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Teach Access chief credits Illinois' IADP program with helping to round out her accessibility knowledge and skills


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As the executive director of Teach Access, Kate Sonka works to address the digital accessibility gap by providing educators with the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to make learning accessible to all.

Before stepping into that role, Sonka was looking to beef up her knowledge and skills in the technical aspects of accessibility.

She credits the Information Accessibility Design and Policy (IADP) online certificate program at the University of Illinois for helping her do that.

Prior to enrolling in the program, “my work at that point had mostly been very high-level approaches to helping faculty make accessible materials,” she said.

At that time, Sonka was Assistant Director of Inclusion and Academic Technology at the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University. She also started the Accessible Learning Conference at MSU, “a small event that brought together people from the area to talk and learn about accessibility.”

Sonka learned about the IADP program when Marc Thompson, the program director and one of the instructors, spoke about it at an EDUCAUSE conference. Thompson is also Assistant Director of Teaching & Learning Experiences at the Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning and heads up CITL’s new Universal Design for Learning team at Illinois’s Urbana-Champaign campus.

“I became interested in it because it was a focused program that would help me round out some of the accessibility skills and knowledge where I lacked experience,” she said.

While she was excited to learn about the technical aspects of accessibility, she admits she also was a tad nervous.

“My background is actually in Linguistics and Language Acquisition, so I had never spent time learning how to code or program software,” she said.

But Thompson and the other IADP instructors put her at ease, Sonka recalled.

“They were always available for extra help or feedback, which I definitely took advantage of during the technical moments!” she said. “Beyond that, the online nature of the course made it possible to fit into my schedule as I was working full-time. I thought the pacing of the courses where we took one at a time over an academic year also made it manageable to keep up with the content.”

Sonka completed the program in 2018, and she stepped into her current position at Teach Access the following year.

Teach Access is a nonprofit organization that supports educators in teaching about accessibility to their students. The organization collaborates with a number of academic, industry, and disability advocacy organizations to create programs and resources that support this mission.

“Our goal is that students are able to learn at least a little about disability and accessibility and go out into the world to build accessible products and services from the beginning,” Sonka said.

Sonka credits the program for preparing her for her current role.

Prior to enrolling, she said she sometimes wondered where she best fit “in the big field of accessibility.

“I knew the technical aspects were not my strength (e.g. coding, programming, testing, etc.) but that I was still excited to be a part of it,” she said. “Going through the IADP certification helped me understand that in order to achieve a more accessible and inclusive world, we need people working in many spaces. This includes education, nonprofits, policy, industry, and more. It helped me find my niche and understand the ways I can best contribute to the great work that has been done and all the work ahead of us.”

Sonka said she “absolutely” would recommend the program to others.

“The program provides you with a graduate-level certificate in just one academic year. The courses cover a wide range of topics that are useful for anyone, no matter what their background in accessibility is.

“Accessibility is everyone’s responsibility,” Sonka continued. “From top to bottom and side to side, if we really truly care about equity and access, we need people across the entire organization to center disability and accessibility. People will need to know different things and have varied skills based on their roles, but it is important that everyone has some information or experience with accessibility so that needed changes can not only be made but be sustainable.”

The Information Accessibility Design and Policy (IADP) online certificate program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign starts on Oct. 23, 2023. Register by Oct. 20.

Read the story about the Fall 2023 IADP program.

For more information about the program, including course content and learning outcomes, contact Dr. Marc Thompson 

For information about registration, tuition, technology, and other logistics, contact Erika Albin at