Skip to content Skip to navigation

Welcome to the ATHEN E-Journal Issue #4

From our Guest Editor

Terrill Thompson
Technology Accessibility Specialist
DO-IT, Accessible Technology
UW Technology Services
University of Washington

ATHEN, Access Technology Higher Education Network, is a professional association and network for access technologists who work in a higher education environment. But what is access technology, and what is an access technologist? Who are we as a profession?

In the Proposed Standing Rules that accompany the ATHEN Bylaws, access technology is defined as "Any assistive technology, accessible information technology, or alternate media that can be used to facilitate the success of individuals with disabilities."

We who work in the field have a general understanding of what we do in our individual positions, although in many cases our work is constantly evolving. We also feel some connection to others in similar positions, but what is it that binds us? What are our common responsibilities, interests, and experiences? What are our differences? What can we learn from these similarities and differences?

Developing a better understanding of who we are as a profession is of particular interest to ATHEN, whose goals (again, documented in the Bylaws), include establishing a professional identity and a collective voice for those of us working in the field.

In this issue of the ATHEN E-Journal, we explore the access technology profession from a variety of perspectives. We open with three articles based on data collected in the 2008 ATHEN Survey on Accessible Technology in Higher Education. In the first article, E.A. Draffan, Pratik Patel and I explore our profession by examining the work we do, including work related to assistive technology, alternative format production, and accessibility of web sites, multimedia, and information technology. This is the most comprehensive of the three survey articles in describing the survey method.

In the second of three ATHEN Survey articles, Jennison Asuncion, E.A. Draffan, Enda Guinan and I explore differences in our profession across countries. The ATHEN survey had high participation from individuals in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Ireland. This allows us to highlight differences and similarities between countries and to learn from each other across international borders.

In the final ATHEN Survey article, I examine the administrative details of our individual positions, including responsibilities, qualifications, and salaries. I also examine similar data (e.g., job requirements and salary range) from job announcements posted to the ATHEN discussion list over a one year period.

The three ATHEN Survey articles are followed by an article based in part on another survey, conducted by Michael James "Jayme" Johnson. Johnson's survey includes several open-ended qualitative questions, which allows him to delve a bit deeper into the field from individual practitioners' perspectives. Johnson also provides a literature review related to the profession, and raises a variety of interesting issues for further discussion, including the possible need for organized professional standards or certification.

The lack of professional standards is an issue that has been lurking on ATHEN's agenda since the association's inaugural meeting at the CSUN conference in 2002. In the minutes from that first ATHEN meeting, "Development of Professional Standards of Practice for AT in Higher Ed" was identified as one of the purposes of the organization. Since then, the issue has continued to surface, but no clear agreement has emerged on whether there is truly a need, and if so, how that need should be met. Darren Gabbert contributes to this ongoing discussion with a thorough compilation of existing opportunities for training and certification within or relevant to the field, including academic programs, continuing education opportunities, technology-specific trainings, and other unique training resources.

I hope this issue offers some insights into the access technology profession, and provides quality information that will help to solidify our professional identity. Many thanks to all contributors!


The editing of this journal was supported by the National Science Foundation (grant number CNS-0540615 and cooperative agreement number HRD-0227995) and the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education (grant number P333A030064). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this issue are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the federal government.