Paula Conn


Accessible technologies improve the usability for all users, including 1 billion people in the world who have a disability. Although there is a demand for accessible technologies, there is currently no requirement for universities to integrate this content within the computing curriculum. A systematic comparison of teaching efficacy is important to effectively prepare future computing professionals with the skills to create accessible technologies.

This dissertation contains a mixed-methods cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis of undergraduate Software Engineering and Information Technology students’ learning of accessibility. Four teaching conditions were assessed at Rochester Institute of Technology: content lectures, projects, exposure to stakeholders with a disability, and collaboration with a team member who had a disability. Evidence of student learning was obtained through questionnaires, project reports, and interview data. Student learning was quantified by a knowledge of programming techniques, awareness of accessible technologies, and attitudes towards individuals with a disability.

The cross-sectional analysis spanned three years (spring 2016-2019), fourteen courses, and seven distinct professors. We found that students in all conditions gained an increased knowledge of implementation methods. Students who were exposed to a stakeholder with a disability obtained significantly higher scores in their prosocial sympathetic attitudes, awareness of accessible technologies, and knowledge of programming techniques following the course. Students in the other conditions obtained significant changes in only a subset of these measures.

While students in all conditions obtained significantly higher knowledge scores in the short term, only students who had a project or a team member with a disability sustained significantly higher knowledge scores two years after exposure. In interviews, senior-level students revealed that there were multiple factors outside the classroom that dissuaded them from furthering their learning of accessibility. Students mentioned a lack of person-centered topics in major software development processes (e.g., agile, waterfall) and workplace tasks. Without direct reinforcement, students focused on functional software requirements and expressed that accessibility would only be necessary in select front-end development career paths or domains.

While current work in computer accessibility education evaluates learning during, or immediately following, one course, this dissertation provides a systematic comparison of student learning throughout multiple courses and instructors. The findings within this dissertation may be used to inform future curriculum plans and educational initiatives.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Assistive computer technology--Design--Study and teaching--Evaluation; Accessible Web sites for people with disabilities--Design--Study and teaching--Evaluation

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Computing and Information Sciences (Ph.D.)

Department, Program, or Center

Computer Science (GCCIS)


Vicki Hanson

Advisor/Committee Member

Matt Huenerfauth

Advisor/Committee Member

Stephanie Ludi


RIT – Main Campus

Plan Codes