom because they do not have to deal with commuting and personal care issues.  They have been able to stay home where everything is accessible.

What did you learn last year doing the Tapia Virtual Conference?

A lot of accessibility strategies can benefit a larger audience.  Looking through feedback from the conference, there were a lot of positive statements about the captions.  Now that automatic captioning has improved, a great universal design strategy is to use automatic captions during all meetings and sessions.  From an accessibility standpoint, a live captioner is still considered the gold standard for providing access to people that need captions, but we can look at ways to use automatic captioning to benefit a wider audience.

What do you hope the next 20 years of Diversity in Computing brings?

How do we make the next 20 years count?  How do we stop having the same conversations? I first started digging into issues related to diversity in STEM when I was in college in the late 1990’s. On my more cynical days, I am frustrated that things haven’t changed more.  Of course, the conversations are becoming more nuanced – how do we keep pushing this agenda forward?  I know one way that I’m working to do that is to make sure that disability is meaningful included in conversations related to broadening participation in computing.