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Cynthia Bennett

Cynthia Bennett

Pronouns: she, hers — Twitter: @clb5590

Cynthia Bennett is a postdoctoral researcher at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute. Her research concerns the intersection of power, disability, design, and accessibility. She positions the lived experiences and creativity of people with disabilities as starting points for developing accessible and justice-oriented applications of technology. Bennett is regularly invited to speak about her research; recent hosts include TechCrunch Justice Sessions and the UC Berkeley Women in Tech Symposium in February and March 2021, respectively. She has received funding from the National Science Foundation, Microsoft Research, and the University of Washington’s Human Centered Design and Engineering department where she completed her Ph.D. She has published in top-tier computer science venues, and five of these papers have received awards. Bennett is also a disabled scholar who is committed to raising participation of disabled people in academia and the tech industry.

Access Is…

Accessibility has come to define a growing field of research and development concerned with making technologies useable by people with disabilities. This field has been scaffolded by decades of disability activism and legal protections like the UN’s Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Together, such protections have given rise to standards like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines which serve as benchmarks for determining whether websites and mobile apps are accessible. In this talk, I will juxtapose this prominent and compliance-focused definition of access with one I have learned from disability justice activism which seeks to move beyond compliance and towards accountability. I argue that when framing access as accountable, it may be transformed from a fixed checklist of achievements to reflect how I have experienced access play out in practice, ongoing and collective work. To make this argument, I will share examples from my career as an accessibility researcher which demonstrate how accountable access may first help us recognize under-written contributions to accessibility by people with disabilities and second, provide a foundation for working through access conflicts. With these examples, I ask us to recognize the utility of legal protections as accessibility baselines. However, I also ask that we recognize that access cannot be collapsed into guidelines or separated from complex identities and contexts. In so doing, I challenge us to take on access work as an ongoing and collective responsibility.