June 13, 2018

Two graduates find cornerstone to career in accessibility

Alex Mooc and Brandon Mar stand facing a window

Brandon Mar and Alex Mooc have more than their new undergraduate degrees to give them a leg up in the technology job market. They can point to their substantial experience working in accessibility while students at UW.

Both have spent more than a year and a half working alongside IT accessibility specialists in UW-IT, helping web and software developers fix websites, online products, and software applications to provide equal access to content and services to people of all abilities.

“It’s about equal access,” says Mooc, who received a bachelor’s degree from the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering and who calls himself an accessibility advocate. “Technology can be so powerful,” he says.

Their work supports UW’s policy that all IT should provide the same functionality, experience, and information to individuals with or without disabilities. Washington state has a similar policy.

About 40 million Americans live with a disability, according to the American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. Those with vision or hearing difficulties account for 46 percent of that number. Mobility impairments limit use of a computer mouse or keyboard input, and dyslexia and other disabilities can affect a person’s ability to read.

Last summer Mooc interned at Zoom, a video and audio conferencing and webinar platform, where he worked on addressing accessibility issues in the UX or the user experience of the platform. He ran accessibility sessions and gave demos.

He stresses that functionality that is broadly accessible should be designed into applications from the start.

“We have to get at the root – teach people how to incorporate accessibility from the get-go,” he said, because adding fixes later can be significantly more expensive.

Brandon Mar knows this first-hand as a software developer. He interned at Panopto where he worked on incorporating accessibility into the code and designing new accessible features. Panopto’s new release this month will include the ongoing work that Mar and others at UW have contributed in consultation with the company. With a degree is in sociology, and a minor in informatics, Mar was drawn to accessibility as a form of social justice, seeing that software development can help solve a social problem.

Both credit Hadi Rangin — who is an IT accessibility specialist at the UW’s Accessible Technology Center and who is also blind — for the skills and perspective they gained while students at the UW.

You can only understand how people with disabilities experience technology by including them in the initial design of the technology and also during testing, says Mooc. It’s a practice that both Mooc and Mar intend to follow.

They plan to turn their experience into rewarding careers.