August 22, 2013

The Importance of Accessibility

posted by Swearer Center

Thaya Uthayophas '15 is a Starr Fellow living in Hartford, Connecticut working on iTeachCommunity.

I have four main responsibilities as a Starr Fellow for iTeachCommunity: 1) organize a database that is reachable worldwide for iTeach and its partners, 2) come up with a vision statement and guiding values for iTeach that is resonant to the general public, 3) denote the roles of each members of iTeach, and 4) forge a clear understanding between ITeach and its partner schools through the form of written contracts. In other words, I was tasked with making iTeachCommunity as accessible a program as possible for both our partners and volunteers.

My problem was that I was obsessed with an idea. I wanted to transfer iTeachCommunity out of its base program of Skype into Google. For those of you who do not know, Google has recently installed a “Google Hangout” feature that allows its users to video chat with each other from across the world in a manner similar to how Skype operates. Unlike Skype, however, Google Hangout is fully integrated onto Google’s own platform, which allows the program to have more features than Skype does. I believed these features would benefit iTeach’s operation as a whole (for example, Google Hangout allows for instantaneous access to YouTube videos during the video-chatting lesson—a feature that would surely benefit iTeach’s English learning curriculum.), and vehemently argued for iTeach to change its base platform during one of our board meetings.

Initially, iTeach’s board was convinced of changing the program’s platform to Google. As time went by, however, the board and eventually I learned the hard way that there was one big flaw regarding the change to Google; there was a flaw in accessibility. You see, the name “Skype” conveys a certain meaning that is not quite captured as well by “Google Hangout,” and Google with its complex integrated system looks impossible to use next to Skype. I first addressed the problem of naming by cutting out the name “Google Hangout” entirely and replacing it with “video-chatting technology.” The name problem remained, however, due to the fact that most people do not know exactly what “video-chatting technology” is, especially when “Skype” denotes exactly the same thing. I did not fare any better with my solution to the problem of complexity. I argued that our partners would in time learn to use Google well. The problem, though, was that using Internet technology was already so complex that adding another layer to it would not do our partners any favor. In the end, I had to relent, and iTeach now remains on the platform of Skype for good.

I learned a big lesson on the importance of accessibility through this episode. I realized that all those great features that Google offers iTeach would not matter at all if we cannot get people to be interested in iTeach in the first place. And I wanted people to be interested in iTeach; I saw with my own eyes the enormous impacts an iTeach lesson can have on someone’s life, and I wanted more. Now I am working to make this vision and program as accessible as possible to everyone.

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