Building with Accessibility in Mind at Codeland 2019: a Seidenberg student’s story

Codeland header image for the July 22, 2019 conference. In the top right corner, an image of Luisa Morales is integrated into the header.

Luisa Morales, a Computer Science graduate student, has a lengthy list of achievements from her academic career at the Seidenberg School of CSIS. The former Seidenberg student assistant, undergraduate economics student, and Engineering Fellow at the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity curated a resume full of achievements that any student would be proud of.  This summer Luisa went above and beyond—she hosted a workshop at Codeland 2019 titled, Building with Accessibility in Mind.

Codeland, a conference created for new and growing developers, was held in New York City on July 22. Luisa joined a fantastic lineup of workshop mentors and speakers including Avi Flombaum, Co-founder and CIO of Flatiron School, and Jasmine Greenaway, Cloud Advocate at Microsoft. 

Luisa’s workshop called attendees to “come demystify web accessibility with me and get into the nitty-gritty of what it is, how you can test for accessibility on your own, and common best practices. We’ll build an accessible website in the process that you can boast about on GitHub. You’ll also gain practical experience you can utilize to make your current, and future, projects more accessible.”

She explains that her workshop took a very collaborative and hands-on approach with attendees working on demo sites. Everyone in attendance worked in pairs to learn a variety of skills: how to use a screen-reader and keyboard to test website accessibility as well as integrating common practices for improving the accessibility of their projects. 

Asked about specific techniques she teaches her students, Luisa says “this includes things like using semantic HTML, color contrast, font sizes, and ARIA, amongst other things.”

It’s a fair assessment to say that those who learned from Luisa’s workshop earned some crucial and exciting skills to utilize in the future. But where did the idea for the workshop come from?

“The inspiration behind the workshop is my belief in the importance of making the things we produce as developers accessible to as many people as possible and demystifying the idea that it’s too difficult to do or unnecessary,” she explains. “By making a website accessible, you make it better for everyone and increase your potential market share, so I’m not sure why some people think it’s not important. At the Mayor’s Office, it’s ingrained into the development process and a lot of what I’ve learned there is influencing this workshop. I hope that attendees [came] away feeling more comfortable building with accessibility in mind and that it informs their choices as developers, designers, [and] product managers going forward.”

Luisa would like to encourage students—whether they attended her workshop or not—to attend Codeland in the future. She explains that it’s a “very inclusive environment and it’s a great opportunity to meet other people on a similar career path and potentially even your future coworkers!”

Codeland offered an opportunity for Luisa to teach others what she’s passionate about. She had the chance to improve the skills of those in attendance and explains just what that felt like for her.

“I’m proud of how curious and empathetic the workshop attendees were. Building accessible experiences, and especially testing your work with a screen reader, can be overwhelming,” Luisa explained. “Everyone in the workshop was excited to learn how to improve the experiences they created for users online. They were also keen to experience the web as visually impaired users do” by using screen-readers or only keyboards.

While she is proud of her students, Luisa took the time to acknowledge the pride she takes in her own role at Codeland.

“I’m also really proud of myself for putting together the workshop and presenting it at the conference,” she states. “It was very scary to do, but definitely worth the effort and jitters. Would do it again!”

We’re very proud of Luisa here at Seidenberg as well. Students like her who go out of their way to assist other developers to improve their skills are fantastic examples of our community. 

To make things even better, Luisa made sure that her workshop is available online for free! Anyone can access the workshop on GitHub and go through it themselves. She also makes herself available on Twitter for anyone who has questions about her workshop or web accessibility.

Curious about web accessibility? Luisa included some helpful resources for students to check out to learn more. Take a look:

  1. “YES, your site can (and should) be accessible too. Lessons learned in building FT.com” – by Laura Carvajal (https://vimeo.com/215169705)
  2. Tech Done Right Podcast Ep: “Accessibility With Luisa Morales” (https://www.techdoneright.io/49)
  3. Web Fundamentals: Accessibility by Google (https://developers.google.com/web/fundamentals/accessibility)
  4. What & Why Of Usability by usability.gov (https://www.usability.gov/what-and-why/index.html)

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Author: Brianna Adkins

Brianna Adkins is a sophomore Communication Studies major at Pace University. She's currently a Content Writer for the Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems and the Editor-in-chief of Pretty Smart magazine. Her passion is writing and highlighting people who have stories that need to be heard.

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