Microsoft Partners with UT Austin for Access and Equity Initiative

Oct. 26, 2021

For a blind student in a college course, audiotaped lectures and handouts in Braille are common accommodations.

But receiving course content is only one component of having equitable access to all aspects that a class has to offer.

Has the instructor been prepared to teach students with a disability? What technology tools could improve learning? Does the student feel included in small group interactions? And what about the many students who may not disclose their disability or receive any official accommodations?

Photo of Stephanie Cawthon
Stephanie Cawthon

Improving access and inclusion for students with a disability is the goal of a new $100,000 grant awarded by Microsoft to Stephanie W. Cawthon, professor in the College of Education at The University of Texas, who will lead the Collaborative for Access and Equity: A Microsoft/UTexas Partnership.

UT Austin is one of just seven universities that Microsoft is collaborating with on disability access and inclusion on campus.

Housed at the Texas Center for Equity Promotion, this collaborative effort is designed to increase accessibility at UT Austin through teams of students and faculty members who will work together. During the 2021-2022 pilot year, they will identify accessibility strategies and technology tools, share perspectives about access and inclusion, and build an online learning community with faculty members.

“Accessible learning requires more than just accommodations and course retrofits,” said Cawthon, a deaf faculty member who was recently appointed co-chair of the university’s newly created Disabled Faculty Equity Council, which recognizes that ableism intersects with racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia to impact faculty experiences on campus.

“It is essential that disabled students and faculty are at the heart of this collaborative, as they should be of any accessibility initiative focused on them. It is also critical to leverage technology tools to provide the embedded, just-in-time support that is necessary in every accessible and inclusive classroom,” she said.

The collaborative includes a large, diverse cadre of undergraduate and graduate students from across the university. It is now in the recruitment phase for faculty team members.