The Power of Accessible Design: Insights from an ITS Student Intern on Digital Accessibility

May 25, 2023

By Cheyenne Matthews-Hoffman, Digital Content Strategist 

Rujuta SwadiEvery year, on the third Thursday of May, people across the world come together to celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day. This day serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of accessibility for individuals with disabilities, promoting inclusivity, and equal opportunities for all. This year, the University of California celebrated with a cross-university webinar featuring presentations on how to help make our digital environments more accessible.

In addition to efforts being made across the UC system, here at UCSC, the Experience Strategy & Design team has been hard at work creating a Digital Accessibility Awareness web page. The page details why accessibility is important and what a digitally accessible experience looks like. This work has been helmed by Accessible Technology Intern Rujuta Swadi, who has already made great strides in her time working with ITS. Rujuta is a second-year Computer Science major who is helping us stay committed to providing accessible experiences for all.

In this interview, I talked with Rujuta about the importance of accessibility, her work in ITS thus far, and her goals for the future. 

I hope you will enjoy this interview as much as I did! If you have questions or just want to chat, please feel free to reach out to me at

What got you interested in ITS and digital accessibility?

Since high school, I have worked with an organization called the Special Needs Aquatic Program, which helps kids with disabilities use water for movement and gain autonomy. This experience has taught me that by creating accessible spaces, people have the opportunity to advocate for themselves. They don’t have to be dependent on someone else just because the spaces are not designed for them. 

I also learned about Project Euphonia, a research project by Google that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) for non-standard speech recognition. I’ve done some past projects with AI and I think tools like Project Euphonia could allow people with disabilities to live more independently. It’s already made a big impact, and I’m hoping to get involved with the project and dive further into the AI and machine learning field in the future. 

With front-end development, I’ve been working on making websites accessible which lets people find information on their own without needing someone else to step in and help navigate the website for them. I like that it’s giving back that personal autonomy for people. 

What's it like working in ITS?

I’ve been working in the Experience Strategy & Design team within ITS since last August. I get to work with a lot of different departments outside of ITS, as well, such as with the Disability Resource Center. Given the nature of the position, there’s a lot of overlap between these two departments. Working with Jim Phillips has been really great! I think our work styles are very similar and he definitely gives a lot of opportunities for me to explore things on my own. He’s there to guide me when I have any questions, but I’m able to be more independent, with him there as a supporting role. I have the chance to learn more about the work ITS does and go to staff meetings, even if they’re not directly related to my internship. He’s really good about connecting me with different people in ITS and helping me work toward some of my personal goals.

Can you talk about the Digital Accessibility Awareness web pages?

It’s basically centered around creating this space where people can gain exposure to terms around digital accessibility and becoming aware of the role they may play. We’re hoping this can be a one-stop place with resources on digital accessibility. What I’m working on is developing the content and getting people familiar with terms and language we use to even the playing field. It will also give people a chance to reflect on their own experiences and moments where they may not have realized something was a digital accessibility barrier. It’ll also talk about why digital accessibility matters. One of the biggest things I have learned through the course of this internship is that accommodations are in response to inaccessible spaces. I want to spread the message that no matter your identity, digital accessibility is an issue that needs our attention. It’s especially important on websites because it helps you gain a larger audience since you’re not excluding people who use screen readers or other assistive technologies. And regardless of if you have a disability or not, that kind of cohesive website experience is simpler for everyone to use.

What is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) and why is it so important?

It’s a worldwide day on third Thursday of May that recognizes the benefits and key features of digital accessibility, and explains what we mean when we talk about it. 

To me, the biggest importance of the day is that it’s a reminder to continue the work I’m doing and provides a great opportunity to showcase the work behind the scenes. GAAD is also so important to the university as it’s our chance to share the work that we’re doing with the campus community and any exciting updates we have, while reiterating the campus’s commitment to inclusivity. It makes clear that these are our values and this is what we are advocating for. It’s a UC wide effort, so at these events we talk about what each campus is doing. This year, GAAD is on May 18th and I encourage everyone to check out the new digital accessibility resources and join the effort! 

You can learn more about accessibility on our new Digital Accessibility Awareness web page. If you have any questions or want to connect with Rujuta on her excellent work, you can email her at