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Design an experimental path to accessibility


For Jenny Kowalski, experimental screen design – and, perhaps more importantly, screen accessibility – has long been both a key interest and an important research vein.

So much so that Kowalski was recently received a $ 5,000 grant from Teach Access as part of their 2021-2022 Curriculum Development Award, aimed at taking a further step towards accessibility as a key element in design pedagogy.

Kowalski, an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Graphic and Interactive Design at the Tyler School of Art and Architecture, believes that while experimental design for the screen encompasses many of the major trends in web design and web design. accessibility is just as much about seeing the world – and the Internet – in a new way.

“Experimental design means different ways of visualizing art for screen and illustration,” Kowalski said. “Tools that react to our inputs or change size; just seeing how we can work with technology in new ways.

Despite having a background in print design, Kowalski found herself drawn to the screen as the internet exploded and the global online presence flourished. The more she delved into graphic design, the more she understood the need for accessibility and the need to make websites, games, and other important technological tools usable by almost anyone.

“With design there is always something new, there is always a new skill, a new program, it is impossible to stay put,” she said.

Learning that she had won one of the scholarships was a victory for Kowalski, although it came with clear expectations not only from Access to education, but also of herself and for the program of her class, Intermediate infographic, a requirement for all Tyler’s juniors graphic and interactive design program.

“When we talk about user experience, we ask ourselves ‘How should everyone interact with this?’ and “What are everyone’s needs to interact with everything we build?” “And then when we talk about the web there’s a lot of stuff about the basic structure of a website like making sure you label things correctly and make sure any image has an alt tag,” Kowalski explained. “We really think about it from the ground up and understand why these things are important.”

Kowalski believes that accessibility goes hand in hand with creativity. (Photo by Ryan S. Brandenberg)

By placing more emphasis on accessibility in design, Kowalski hopes that students who graduate Intermediate infographic will be ready to “go out there and not only work with the changing world, but to build and shape the changing world”.

As Kowalski noted, this last year of the pandemic is a perfect example of a time when we were all forced to think harder, not only about work or distance learning, but also easy access. to information for all those who need it. In short, not only to work with the changing world, but to shape it.

“We all need more allowances now and we all recognize it and notice it more,” Kowalski added. “Accessibility goes very well with that. “

Using the captions as an example of accessible design, Kowalski noted that it’s not just the hard of hearing who could benefit from such accessibility – it’s really for anyone with a child or sibling or an obligation that might be a distraction during periods of high concentration.

From there, it’s about marrying the principles of experimental design with the growing need for accessibility. In fact, Kowalski was already looking for options to increase the accessibility of her classes when she discovered the Teach Access grant.

“[Accessibility] is something that really excites me – making it so that we can all experience screen-based tools and really, the world, equally, ”she explained.

Ultimately, Kowalski hopes the $ 5,000 grant will go to just that particular effort: using experimental design to deliver new forms of accessibility in an increasingly global, online world. This effort will start in his classroom, but Kowalski hopes he will continue to expand from there.

“I like to think of accessibility the same as an architect, so it doesn’t limit your creativity in terms of experimentation or beauty,” she said. “A ramp to access the building does not mean that an architect cannot do something beautiful and, in the same way, ensuring that our online experiences are accessible does not prevent us from doing something beautiful, innovative or experimental. “

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