Campus announces 2021 Accessibility Champions

Poster for Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Helping students learn more effectively is at the heart of what we do in higher education. And when it comes to supporting people with accessibility needs, it comes from the heart too. 

There are some key groups involved in supporting students with disabilities so they can succeed: 

  • UCSC provides expert support to faculty through our Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning (CITL), emphasizing the importance of inclusive pedagogy and  universal design for instruction.
  • Online Education ensures that online, hybrid, and technology-enhanced courses are designed for accessibility, ease of use, and equity. 
  • ITS supports students and faculty directly through hardware and software in our classrooms, the libraries, and our campus computer labs. 
  • And, of course, the Disability Resource Center (DRC) is the main stop for students with disabilities seeking accommodations related to instruction. 

There are also many others on campus who support students with disabilities day-in and day-out. And none of this would be possible without the support and funding of campus leadership. 

But perhaps the most important role of all can be found in the talented individual faculty members who work with students in their courses.

For many years now the Committee on Teaching has honored faculty who excel in instruction. Academic divisions have also honored teaching excellence, such as the Social Sciences Division’s Golden Apple award. And the Chancellor’s office has an annual event to present diversity awards that often include contributions by UCSC faculty and staff in the support of accessibility. But there has not yet been an award given to specifically recognize the efforts of faculty. That is, not until now.

The Accessibility Champions award program was launched in 2021 to acknowledge faculty who go the extra mile to create inclusive and welcoming learning environments. The award is sponsored by the Disability Resource Center (DRC) in conjunction with the Accessible Technology Committee (ATC) and staff from the PBSci Testing office. Its timing coincides with Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), which is May 20.

The Selection Process

The Accessibility Champion award was designed to be an acknowledgement from students. Students responded to questions about inclusive features of a course they have taken. They noted why they nominated an instructor, including what strategies the instructor employed to make the class more welcoming and accessible. In all, there were 90 nominations received from students, and 82 faculty were mentioned as having made a significant difference in the students’ academic experience. Nine faculty awardees were ultimately selected to receive an award based on the number of nominations received and the insights shared in the student responses. 

Here are some notable student testimonials from the survey results:

Regarding Professor Steven Ritz: “He uses student-centered language and made time to meet us all in small groups to talk about how we felt going into the class. He talked about Imposter Syndrome and told us "You Belong Here!”

Regarding Professor Caitlin Binder: “She not only provides PDFs of the labs ahead of time but also created audio podcasts so that we could listen along. I found these to be extremely helpful for staying focused. Her organization and color coding has immensely helped me with my visual processing disorder, which has become a serious issue with screen learning.”

Regarding Professor Andrea Steiner: “She made me feel welcomed and made sure that we met at the beginning of the quarter to talk about my accommodations!

Regarding Professor Robin Dunkin: “Exams and tests are very low stakes and don't have time limits. Moreover, there is a 24 hour grace period for all assignments. Overall, the class has really helped me ease my anxiety and stress.”

And finally, regarding Professor Kristina Chew: “She has gone above and beyond to make me feel comfortable and ensure I receive all of my DRC accommodation.”

The 2021 Awardees

  • Delbert Bailey (Computer Science and Engineering)
  • Caitlin Binder (Chemistry & Biochemistry)  
  • Caileen Brison (Chemistry and Biochemistry)
  • Kristina Chew (Literature)
  • Robin Dunkin (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology)
  • Tracy Larrabee (Computer Science and Engineering)
  • Megan McNamara (Sociology)
  • Steven Ritz (Physics)
  • Andrea Steiner (Community Studies Program)

Upon learning that they received an Accessibility Champion award, several of the awardees shared their surprise and appreciation. 

Professor Binder: “I am beyond grateful for this award and for my students who have shared their experiences with me so that I can be as accommodating as possible.” 

Professor Brison: “I'm thrilled that students feel they can succeed in my classrooms and I hope I can continue and grow in providing equitable and progressive classrooms.” 

Professor McNamara: “It's about the most meaningful recognition I can imagine getting. Accessibility is something I care personally and deeply about, and I am truly honored to have been able to enhance my students' sense of belonging and support in this way.”

Giving out the first ever Accessibility Champion awards has of course also carried great benefit for the donors—maybe even more than for the awardees. The process of sifting through the survey results and reflecting on all of the efforts being made on our campus is truly gratifying. And in a broader sense, consistently giving these awards over time will carry great benefits for UCSC as an organization: These awards help support staff to reframe how we view the whirlwind of operational support, which tends to be predominated by a focus on (often urgent) problems.

Two of the people who worked on this effort, Rick Gubash, Director of the DRC, and Soma Badri, Accessibility Technology Lead and CUIP intern in ITS, shared a final insight: “The Accessibility Champion awards are so important because they give other faculty insights into what is going on across the campus. And, it does so in a way that tends to promote positive discussions about helping students to succeed.”

With the inaugural year of the Accessibility Champion awards now in the books, we turn our attention to next year and beyond. First and foremost, we need to seek permanent funding for these awards. And, once the pandemic has subsided and we are back to face-to-face interaction, perhaps next year we could arrange an in-person ceremony or luncheon to honor the awardees. 

Still want to learn more? Take this challenge: Who are the accessibility champions in your department? If you recognize one of this year’s awardees, thank them. If you know of someone who is making a difference for accessibility or if you yourself are proud of something you have done, take a moment to share it. Engage in those conversations! 

This is the second in a series of three articles that are focused on digital accessibility in honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). The UC Electronic Accessibility Committee is hosting a systemwide webinar on May 20, 2021 at 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM: Accessibility Is for Everyone: Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2021. Register for the GAAD webinar