Meredith Boyce: accessible technology and computer science advocate
The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Meredith Boyce to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.
#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?
Meredith Boyce: I’m working to solve the problem of lack of diversity in the tech pipeline, specifically among people with disabilities. We talk about computer science being for all students, but not everyone is on board with—or understands—how to address the lack of opportunity and access for people with disabilities, women, and minorities. K-12 computer science (CS) education is being built for the U.S. as we speak. We have a window of opportunity to get this right from the start, making sure that CS curricula and programs are built natively accessible. With the CSforALL Accessibility Pledge we’re working to solve this at a foundational level.
#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?
MB: I still don’t think that my “innovation” is a breakthrough. Accessible computer science education, at all levels, should be a right that students have; not a privilege enjoyed only by those at exceptional schools. It’s literally enshrined in law that students of all ability levels must have access to a free and appropriate public education, and that institutions of higher education are required to provide accommodations for students with disabilities. I just fought for my rights. I wish that weren’t groundbreaking.
#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?
MB: I am blind and epileptic. The biggest obstacle to my success has been systemic ableism, including my own internalized ableism. Often, people didn’t believe that I could excel, or they wouldn’t give me a fair chance to try. After a while, I believed them. This occurred at every level of education, including college. Teachers in high school and professors in college were often unaware of the needs of students with disabilities, and weren’t thrilled when asked to change their teaching or assessment methods to accommodate different learning needs. I failed a whole year of college because I was so ashamed of being a burden, and too humiliated to ask for accommodations.
I’m still working to overcome this obstacle. Since I failed out of my first college, I’ve attended community college. I didn’t do well there in my first semester because I still felt the stigma of asking for accommodations. Right now, I’m applying to a new four-year university to study computer science, with a concentration in human-computer interaction. Overcoming the academic history on my transcript is an obstacle derived from these more pervasive problems.
#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?
MB: I love my work with the computer science education/disability communities because I learn something new every day. For example, while writing these answers, I got into a spirited Twitter discussion about person-first versus identity-first language in the disability community. I also love my work because I am fueled by the desire to prove all of the naysayers—who said computer science wasn't for me—wrong. Finally, I am inspired by the community of people working on this issue; some with disabilities and some allies. I’ve been privileged to meet some incredible advocates in this space.
#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?
MB: Future young women shouldn’t have to fight so hard for opportunities like the ones I’ve been given. I hope that young women coming up can easily find the role models they deserve in their colleges, workplaces, and in the halls of power. Young women with disabilities like me shouldn’t be faced with discrimination and told that they can’t do it. I hope that young women with disabilities will find strength within themselves to find their obstacles motivating, instead of debilitating.
#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?
MB: Innovation is better when created by all of us. Research has proven this time and time again. Diverse teams come up with better solutions, faster, and solve a wider range of challenges. Women are critical to innovation because we are half of humanity. It is simply stupid and self-defeating to leave us out.
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.