Maryland Initiative for Digital Accessibility (MIDA) Launches

MIDA Aims to Change Technology Design to Include Disability Communities as Equal Partners, Proactively Building in Accessibility
Maryland Initiative for Digital Accessibility logo

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), including in the College of Education, 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.

Led by UMD's College of Information Sciences, 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,” said 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 in the College of Information Studies, serves as executive director of MIDA, and associate directors include Gulnoza Yakubova (associate professor in the College of Education), Paul Jaeger (professor in the College of Information Studies), Galina Reitz (senior lecturer in the College of Information Studies), Ana Palla (senior IT accessibility and UX specialist in the Division of Information Technology and the School of Public Health), and J. Bern Jordan (assistant research scientist in the College of Information Studies).

“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,” said 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.

“We are aiming to use the expertise of colleagues across the university, along with the disability rights advocacy community, to address the problem from all aspects, instead of each of us working in silos,” said Yakubova. “By taking a multidisciplinary approach, we hope to tackle this problem in a more efficient and effective way.”

A version of this article first appeared on the College of Information Studies website.