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Teaching Accessibility & Universal Design Concepts Through the Use of Public Policy Projects

| Proposal No: 1634

Bios & Handouts


  • Jonathan Lazar, Director, Universal Usability Laboratory, Towson University

Disability Area:            

Topic Area:                

Length of Session (in hours): 1-hrFormat: Lecture Expertise Level: Intermediate Type of session: Not provided

Summary of Session

This presentation focuses on the use of class-wide public policy projects, in which students learn about both the technical and policy details of web accessibility, evaluate web sites that are required to be compliant under the law, and then write up the results, which are forwarded to government and policy makers.


It’s a challenge that many faculty face: how do you structure a research paper assignment in a way that it is interesting to the students, and unlikely to simply be copied from the Internet, while having the assignments actually help students understand concepts in a hands-on way, and perform something useful to society? Over the years, I have changed the assignments in my undergraduate human-computer interaction class from individual research papers on student-chosen topics, to class-wide public policy projects related to accessibility and universal design. In the class, students learn about international guidelines related to web accessibility, how to evaluate web sites for accessibility, and specific details of federal and state laws related to web accessibility. The students then perform a series of accessibility inspections on a group of web sites that, under law, are required to be accessible for people with disabilities, but in reality, often are not accessible. The inspections are done individually, with each web site or web page receiving a minimum of 5 individual accessibility inspections. The students who performed each of these inspections meet together, with the professor leading the discussion, to do a meta-evaluation, discussing their individual results, examining the web page, and coming up with one agreed-upon summary evaluation. The class summarizes the data in a series of spreadsheets, and the write up occurs, with the professor taking the leadership role and students commenting. When the report is complete, it is sent to the appropriate local, state, or federal government officials, and is also submitted for potential publication in a conference or journal. Students get to see that their work can have an impact on society, and in the process, they learn valuable technical skills. This presentation will discuss, step-by-step, how to implement these types of projects in undergraduate or graduate classes.


  1. How to effectively manage the process of running policy-related class projects
  2. How to structure projects for maximum learning

Speaker Bio(s)

Jonathan Lazar

Dr. Jonathan Lazar is a professor of computer and information sciences, director of the undergraduate program in information systems, and founder and director of the Universal Usability Laboratory, all at Towson University. His research focuses on understanding how people with disabilities interact with technologies, how improved interface design can change the quality of life, and how human-computer interaction and public policy influence each other. During the 2012-2013 academic year, Dr. Lazar was the Shutzer Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, researching the relationship between web-based interfaces that are inaccessible to people with disabilities, and how those inaccessible interfaces lead to forms of discrimination that are illegal under US law. Lazar has published more than 120 refereed articles in journals, books, and conference proceedings. He has also authored three books and edited three, including Research Methods in Human-Computer Interaction (Wiley, 2010), Universal Usability: Designing Computer Interfaces for Diverse User Populations (Wiley, 2007), and Web Usability: A User-Centered Design Approach (Addison Wesley, 2006). He was awarded a 2011 University System of Maryland Board of Regents Faculty Award for Public Service, a 2010 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind for working towards achieving the full integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality, and a 2009 Innovator of the Year Award from the Maryland Daily Record for his work on improving the accessibility of web-based security features. He currently serves as chair of public policy for ACM SIGCHI (the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction).