Dr. Jonathan Lazar, professor in the College of Information Studies (UMD iSchool) at the University of Maryland, is the recipient of the inaugural Rachel Olivero Accessibility Innovation Award, presented by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) of Maryland during its annual state convention on November 9th. Lazar was honored with this award for his contributions in ICT accessibility research, practice, education, and policy, and for his leadership in moving accessibility innovations from research to practice.
The award was named in honor of the late Rachel Olivero who served many roles over the years at the NFB's headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, most recently as Director of Organizational Technology. For years, she was instrumental in developing access technology innovations and worked closely with Drupal to modernize NFB’s website. The NFB is the oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind Americans, providing programs, services, and resources to defend the rights of blind Americans, and is prominent in the disability rights and civil rights world. Its mission is to ensure that Blind people have the right to independence, as well as equal opportunities to access information, education, and employment.
Lazar has a long history of working on ensuring that digital technologies and content are accessible for people with disabilities. Prior to his arrival at the UMD iSchool, Lazar taught at Towson University for 19 years as a professor of computer and information sciences, served as director of the Information Systems program, and founded the Universal Usability Laboratory. While at Towson University, he authored or edited 12 books and published over 140 refereed articles. He is probably best known for his books “Research Methods in Human-Computer Interaction,” “Ensuring Digital Accessibility Through Process and Policy,” and “Disability, Human Rights, and Information Technology.” But, he has also had a major impact on policy and law. He served as an expert consultant in the landmark NFB v. Target case in 2007 and 2008, was the accessibility advisor to the US Federal Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board in 2009 and 2010, and multiple Federal regulations (such as Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel: Accessibility of Web Sites and Automated Kiosks at U.S. Airports) cite his research. His dedication to the rights of people with disabilities is so deep that he even took a leave of absence from his professorship in 2017-2018 to go back and be a graduate student again, earning an LLM degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where his studies focused on disability rights law.
At the UMD iSchool, Lazar has made significant contributions to the college’s research and teaching through his wealth of expertise in ICT accessibility and legal frameworks, assistive technologies, and human-computer interaction. He is the Associate Director of UMD’s Trace Center, the nation’s oldest research center on technology and disability. He is also an active faculty member in the Human-Computer Interaction Lab. He is passionate about providing his students with hands-on learning experiences with organizations involved in accessibility, including organizing trips for the students to Gallaudet University, the Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and the Library of Congress National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, among other places. Even before he came to the University of Maryland, he was well-known for his accessibility work in the University System of Maryland (USM), having been named a recipient of the 2017 USM Board of Regents Award for Excellence in Research and the 2011 USM Board of Regents Award for Excellence in Public Service.
"We established the Rachel Olivero Accessibility Innovation Award to memorialize Rachel Olivero’s legacy of ensuring equal access to information through creative, innovative, and accessible technology and other means," said Ronza Othman, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. "Jonathan Lazar embodies the characteristics that made Rachel such a vital and successful advocate and expert. Jonathan is the perfect person to receive this award in its inaugural year."
Lazar is a passionate champion for accessibility innovation – and is honored to be the first ever recipient of the NFB Rachel Olivero Accessibility Innovation Award. The UMD iSchool is proud to have Lazar as a faculty member and grateful to be associated with the legacy of Rachel Olivero.