Skip to Main Site Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Back To Top

Eastern accessibility experts win first Betsey Doane Award

Published on November 09, 2022

Eastern accessibility experts win first Betsey Doane Award

Image of key unlocking folder

Eastern Sociology Professor Nicolas Simon and Sandra Flores-Gonzales, assistant director of the Office of AccessAbility Services (OAS), won the inaugural Betsey Doane Digital Accessibility Innovation Award from the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities Accessibility Council. The award is named after Doane, a longtime mathematics professor at Housatonic Community College, an advocate for accessibility and an educational innovator.

Nicholas Simon
Nicolas Simon

Simon and Flores-Gonzales won based on five criteria. First, they addressed a clearly defined need or problem in digital accessibility and inclusion. Second, they described an innovative solution to the problem they diagnosed. Third, they presented the impact and effectiveness of this solution. Fourth, they described how the solution could be replicated or scaled by others. Finally, they provided evidence of the work.

Digital accessibility, for this purpose, is “inclusive digital practices that ensure the electronic and informational content we share and create do not have technological barriers,” said Flores-Gonzales. She became interested in assistive technology devices when she began working in Eastern’s OAS.

“What was in place before was not only outdated but expensive and unsustainable,” she said.

This lack of sufficient assistive technology devices led Flores-Gonzales to investigate alternatives and purchase SensusAccess, a software conversion tool.

“It checked all the basic boxes of what the OAS needed, but there was one thing that really made me a huge proponent for this tool in particular — it would be made available to our entire Eastern community if we purchased it,” she said.

“I think any resource that improves the quality of education for all students and serves the greater good is what our Eastern culture espouses to be, so I thought it was fitting,” she said. She also credited former Vice President for Student Affairs Walter Diaz, who approved her purchase and retired in February of this year.

Sandra Flores-Gonzales
Sandra Flores-Gonzales

Simon was inspired to investigate issues of digital accessibility and inclusion for two reasons. First, he uses educational software Blackboard Learn as an educator. He learned that some documents that he shared with his classes via Blackboard were not completely accessible.

“Concerned by the inclusion and the success of every student, I decided to explore how to repair, or more specifically, to make any document accessible,” he said. “This is how I started to work with OAS and, more specifically, with Sandra.”

Simon also identified open educational resources (OERs) as a desirable platform for accessible learning and an inspiration for his research. “OERs support economic inclusion,” he said. “Every student, regardless of their economic condition, has access to the material.”

“Digital accessibility helps every student to access the material, to transform a text in an audio file, to make the text bigger, to use a reader…the possibilities are endless.”

When asked how she would advise Eastern students and faculty to advocate for digital accessibility, Flores-Gonzales said, “I suggest starting with one to two basic techniques that apply to the digital content you primarily consume, create, or share.” She emphasized making digital content available in alternative formats for all users, including those who need additional accommodations.

“We can teach our students to make any document accessible,” Simon said. “In this sense, we prepare them to be the active and engaged citizens of today and tomorrow.”

To Flores-Gonzales, earning this award carries importance not just to her, but to the greater community. “Hopefully the recognition of the award, not to me personally, but the focus on the work related to digital accessibility and innovation brings relevance and it elevates its importance among all constituents in our immediate Eastern community and beyond,” she said.

Simon is grateful and inspired by winning an award in Doane’s name. “I hope to be able to be as imaginative and creative as Betsey Doane,” he said. “Her innovations in teaching and pedagogy for the visually impaired were terrific. She is an inspiration for all of us.”

Written by Noel Teter