2018 Study Away Silicon Valley Recap

By , on June 29, 2018 pm30 2:18pm

Hear from students, faculty, and industry members about their experience participating in the inaugural Study Away program in Silicon Valley in May 2018 (transcript available here):

From May 28 through June 1, 2018, the Teach Access Silicon Valley Study Away program brought together 26 students, seven university faculty members, and several industry partners to explore the field of accessible technology design and development in Silicon Valley. The students and faculty hailed from the following schools: California State University Northridge, Michigan State University, Olin College of Engineering, and the University of Colorado. Industry partners from Adobe, Facebook, Google, Intuit, Microsoft, and Oath presented at and attended sessions throughout the week.

A group of students poses in front of a building on the Stanford campus
Study Away students on the Stanford campus

Each day, students visited a different industry partner to gain an understanding of the work being done in each location, with the opportunity to engage in substantive conversations to advance their own knowledge while also sharing their own insights with industry. Throughout the week, small cross-institutional teams of students worked together to solve an accessibility challenge, receiving feedback from industry partners each day. On the final day of the program, student teams presented their work to all participants. The students returned home better equipped to be builders, advocates and champions for accessibility.

In addition to learning about accessibility, other goals of this experiential learning program included:

  • Building and expanding student professional networks
  • Learning about career paths in accessibility
  • Visiting workspaces and labs and understanding work processes in the tech industry
  • Gaining an understanding of Silicon Valley culture and drivers of success

The following is a recap of how participating students spent their week:

Day 1: Stanford University (Memorial Day, May 28)

Students sitting around tables with computers, talking to each other.
Students participating in icebreaker activities on Day 1

On the first day, the group met at Stanford University for a full day of presentations by industry experts. Introductions led to an overview of expectations for the week, and ice-breaking activities. Then the Teach Access team dove into an Introduction to Accessibility presentation as well as an Intro to Web Accessibility and Mobile Accessibility presentations, including a presentation from Microsoft about their accessibility activities. A second ice-breaker focused on the students’ resumes, and the day ended with an explanation of group projects and student brainstorming in their project teams which would continue throughout the week.

Day 2: Google (Tuesday, May 29)

Students sitting at tables blindfolded and tasting olive oil
Students doing a blindfolded olive oil tasting at Google

The group visited Google headquarters in Mountain View. Google started with an Overview of Google Accessibility, followed by a presentation about Accessible Design and User Research, and then a deeper dive into Web Accessibility. The group broke for lunch at Google’s main cafe, Charlie’s. The afternoon kicked off with a product roadshow, where members of various product teams (such as Android, Chrome OS, G Suite, YouTube, and Liftware) gave 20-minute talks on the core work of their teams with demos. Google invited “sensory literacy” expert, Dr. Hoby Wedler, to lead an engaging session on sensory design with a blindfolded tasting of olive oils and vinegars that helped us all think creatively about sensory experiences. We finished with a trip to the Google store, a visit to the Android dessert statues for photos, and a fun dinner outside on campus.

Day 3: Oath (Wednesday, May 30)

Four students sitting in chairs on a TV set in front of a TV camera
Students testing out Oath’s live captioning service

The students arrived on the Oath campus on a beautiful, cool morning in Sunnyvale. They were treated to an overview of Accessibility at Oath from a panel of Oath team members who shared about their paths to accessibility-focused careers. The students then toured Oath’s TV Studio and Control Room, and interviewed each other while their words were real-time captioned. Oath’s newly renovated Accessibility Lab had opened only days before, and the students were some of the first visitors to the space where they had hands-on opportunities to experience assistive technologies such as mobile screen readers VoiceOver and TalkBack, a head mouse, and a refreshable Braille display. The group then had lunch at Oath’s cafeteria, URL’s, and spent the afternoon engaged in presentations about Product Evaluation (with two software engineers) and Media Accessibility at Oath. More project work time followed and finally the day ended with a dinner reception in the Oath Accessibility Lab and tours of the User Experience Research Labs. Teach Access member-friends from Intuit, Apple, Walmart, and Dropbox joined the evening reception.

Day 4: Adobe with Microsoft and Intuit (Thursday, May 31)

Students sitting around a table with laptops
Students working on their group projects at Adobe

We started the day by giving students time to work on their group projects and then kicked off the morning with Microsoft giving a presentation and demo of Microsoft Seeing AI. We then had a working lunch while Intuit conducted a hands-on workshop on learning from the customer to build innovative products. Amy Chen gave a brief overview of Accessibility at Adobe and then passed off to Rob Haverty, Product Manager for Document Cloud Accessibility at Adobe, on video conference for a presentation on creating an accessible PDF from Word. Afterwards, we attended the Bay Area Accessibility Dinners event hosted by Intuit in the Adobe Layers Cafe where the Teach Access Study Away group got to meet members of the Bay Area accessibility community from companies such as eBay, PayPal, and Walmart.

Day 5: Facebook (Friday, June 1)

Students presenting to an audience with their slides projected behind them
One of the student groups presents their project at Facebook

For the final day, the group visited Facebook HQ in Menlo Park. The morning consisted of a tour of Facebook’s campus and culture, followed by a brief presentation on Facebook’s approach to accessibility and a career panel with members of the Facebook Accessibility team. After breaking for lunch, students then presented their final projects in the afternoon to faculty and industry representatives for feedback. The students did an amazing job with their presentations and came up with some fantastic ways to drive accessibility both through product design and culture changes. We then opened up the floor for students to give us feedback on how the week went and what improvements they would recommend – we have a lot of great suggestions to implement for future iterations of Study Away!

Group Project Recap

The group project aimed to challenge the students to increase awareness of the importance of accessibility and the ways in which accessibility is being addressed (or not addressed) by the technology industry and participating universities. Beyond these general goals, we wanted the project to provide students with an opportunity to develop an actionable plan for how they could play a role in improving access, either digital or physical, to people with disabilities. The project time also provided an opportunity for students to build their professional networks and interact with students from various universities.

We presented the students with the overall project goals and some suggested topics on which to focus, ranging from the development of specific accessible technologies to the creation of proposals for generating large scale societal systems in support of accessibility. From there, the students chose their project focus areas and spent the week brainstorming together with their group and presented their final work on Friday afternoon at Facebook.

The students did a fantastic job, especially considering that they had a relatively short amount of time to work on their projects. One group focused on ways they could envision integrating accessibility into their campus clubs to be more inclusive. Another focused on tactics for building empathy for users with disabilities and made some highly intelligent observations about the differences between empathy, sympathy, and pity in this realm. Two groups built prototypes of games to help teach kids about inclusion and accessibility. Overall, the industry members were really impressed by the students’ level of dedication, creativity, and professionalism they showed in their projects and presentations.

Key Takeaways

Overall, the pilot program was a huge success. The students showed true excitement and excellent engagement throughout the entire week and expressed how they wished the program was longer than one week! This was also a great learning experience for us at Teach Access, as we are coming out of the program armed with a ton of information about what worked well, and what could be improved for future years. One thing we did learn is that college students love free swag and visiting the company store/gift shop on each campus!

We can’t wait to start planning for the next Study Away!