By Cheyenne Matthews-Hoffman. Last month, the Information Technology Services (ITS) team at UC Santa Cruz created a Digital Accessibility Awareness web page. Accessible Technology Intern Rujuta Swadi, led this project, among many of her accomplishments since joining last summer. Swadi is a second-year Computer Science major at UC Santa Cruz and is working to ensure that UC Santa Cruz provides accessible experiences for all. In this interview, I spoke with Swadi about her work in ITS and why accessibility is critical to her. I hope you enjoy our discussion as much as I did. If you have questions or just want to connect as a fellow member of the UC tech community, please feel free to reach out to either of us via email – email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org – or via the UC Tech Slack channel.
Q: What attracted you to ITS and digital accessibility?
Allowing all people dignity
“Since high school, I have worked with an organization called the Special Needs Aquatic Program, which helps kids with disabilities use water for movement and gain autonomy. This experience has taught me that accessible spaces provide people the opportunity they need to advocate for themselves and to be independent of others.
I also learned about Project Euphonia, a research project by Google that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) for non-standard speech recognition. I have done some past projects with AI and I think tools like Project Euphonia could allow people with disabilities to live more independently. It’s already made a big impact, and I’m hoping to get involved with the project and dive further into the AI and machine learning field in the future.
Another factor has been my work in front-end development, where I have been designing website. In this role, I have been working on making websites accessible. Specifically, this means that I work to ensure that people with a range of diverse needs are able to find information on their own without needing someone else to step in and help navigate the website for them. I like that these efforts give people personal autonomy.”
Q: What is it like working in ITS at UC Santa Cruz?
Connecting with different people in ITS and helping work toward some of personal goals
“I’ve been working in the Experience Strategy & Design team within ITS since August, 2022. I get to work with a lot of different departments outside of ITS, including the Disability Resource Center. Given the nature of the position, there is a lot of overlap between these two departments. Working with Jim Phillips, Digital Access and Equity Program Lead (Experience, Strategy and Design group in ITS) at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has been really great! I think our work styles are very similar and he definitely gives a lot of opportunities for me to explore things on my own. He’s there to guide me when I have any questions, but I’m able to be more independent, with him there as a supporting role. I have the chance to learn more about the work ITS does and go to staff meetings, even if they’re not directly related to my internship. He’s really good about connecting me with different people in ITS and helping me work toward some of my personal goals.”
Q: The purpose of the new digital accessibility awareness web pages
Evening the playing field
“This is a space where people can gain exposure to terms around digital accessibility and become aware of the role they may play. We’re hoping this can be a one-stop-shop with all the resources people might need on digital accessibility.
I believe tools like these will help even the playing field.. It will also give people a chance to reflect on their own experiences and moments where they may not have realized something was a digital accessibility barrier. It’ll also talk about why digital accessibility matters.
One of the biggest things I have learned through the course of this internship is that accommodations are in response to inaccessible spaces. I want to spread the message that no matter who you are, digital accessibility is an issue that needs your attention. It’s especially important on websites because it helps you gain a larger audience since you’re not excluding people who use screen readers or other assistive technologies. And regardless of whether you have a disability or not, that kind of cohesive website experience is simpler for everyone to use.”
Q: Why Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) relevant?
A reminder to continue the work we are doing
“UC Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is a UC-wide effort. This is part of a global effort, also celebrated on the third Thursday of May each year. At the university, on this day, we discuss what each campus is doing to advance accessibility. We also provide context in terms of what we mean when we talk about accessibility and why it matters. I encourage everyone to join the effort, UC-wide, and to check out what each campus is doing, in addition to the new Digital Accessibility Awareness web page that we launched at UC Santa Cruz
To me, this day is a reminder to continue the work I’m doing and provides a great opportunity to showcase the work happening behind the scenes. This is our chance to share the work that we’re doing with the campus community and any exciting updates we have, while reiterating the campus’s commitment to inclusivity. It makes clear that these are our values.”
About Rujuta Swadi
[Caption: UC Santa Cruz ITS Team]
UC Santa Cruz
[Cover Image Caption/AltText: Rujuta Swadi, Accessible Technology Intern, UC Santa Cruz, UC Tech Community member: “I want to spread the message that no matter who you are, digital accessibility is an issue that needs your attention.”]