From a Grassroots Effort to University Policy: How Northwestern Changed Its Approach to Digital Accessibility

Presented at 8:00am in Plaza Court 1 on Wednesday, November 17, 2021.



  • Jim Stachowiak, Accessible Technology Strategy and Operations Lead, Northwestern University

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: All Levels
  • Type of session: General Conference


This presentation follows Northwestern’s transition from a digital accessibility grassroots effort to a systematic approach. It will highlight a committee’s success in establishing and implementing a digital accessibility liaison network, an accessible purchasing process, and a university digital accessibility policy on limited available resources.


Northwestern University has historically taken a grassroots approach to digital accessibility, resulting in uneven application across campus. Recently, the Digital Accessibility Steering Committee (DASC) was formed and took it upon itself to raise digital accessibility’s profile on campus. Using available resources, the DASC was able to transform Northwestern’s approach to a more coordinated effort with administration. This presentation will discuss how the DASC developed and implemented a digital accessibility support network (the digital accessibility liaisons) and processes (the accessible purchasing process) with the expertise on campus to set the foundation for a systematic approach to digital accessibility. With supports in place, the DASC developed a policy, endorsed and approved by the administration, solidifying these efforts as the university’s official approach to digital accessibility. The project’s success in driving change is a model for others with limited resources.


  1. Digital accessibility is everyone’s responsibility, but works best with a coordinated effort.
  2. The pandemic highlighted digital accessibility deficiencies and offered an opportunity to rethink our approach
  3. Using campus accessibility champions to develop a support system first made an official policy possible.

Disability Areas

All Areas

Topic Areas

Legal, Procurement, Uncategorized, Web/Media Access

Speaker Bio(s)

Jim Stachowiak

As Director of Assistive Technology and Assistant Director of AccessibleNU, Jim assists students with determining, using, and troubleshooting assistive technology (AT) solutions for reading, writing, computer access, note taking, organization, and other academic needs. He enjoys keeping up to date on the latest AT tools and figuring out how to best implement them in education settings. Jim has also played a key role in Northwestern's digital accessibility initiative, developing the digital accessibility liaisons program and helping develop Northwestern's digital accessibility policy. Prior to Northwestern, Jim was the Associate Director of the Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research (ICATER) at the University of Iowa where he taught classes on AT and worked to prepare teacher education students to work with AT in their classrooms.

Jim holds a Bachelor's of Science in Engineering degree in Industrial and Operations Engineering and a Master's of Science in Engineering degree in Biomedical Engineering, both from the University of Michigan. He is also a RESNA certified Assistive Technology Professional (ATP).