News Release: Maryland Initiative for Digital Accessibility (MIDA) Launches
Led by the UMD INFO College, MIDA aims to change technology design to include disability communities as equal partners, proactively building in accessibility.
COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND – The new Maryland Initiative for Digital Accessibility (MIDA) combines the expertise and passion of researchers, designers, developers and educators from multiple disciplines at the University of Maryland (UMD) with a united goal of making digital technologies accessible for all.
The world of digital technologies and content (including software apps, websites, and digital documents) is often designed without considering the needs of people with disabilities. That means that over 20% of people can be excluded from education, employment, and healthcare due to inaccessible digital technologies and content. Remediating existing accessibility issues can be a time-consuming and expensive process that still fails to include the disability community and often leads to delays in getting access.
MIDA aims to change technology design research and practice so that it involves disability communities as equal partners from the beginning of the design process, and accessibility is proactively built-in. To achieve this, MIDA will involve organizations that support and represent disability communities, technology researchers and designers, and policymakers.
Currently, MIDA has 12 disability rights groups and four tech companies involved as partners, and the number is expected to grow. These partners include the National Federation of the Blind, the National Association of the Deaf, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Maryland Library for the Blind and Print Disabled, Teach Access, Adobe, Microsoft, Meta, and Vispero.
“Inaccessibility is more often the result of lack of information, failure to consult and collaborate with the disability community, and lack of proactive planning than of intent to discriminate,” says Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind. “We wholeheartedly support initiatives that foster born-accessible technology, and we are therefore proud to collaborate in this landmark effort.”
At UMD, MIDA is a collaboration between 39 faculty and staff members across 7 colleges: the College of Information Studies (INFO), College of Education (EDUC), the School of Public Health (SPH), the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS), the A. James Clark School of Engineering (ENGR), the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU), and the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences (BSOS). In addition, administrative offices such as the Division of Information Technology (DIT), the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, University Libraries, and the University Career Center are involved. Initial funding for MIDA is provided by the UMD Grand Challenges Program.
Jonathan Lazar (professor, INFO) serves as executive director of MIDA, and associate directors include Paul Jaeger (professor, INFO), Gulnoza Yakubova (associate professor, EDUC), Galina Reitz (senior lecturer, INFO), Ana Palla (senior IT accessibility and UX specialist, DIT/SPH), and J. Bern Jordan (assistant research scientist, INFO).
“With digital technology and content often designed to be inaccessible, a reactive remediation process is required that may be unnecessarily expensive, reflects bad design, and fails to recognize the humanity of people with disabilities because there is a delay in access during the time that the technology is being remediated,” says Lazar. “Our goal is to work with campus partners and external partners to influence digital technology design research and practice so that it involves the disability community as an equal partner, accessibility is proactively built-in, and we demonstrate the success of technology projects that are ‘born-accessible.’”
The connections between disability groups and interdisciplinary and cross-sector teams of experts will create more effective, impactful R&D projects on accessibility.
“MIDA will enable and influence long-lasting changes in the area of accessible digital technologies,” says Palla. “MIDA brings together research, education, engagement, advocacy, community, and best practices related to digital accessibility, which will impact our University of Maryland campus, our state, our nation, and the world.”
MIDA will break down silos and create a more integrated ecosystem for digital accessibility solutions. “The perspectives and expertise of so many collaborators and partners will create insights, inventions, and educational initiatives that have not been previously possible,” saysn Jaeger. “MIDA will then be able to share these innovations globally through multiple platforms of engagement and channels of dissemination.”
MIDA’s launch marks a positive shift towards inclusivity and digital equality. “We need our digital tools, devices, and interventions to be accessible to all. This approach showcases the strengths of our college: bringing policy, technology, and information to bear on an important and persistent grand challenge,” says INFO Dean Keith Marzullo.
MIDA aims to empower people with disabilities to have access to technology and ensure no one is left behind. If you’re interested in getting involved as a UMD collaborator or external partner, please reach out to Jonathan Lazar at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please consider making a gift to support the groundbreaking work that will be taking place at MIDA. Your gift will help us to address one of our university’s greatest needs and make technology accessible and more inclusive of and for people with disabilities. Please contact Nancy Murray, email@example.com, for ways to invest in this great opportunity.
For more information on MIDA, check out this presentation from the 2023 Disability Summit.
About the University of Maryland
The University of Maryland, College Park is the state’s flagship university and one of the nation’s preeminent public research universities. A global leader in research, entrepreneurship and innovation, the university is home to more than 40,000 students, 10,000 faculty and staff, and 300 academic programs. As one of the nation’s top producers of Fulbright scholars, its faculty includes two Nobel laureates, six Pulitzer Prize winners and 58 members of the national academies. The institution has a $2.3 billion operating budget and secures more than $1.3 billion annually in research funding together with the University of Maryland, Baltimore. For more information about the University of Maryland, College Park, visit www.umd.edu.