Huntsman Post

Huntsman Student Recognized for Work to Make Websites Accessible

By JoLynne Lyon and Steve Eaton

When Diogenes Hernandez set out for Utah State University from the Dominican Republic, he probably had no idea he would end up being recognized with an award for helping people with disabilities.

Diogenes Hernandez was named 2012 Student of the Year for the Center for Persons with Disabilities.

Diogenes, who is now working on a master’s in business administration, has been named the 2012 Student of the Year for the Center for Persons with Disabilities, or the CPD.

Before Diogenes came to USU to finish two bachelor’s degrees in computer science and mathematics, he had already started doing web design as a freelancer. When the time came to look for a job, he applied for one at the CPD’s WebAIM project, which was developing a version of a free online tool called WAVE, or the Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool. He got the job. Since then, in addition to working on WebAIM he has also worked on projects for the Interdisciplinary Disability and Service Learning class and the Utah Regional Leadership in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities project.

Diogenes was a member of a team that helped refine and develop the sophisticated programming that makes WAVE a remarkable free tool web developers can use to make sure their sites can be viewed and utilized by people with disabilities, according to Cyndi Rowland, director of WebAIM and associate director of the CPD. She said Diogenes participated on a team that developed a Spanish version of WAVE to benefit web developers.

Most recently, Diogenes has focused his efforts on a new soon-to-be released version of WAVE (WAVE 5.0) that includes numerous improvements all aimed at making it easier for web developers to create web content that can be accessed by all. These targeted improvements benefit not only those with disabilities but businesses and institutions that want to better reach that group.

It is also important for businesses and organizations to comply with Federal laws like the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and, for educational institutions that receive Federal funding, Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act, she said.

Diogenes, who also speaks French, said that his work helping people with disabilities to navigate the web has made him see web development in a new way.

“When I got here and I started… the people at WebAIM showed me a whole new world about why you do certain things,” he said.

His focus as a freelancer had been on making websites look attractive. When he talked to the CPD’s Sachin Pavithran and learned how assistive technology helps people with disabilities navigate the web, he understood the need for the accessible web design.

Along the way he gained some rich work experience. He presented three times at an annual conference focusing on technology and persons with disabilities that is held at California State University in Northridge.

“This is the kind of stuff that people do not see normally in jobs,” he said. “We’re actually trying to make a difference, make a change, for people with disabilities and technology.”

He is succeeding.

“You have made tremendous contributions to the development of software tools and resources that help make the world accessible for all people,” CPD Director Bryce Fifield wrote in a letter notifying Diogenes of his award. “Thank you for sharing your creativity and passion. Equally important to us is also the way you have embraced the ideals of inclusion and self-determination that are important to the CPD.”

Diogenes said has enjoyed the support of his family and friends as he continues to study and work so far from home.