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Accessibility in Higher Education: A Q&A with Cengage Senior. Justin Tumelaire, Accessibility Manager

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), which is held every year on the third Thursday of May, provides an opportunity to discuss digital access and inclusion as well as a commitment to change for more than 1,000,000 people with disabilities and impairments around the world.
Accessibility has been in the spotlight more than ever as the pandemic shut down campuses and forced students to learn online. Students who had relied on support in person suddenly had to learn how to navigate online. Justin Tumelaire, Senior, is a representative of universities and colleges, who were and still are the first to handle student requests. Cengage’s Accessibility Manager. Cengage has worked for many years to make online homework platforms available for learning. This has helped to facilitate the rapid transition to online learning.
We sat down to talk with Justin about the important work he does as part of GAAD.
1. Please describe your role at Cengage.
As a Senior. My current role as Sr. Accessibility Manager is to support a variety of teams, from product to web to marketing, to ensure that our resources meet accessibility requirements and needs. The work we do is complex and dynamic. We must evaluate assessment activities, ensure they are accessible, create accessible marketing flyers, and lead cross-functional working teams to plan and implement enhancements.
Our core Learning Design principle is inclusion. We can’t reach our goals if learning isn’t accessible to all. Therefore, we must design with accessibility in consideration.
2. What motivates and inspires you in your work?
It is not easy to tackle a difficult challenge, especially when it comes accessibility for students who are impacted. Sometimes you need to be creative to find the best solution.
I care about people, and people are a central part of accessibility. All of us are created with dignity. There shouldn’t be any barriers to our opportunities, our knowledge and skills–or the ability to share these gifts to enrich the lives others. Accessibility is about preserving dignity.
3. How do you feel that Cengage’s culture promotes accessibility?
Our Credo guides our work and includes the belief in the power and joy that learning can bring and being accountable to each other. Everyone is committed to making an impact here. Everybody’s day jobs, whether it be web design or software development, are very busy. I often come to them with additional work to ensure that a solution is as easy as possible. Everyone is still on board. They want products to be accessible to all; they want our products to be available to everyone.
People are now taking an active role in accessibility, and they want to learn more. Our culture is an important part of this.
4. What are your most proud of and the best parts about your job?
I personally appreciate the complexity of this job. We don’t always have the opportunity to hear directly from students about the impact of our work due to privacy protections. However, I enjoy hearing other people discuss it. Accessibility is better if there is more visibility. Visibility not only into the difficulties a user might face but also around the importance of accessibility. It is wonderful that employees are actively reaching out to us and asking questions, as well as driving our efforts.
A team recently conducted a training session for a software guild about accessibility. They chose this topic to focus on and share their knowledge. This work will eventually have a large impact.
5. What are the most difficult parts of your job?
It can be difficult to manage the many stakeholders, processes, and teams involved in any product’s development. There is no single way to make different products available. It takes a lot of coordination between different vendors, technology teams, and content teams. Sometimes, this can make scaling difficult, but it is not impossible.
6. How has COVID-19 affected accessibility?
COVID-19 highlighted accessibility’s importance more than ever. Students who had previously had face-to–face support were no longer able to do so or had to figure out how they could navigate virtually to the support they needed. In a perfect world, all the work that is created would be accessible. However, when faced with an unexpected challenge like COVID-19, it highlights why accessibility is so important. It helps us and any company that develops digital solutions prioritize and strive to create solutions that everyone can use.
7. What would you like to see more people understand about accessibility?
Accessibility work is more