Peter O’Donnell, a student at the University College Dublin pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science, has been selected as this year’s recipient of the EDF-Oracle digital accessibility scholarship (6,500 EUR) for students with disabilities. Mr O’Donnell was selected for his work in designing an open-source tool to improve accessibility of research papers for people with visual and reading disabilities.
On 23 November, EDF organised an online award ceremony, where representatives of Oracle and EDF joined scholarship jury members with congratulatory remarks to Mr O’Donnell. The award ceremony was moderated by Alejandro Moledo, EDF Head of Policy.
Maureen Piggot, member of EDF Executive Committee and this year’s EDF jury, thanked Oracle for their cooperation on this initiative. Ms Piggot applauded the applicants and recipient of the scholarship, stating that “With the combination of their lived experience and accessibility expertise, students with disabilities will be champions of digital accessibility with a design for all approach” allowing for “every member of society to benefit from innovation and technological progress.”
Her introduction was followed by video addresses from Kim Van Sparrentak, Member of the European Parliament, and Axel Leblois, President and Executive Director of the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICT (G3ICT).
Ms Sparrentak congratulated Mr O’Donnell and commended his aim to ensure participation of persons with visual disabilities in the scientific community. She noted the importance of an inclusive scientific community, so that great ideas can be shared by everyone.
Mr Leblois also congratulated Mr O’Donnell, especially appreciating his practical approach of tackling the concrete issue of ensuring that all researchers, including those with disabilities, can have equal access to academic publications around the world. He highlighted the right of persons with disabilities to education and research under article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
Another member of this year’s jury Elizabeth O’Ferrall, an expert on standardisation and universal design from National Standards Authority of Ireland, congratulated Mr O’Donnell. She welcomed the scholarship initiative for encouraging ownership of innovative solutions by people who will effectively benefit from such solutions, putting the users at the centre of the important work of advancing accessibility. She finally encouraged Mr O’Donnell to take part in the technical standards committee in Ireland.
After the congratulatory remarks by jury members, Mr O’Donnell had the chance to briefly present his project.
In accepting the award, Mr O’Donnell stressed the need for accessibility in the field of research, stating that there are “1.8 million scientific papers published each year, and 10 percent of employed scientists and engineers report one or more disabilities.” Mr O’Donnell therefore plans to design and build an open-source research paper accessibility tool. This tool will improve the accessibility of research papers for
people with visual and reading disabilities, allowing users to easily format PDF documents into text, which can then be input into text to speech or other reader accessibility tools.
The ceremony was closed by Kent Boucher, Senior Director of the Accessibility Program Office at Oracle. In his concluding remarks Mr Boucher noted that “Oracle is privileged to be part of this program and the mission to further education, research, and promotion of accessibility. We believe this continues our goals to strengthen accessibility awareness through strength in numbers.”
The scholarship was launched in 2015 by the European Disability Forum (EDF) and Oracle to promote digital accessibility in Europe. It aims to raise awareness on the topic among European universities and encourage uptake of accessibility in their Information Technologies and Computer Sciences curricula. In the long run, we hope to see a substantial pool of digital accessibility specialists in Europe to drive inclusive and participatory innovation.
This year’s jury included:
- Maureen Piggot, EDF Executive Committee member
- Kent Boucher, Accessibility Program Director for Oracle
- Kim van Sparrentak, MEP, Member of IMCO and AIDA committees, European Parliament
- Axel Leblois, President and Executive Director of the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICT (G3ICT)
- Elizabeth O’Ferrall, Expert on Standardisation and Universal Design, National Standards Authority of Ireland
- Shadi Abou-Zahra, previously Strategy and Technology Specialist Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
This year’s award ceremony followed an EDF online training on EU research funds.
Mher Hakobyan, EDF accessibility officer