Early College Student Finds Place and Passion on NECC’s Accessible Media Team
By Alexandra Pecci
DJ Chase of Boxford, MA, is passionate about digital accessibility, and they’ve found the key to that passion through Northern Essex Community College’s early college program, both for themselves and for others.
For Chase, living with autism and ADHD has meant that they haven’t always had the easiest time academically.
“I was failing all of my classes at my old school because I can’t manage physical papers for the life of me, so I couldn’t turn in any assignments, and they were not accommodating,” Chase said of the school they attended before NECC and Clark.
But it was a lucky mistake that actually landed them in the early college program in the first place.
“I started attending NECC because my middle school handled COVID really poorly, so I didn’t end up learning anything. I asked my dad if I could take a math class over the summer, and we accidentally applied to the whole school,” they said.
Now a NECC student and rising high school senior at Clark School in Rowley, Chase has found incredible success with the early college program in online classes, allowing them to attend both schools simultaneously.
“The first thing I noticed was my academic confidence restoring,” they said. “Fortunately, everything is turned in digitally here, so I saw my grades reflect my ability and level of understanding of the subjects for the first time in a while.”
They also appreciate the ability to tailor classes to their interests and the incredible support faculty they’ve found at NECC.
For instance, NECC has helped Chase focus on something they’re incredibly passionate about: digital accessibility, which helps people with disabilities access digital technologies through tools like screen readers, website zoom features, and voice commands for navigation.
Chase’s Intro to Computer Science instructor, Kristen Sparrow, first encouraged this interest through an extra credit assignment to make an accessible drawing program.
They “ended up making a program where you could point with your nose and raise/lower the pen by opening/closing your mouth,” Chase said. “Kristen Sparrow noticed this, and so when I took Java with her in person later, she realized how passionate I am about accessibility.”
Through that connection, Sparrow helped Chase join NECC’s Accessible Media Committee as the student representative, then worked with the Accessible Media Team to create an internship for them.
“That went extremely well for me as that is exactly what I want to do for my career,” Chase said. “They ended up offering me an actual position here.”
In July, Chase became the Accessible Media Team’s digital accessibility specialist.
In working on the Accessible Media Team, Chase has reviewed various tools NECC uses for accessibility issues and presented them to the Accessible Media Committee; helped with the Center for Instructional Technology’s Course Refresh Workshop; reviewed instructors’ courses for accessibility and usability issues; and is in charge of the technical implementation, graphic design, accessibility, and usability of a new Online Learning Readiness course NECC is working on with the rest of the Northeast Regional Consortium.
Chase expects to graduate in spring 2024, both from high school and NECC, with an associate degree in computer science. From there, they plan to study computer science with a focus on accessibility at UMass Lowell.
Thanks to NECC’s early college, Chase is already well on their way to achieving their career goals.
“I want to make the world accessible,” they said. “And I want to get everyone on board.”